When done right, abstract photography can turn an ordinary subject into a masterpiece of colors, patterns, and textures. Sometimes, this work of art can happen by accident, as with film double exposures. But in general, abstract photos take careful composition and attention to detail.
Though beautiful, abstract photography can also feel ambiguous or even silly like you’re purposefully messing up your photos. As you blur your subject or maneuver your camera into weird angles, you might wonder, “Is this good?” and “How do I know it’s good?”
While “good,” “bad,” and “silly” are all subjective labels, there are some ways to judge and improve your abstract photography. You can start by finding abstract photos you love. Then, you can try to imitate their style. Here are 10 ideas and 40 examples to inspire you!
Abstract Photography Ideas and Examples
Intentional Camera Movement (ICM)
A lot of abstract photography is created through ICM, where you deliberately move your camera while taking a photo. This movement can be quick and random, like camera tossing, or it can be a thoughtful long exposure. Either way, it’s a fun photography technique to play around with.
One of the best subjects for ICM is trees. In general, you’ll see two types of abstract tree photos: a dizzying circle and a blurred streak. You can create the circle by rotating your camera during the exposure, and for the streak, simply move your camera up or down during the exposure.
Lighting painting is a type of long exposure that uses a source of light to create streaks on an image. You can create these streaks yourself with a flashlight, sparkler, etc., or you can move your camera while shooting a stable source of light, like a traffic light.
Bokeh is another easy way to create a lovely abstract photo. Usually, bokeh is only used for the background of an image while the main subject remains in focus. But with abstract pictures, bokeh becomes the main subject, beautiful in itself.
Smoke / Dye in Water
Tendrils of smoke and dye drops in water have a similar elegant appearance, beautiful for abstract photography. Both are unpredictable, however, so you’ll time for trial and error while shooting.
For smoke, you’re best off using a black background and incense instead of matches, as incense will burn for longer. For dye in water, you’ll need a white background, some food coloring, and a clear glass container with straight sides, like an aquarium or square vase. If you have these supplies and a tripod, you’re set for some cool abstract images!
Despite being so commonplace, water continues to be a fascinating photography subject. Reflections in water are especially intriguing. Though they’re often a secondary subject (the main subject being the source of the reflection), you can create a lovely abstract photo by focusing on the reflection alone.
Some types of architecture seem like they’re meant for abstract photography. Their curves, colors, and shapes can verge on the bizarre when you remove people from the scene. A metro tunnel, a curving staircase, or a box-like building can become alien structures without people around to show their purpose.
Macro Flowers and Plants
Get close enough, and any flower or plant begins to look abstract. Floral curves and colors have a different feel from up-close. They’re still gorgeous, but instead of the familiar beauty of a flower, you get the strange beauty of detail.
High-Speed Water Drops
High-speed photos of water drops aren’t easy to take, but the results can be stunning. Not all water drop photography is abstract. Sometimes, the water drop is only one element in a larger photo, such as rain on a street. However, if you focus purely on the water’s shape and colors, the final image can look wonderfully abstract. If you want to achieve this photo, check out this comprehensive tutorial from DIY Photography.
Next to camera movement, patterns are the bread and butter of abstract photography. Interesting patterns can be found everywhere. You likely have dozens of patterns around your home that could make eye-catching photos. All you need to do is start looking.
Many of the above photos were selected from our wonderful Flickr community. Next time you take an abstract photo you’re proud of, add it to the group so we can admire it!