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Landscape photography guide - Abstract landscapes

Duncan Evans explains how to shoot landscapes as abstract images.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Duncan Evans explains how to shoot landscapes as abstract images.
Look for ripples and patterns in rock formations
This first picture shows fantastic striations and colours. Can you see the fish?
The traditional view of taking landscape pictures is to go for the impressive vista, the apocalyptic sunset, the pink flush of the pre-dawn. However, there's another approach that can be taken, that is particularly suited for shooting in the middle of the day, when the light is grey and overcast. Yes, although it sounds like you are breaking all the landscape rules, the world of landscape abstracts requires even lighting, no sunshine and you can shoot it in the middle of the day.

The basic idea is to compose the picture using an element of detail in the landscape, but to shoot it in such a way that it is removed from its surroundings and presented as an abstract, or close up detail shot, without perspective. In this way it can either look almost like a piece of artwork, rather than a photograph, particularly if it's a set of patterns that you've located.

The obvious place to look for these kind of details is in woodland, but tree bark is often a single dull colour, and other flora is easily identifiable, turning the photo into macro work, rather than abstract. You aren't specifically looking for tiny details that need close up shots, but patterns, shapes and colours, or details within large areas of texture. The best type of location for variety and colour therefore is the rocky beach. Shooting after it has been raining is ideal, as the sky may still be overcast, but the rocks will now glisten and have much more contrast and colour. The alternative to this is to wait for the tide to go out and look for rocks that have been exposed by the retreating water. Also, patterns in sand caused by water are good subjects to look for.

The patterns and bulges in this rock make it look like an Ogre
The patterns and bulges in this rock make it look like an Ogre with two eyes and a slash for a mouth.

Speaking of water, if you are on the rocky shoreline, then there are usually pools of water about, and small stones and vegetation will gravitate towards them. These make great subjects as well, but remember to fit a polariser filter in this case so that reflection from the water surface are removed. Running water is also great to include, but ensure that it's running around or through something that interesting already. Normally, when shooting flowing water, the fashion it to use a long exposure to blur it, but as I've said, these type of pictures are abstracts and the interest is in the detail. Try shooting both types of shot – a fast exposure to freeze it, and a long one to blur it.

Shooting it
The key points to making the subject look abstract are in how you shoot it. As mentioned, it needs to be done on a day when it is overcast so there is no direct sunlight and subsequent shadows. These give perspective to the shot which is not what is required. A wide angle zoom lens is the best thing to use so that you can crop in to just get the area you want. For the pictures in this article I used a Sigma 17-35mm EX on a Nikon D200. To remove the perspective from the photo, don't stand there and shoot it normally, arrange the camera so that the lens front is parallel to the subject's surface. With some larger rocks or cliff walls it means this can be done standing with the camera vertical to the plane of the subject, but for the most part, it's going to mean standing right above the subject, looking down.

The patterns in the sand are the interesting feature here
The patterns in the sand are the interesting feature here. It should be easy to find some on most beaches.

With a parallel viewpoint, this fissure now looks like a vertical chimney in the rock
With a parallel viewpoint, this fissure now looks like a vertical chimney in the rock

Dial in an aperture of f/8 to get front to back sharpness throughout the image. There shouldn't be that much depth, so, even though you are going to be quite close to the subject, with a wide angle lens and f/8, the depth of field should be good enough. If this results in a low shutter speed, and this is entirely possible when shooting on overcast days, then a tripod is necessary. If using a polariser, then a tripod will certainly be required in this kind of lighting. Don't increase the ISO rating because the picture is all about detail, and digital noise will certainly detrimentally affect the look. If you want to get blur into the water, then dial in f/22, which will certainly produce a one or two second exposure. The other point to note is that the wider the angle of view, the harder it is to keep your feet out of the shot.

Use water running through the scene to add extra interest
Use water running through the scene to add extra interest.

Lastly, shoot the images in RAW or TIFF format, do not shoot them as JPEGs. The pictures are all about detail and JPEG is not designed to handle detailed images very well. At best it can make the images look grainy, at worst it can destroy very fine detail.

Focus on specific details within the abstract
Focus on specific details within the abstract to suggest alternative content. This hole and rock marking reminded me of an elephant.

when shooting water either take care over reflections
When shooting water, take care over reflections or use a polariser - that would have improved this picture considerably.

All pictures copyright Duncan Evans 2006.

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this guide is really helpful, i had a doubt about the composition of an abstract image, but now it is very much clear to me, thanks a lot for the share.

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Like it! I'm going to experiment now, thanks!
Eviscera 12 1.1k 149 United Kingdom
Thank U for the Good info. on landscape photos. Iwill use them .
Thanks Joe Good

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