Going Abstract in Reading
One of the adult students I privately mentor, had expressed the desire to do some abstract photography.
Reading is not the most likely town you’d think of when faced with this kind of request. My first thought would have been to go to London or maybe Brighton. However, I needed a location that wasn’t too far to drive.
Abstract photography can be challenging and rewarding, as it requires photographers to see the world in a different way and to think creatively about how to capture and convey their vision.
There are many different techniques and approaches that require the photographer to keep his eyes peeled for scenes where colour is the main focus, or it could be patterns or textures or even reflections. Some like to work with movement, form, shadow and of course, anything with negative space.
Some photographers like to manipulate their images in post (post-processing) using editing software like Photoshop to further distort and manipulate their images, while others prefer to capture their abstractions in camera.
It was an interesting day when I emerged from Reading’s multi-story carpark and hit the town with my camera. For what seemed like weeks without a break it had rained. Today it didn’t. The sun was low and the light it cast, particularly with ominous-looking clouds in the distance, filled me with excitement. It was a perfect combo.
The shot below of the VUE cinema tower, juxtapositioned with the sun bouncing off a nearby office roof, has the drama intensified by the clouds behind it. The only sign of colour is in the VUE logo. It looks like everything else in the image has been shot in monochrome.
The flash of colour is what makes the shot so interesting, but the other elements each contribute. It’s a joint effort. With the sun so low, small pockets of light struck the buildings everywhere to create eye-catching highlights. Even at the base of the tower, a small area is illuminated, helping to give balance to the scene.
One of the key elements of abstract photography is the element of surprise. By distorting the familiar and presenting the world in a new and unexpected way, abstract photographers can challenge viewers to see things differently and to find new meaning and interpretation in their images. This can be particularly powerful when it comes to evocative or emotionally charged subjects, as abstract photography can allow photographers to tap into and express deeper feelings and themes.
Ultimately, abstract photography is all about experimentation, creativity, and self-expression. Whether you are a seasoned photographer or just starting out, it is a rewarding and exciting way to explore your artistic vision and to discover new and exciting ways of seeing and capturing the world.
That one thing
So when I go out with my camera like this (and bear in mind I was just only reccying the town for suitable locations to take my student) I am guided by one thing. Anyone watching me would be quite amused as I appear to walk through the streets, spinning around, constantly spinning, scanning the scene for that one thing that’s going to lead me to my next shot.
As the sunlight slid between the buildings, spreading out like tentacles, it was sending shafts into previously shadowed corners. Light was appearing briefly before moving on to strike another unsuspecting building, person, car or shop window. I just had to be there when it struck. Sometimes I would catch the beam, sometimes I would catch it from the reverse angle and see the shadows it created.
The shot below was taken down by the Canal (Kennet & Avon Canal). As I walked under one of the footbridges close to the Vue Cinema, I looked to see the buildings on the opposite bank temporarily bathed in sun. I waited. The footbridge crossed over in front of one of the buildings and it just needed someone to walk past, to give the shot some interest.
As luck would have it, no single person – but a whole group appeared. In the viewfinder of my Fuji X-H2 I could see, that with a slight tweak, I could render them as silhouettes. I made the move and took the shot.
The end result is this. I was delighted.
I’ll be honest, these weren’t the shots I had in mind when I set out from home in the morning. I was expecting to shoot a lot of close-up macro shots, lots of blurred-out backgrounds… lots of bokeh.
In the end, I didn’t get a chance to take my macro out. Everything was shot with either a 35mm f/1.4 or my favourite lens, the 90mm f/2 (The Fuji X-H2 has an APS-C sensor, so the equivalent full-frame focal lengths would be 50mm & 135mm).
As the afternoon progressed, I stumbled upon one shot after another. They kept coming, it was relentless. I barely had time to recover from one shot, only to turn around and discover another. I was having fun.
Because it had been raining, there were puddles. Where there were puddles, there were reflections. Where there were reflections, there were shots waiting to be taken.
But can these really be considered Abstract photos?
It was a question I was beginning to ask myself. I have been shooting street photography since I bought my first 35mm film camera back in 1969. Roaming the streets, capturing scenes of people going about their daily life was second nature to me… but surely, wasn’t this another form of street photography?
To be sure I started Googling.
Many, it would seem, classify these kinds of images as abstract. There are some notably famous photographers who shoot city abstracts, including Andreas Gursky and László Moholy-Nagy.
- Andreas Gursky is a German photographer known for his large-scale, highly detailed abstract images of landscapes, cityscapes, and other subjects.
- László Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian artist and photographer who was a pioneer of the Bauhaus movement and is known for his abstract images of industrial landscapes and other subjects.
If you want some inspiration, Google ‘Abstract photography city‘.
There’s a wealth of very talented people out there.
Back to Reading
So there I was, chasing the light, looking for the pools of brightness amidst the backdrops of intense shadow.
This is the Oracle sculpture which signals the presence of the Oracle shopping centre. It sits under the A329 flyover.
Dodging the traffic I crossed over onto the roundabout and started shooting.
With such bright sunshine hitting the sculpture, the trick was to expose for the highlights. Close down the aperture and/or increase the shutter speed in order to let less light into the camera. The image darkens, and if you turn it down far enough, that which was blindingly bright, eventually becomes just mid-tones.
The blacks are crushed in the process and add to the drama.
And in black & white…
Black and white photography is especially emotive to me. Growing up with it, cutting my teeth on it and developing & printing it… I have the ability to see in it.
I don’t mean I have black & white vision. I see in colour like everyone else… but I can spot shots that will work well in black & white. This I have from years of pre-visualising images, to anticipate what the eventual black & white image will look like once the negative is developed and printed.
Black & white to me works best when there is a lot of detail in the shot. I’m more than happy to shoot images with lots of negative space, with very little going on… but the shots that excite me are the ones with loads of detail.
I love the detail in the netting wrapped around this building near the Oracle multistory carpark entrance.
The lone pigeon above caught my eye as I tried to capture something of the detail in its feathers against the rather featureless timber wall. The crushed blacks in the foreground are the perfect counterpoint to the textured highlights on the bird’s back.
Did you notice I’m using long words like counterpoint, I’m just trying to impress (ha ha).
The last image
I deliberated about this last shot below. Was it interesting enough to be included in the blog?
Whilst it’s not one of my strongest shots from the day, I’ve included it because it gives a glimpse into how I like to work.
I was following the light, I was chasing it (as landscape photographer David Noton describes it).
I was walking backwards in the High Street, narrowly avoiding collision with a number of shoppers, hoping to see the sun shining through one of the windows above the shops. When I saw it, I had to capture it.
As I stood there with my camera to my eye, I could feel the frustration of shoppers all around me as I blocked their way. I could hear their tuts and although I was peering through my viewfinder, I was acutely aware of hostile body language as bodies manoeuvred themselves around me to get past. They doubtless thought I was mad, pointing my camera at a second-floor window with nothing in it. Well, nothing they could see.
I thought to myself
“The things I do for my art”!
Dropping down the aperture and cranking up the shutter speed to massively underexpose I ended up with this.
The final image is cropped slightly.
How do you capture your own abstract photos?
There are no hard and fast rules about what to look for to photograph. Instead, it is all about finding and capturing subjects and scenes that speak to you on a personal level and that lend themselves to creative interpretation.
Ultimately, the key to successful abstract photography is to keep an open mind and to be willing to experiment and take creative risks. Don’t be afraid to try out different techniques and approaches, and trust your own artistic vision and voice.
With practice and persistence, you will be able to capture beautiful and striking abstract images that showcase your unique perspective and style.