Abstraction basics and workflow

Abstraction basics and workflow

Many consider abstraction as the holy grail of creative photography. I love to embrace abstraction in much of my work, especially in my Landscapes of the Body project. There are as many ways to add abstraction into your work as there are subjects to shoot. My preferred way to going about creating an abstract image is to remove recognizable landmarks in an image to bring stronger focus on other parts of the image.  This can include creative cropping or rotation after the fact, or exploring unusual or unused angles during the capture of an image. Other ways of achieving abstraction can include intentionally missing focus on an object, or using a slower shutter speed introduce movement or blur when shooting (a somewhat similar, but predictable effect can be added in using photoshop.).

While there are more, the components of composition I focus on are:

Line: Even a blurred leading line in your photograph can be enough to lead the viewer’s eye through your image and result in a pleasing image, regardless of content.

Color: The human brain loves patterns, and I love to use patterns and color together.

Shape: In my Landscapes of the Body series, I focus a lot on shape for my compositions. When I compose a shot, I look for landmarks and intentionally remove them while lighting the shapes of the body with a pleasing light.

Texture: In abstraction, you tend to remove more of the components of a composition than you keep, therefore the features that remain become that much more important. I love to use the texture of skin as a standout for the compositional elements in much of my work.

Space: Much of my work revolves around the negative space in my images. Being mostly blind, I love to use the negative space to reflect what little I see when I am composing an image. All photographers share how they see the world when they take an image, but I try and take this to another level when I compose an image, truly representing my remaining visual field, and allowing me to share how I see the world with the fully sighted.

Abstraction for the sake of abstraction can end up being a bit of a mess. When I intend to create an abstract image, I pay particular attention to the basics of art composition explained above. Especially in an abstract image my preferred workflow is to use one or more basic rules of art composition to help me end up with a pleasing image.

Generally, when I am shooting for my Landscapes of the Body project, I try and remove the landmarks you are expecting to see at the time of capture, but sometimes I take a photo that is too far zoomed out and needs to be cropped.

In this example, the image I started with is a shot of a Denver local model I have worked with a couple of times. I started with a custom photoshop action to maintain consistency across my work in the project. As a creative decision, I have opted to remove genitalia and nipples from my imagery – making it suitable for viewing by all audiences. I could have cropped out the nipples and called it a day, but I always start with rotation. In this example I chose to rotate counter-clockwise 15 degrees or so and that removed what I needed to and gave me an interesting cropped angle. Notice that in the second image, the removal of the nipple landmarks opens the possibilities of what you are looking at. This is compounded by the choice to angle the work to an unexpected rotation. This is how I work for my current project, but I have projects that feature many other aspects of abstraction. As those projects become ready to debut, I will do articles on the creative process for those.


Explore different angles, remove landmarks – experiment with focus, and as always, try and make series of what you are working on rather than one-off images. Pick a composition basic and make a series based on that. Some of my favorite series have been based on a single composition element that I stuck with even when the first few images were not inspiring.

Get out there and take some pictures!