How to find subjects for abstract photography

How to Find Subjects for Abstract Photography - lights through window-3

Do you sometimes find yourself running out of ideas for your photography? Perhaps your camera has started gathering dust as you have lost some enthusiasm or just can’t decide what to photograph next. Inspiration can in fact be all around us, even in quite unexpected places. Sometimes, we need to try and see differently so that we can recognise potential for new images.

Familiarity with our surroundings can lead us to not really looking at them any more. We can fail to recognise the beauty on our doorstep, but when we go on holiday everything might seem that bit more interesting and exciting. Some of this is simply because we get used to things and don’t really look carefully and don’t allow ourselves to get lost in wonder all over again. The first time we see something always tends to leave a big impression on us. It is hard to replicate that experience, but we can learn to see things afresh.

Abstract photography is one way of freshening up our approach. Abstract photography isn’t about taking in the whole scene as we normally do when we look. Instead, it is about looking for patterns, colours, shapes, details and textures. Maybe you’re not a big fan of abstract photography or abstract art – that’s fine, many of the principles can still be useful to you. Abstract photography tends to leave us with images that are not immediately obvious what they are pictures of. If you prefer, of course, you can make it more obvious what your subject is, but you don’t have to.

Quite simply, abstract photography is about noticing things. You look more closely at a scene and discover that there are recurring patterns or colours. You choose to see part of a structure rather than worrying about getting everything in the picture. It is about pushing ourselves to look more carefully and then creating images from things that catch our eye. This, after all, is what all photography is about in essence – sharing our fascination with something with others and recording it for ourselves to experience over and over again.

Let me give you an example. I was recently staying a night in a hotel and the weather wasn’t great, nor was the surrounding area particularly pretty. So, I decided I wasn’t going to wander around in the rain outside that evening. So, no photography for me that day then? Well, inspiration struck just as I was about to get ready for bed. In the bathroom I noticed how lights from outside were coming through the textured glass and creating interesting patterns, with the orange colours looking almost like fire. So, I went back to the bedroom and got my camera. Yes, ok, it seems a bit weird taking a camera into a bathroom… but only my longsuffering wife would see me!

I then started taking pictures that captured both the lights coming through the window and the already abstract patterns that occurred in the glass. Then, as I became more interested in the light than the glass itself, I decided to focus manually so that I could blur the window itself and catch only patterns of refracted light. When photographing lights before I had realised that you can get nice round circles of light by using a wide aperture, so I mixed a bit of that in, too. Yes, I found an abstract photography project right there in my hotel bathroom! Here are some of the resulting images:

Now, you may or may not like one or more of these. As with all art, we all respond differently and prefer different things. So, try not to worry too much about whether other people will like what you do. Just try something and if you like it then great! If others also like it – fantastic! Let your creativity loose – there are no real “rules” for abstract photography. In fact, the only real “rule” in photography that makes sense is: do I like it?

Each day, I try to be more open to the world around me in all its details. I try to notice things – big things or little things. If something makes me stop and linger then I may take a photograph of it or start to explore it from different angles. I enjoy looking in this way even when I don’t have my camera with me. I find that life can be filled with that bit more wonder or magic when I am open to allowing myself time to look and look again, discovering shapes, patterns and more.

So, how can you find new subjects to photograph? How can I find inspiration for abstract photography or fine art photography? Look, look and look again – not just at the big picture but also at the details. There is so much inspiration waiting around us. If we could only recover some of that wonder and freshness that we had when we were children then we might find that so many more things would excite us enough to make us pick up our cameras.

© Joe Lenton, August 2014

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