There couldn’t be truer words than those found in the Latin proverb, “By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn.” My cameras have taken me to more than 80 countries around the globe, but Tiffini Myers, a student of mine at The Art Institute of California in Hollywood, reminded me that there’s a whole world of photo opportunities waiting for us much closer to home. In fact, as Myers demonstrates in her series of abstract photos, they’re not only closer to home, but they can be found in the home. Myers and I discussed the best ways to discover and photographically capture these hidden gems that, while often in plain sight, are more often overlooked.
First, it’s important to understand what abstraction means as it relates to art. The word itself can be loosely defined as something that has been dissociated from its original form. For our artistic endeavors, this translates as a visual language of form, color and line independent in varying degrees from its “real-world” visual reference. For photographers, it’s examining the world in a new, unique way.
Look for patterns in manmade objects, nature and a combination of the two. Patterns in architecture are an endless source of photo opportunities for interesting abstractions. A long telephoto lens can bring you into an interesting part of a building, rather than just documenting the structure itself.
TIME OF DAY/DIRECTION OF LIGHT
Time of day is vital. Study the object you’re photographing and notice how the direction of light is affecting it. Are shadows being utilized to give a sense of depth? If it’s a small enough object that can be moved, rotate it and see how the light affects the piece.
When it comes to large, immobile objects, we have to wait for the right time of day. The direction of the sun can give texture to an abstract scene. Small silver or gold reflectors or even mirrors can be used to shape light on an object. For smaller objects, Myers holds them in front of her lens, then moves around to see what kinds of shapes and color reactions she can get from a variety of backgrounds.
CREATIVE USE OF APERTURE
If you don’t control the aperture, the aperture will control you. This may sound dramatic, but when it comes to photography, it’s an important reality that can make or break a photograph—especially when it comes to creating an abstract image.
While it’s easy to understand that having too slow a shutter speed will result in blur or camera shake, many people ignore or underestimate the importance of aperture. Remember that an SLR camera keeps its aperture open to its widest setting until the depression of the shutter. What we’re seeing through the viewfinder actually isn’t what we’re getting unless you shoot at the camera’s widest opening. SLRs are designed this way to make focusing easier by letting in more light. To see what the actual depth of field (the area in focus) will be, use the camera’s depth-of-field preview function to see exactly what you’re getting in focus.
Myers often creates a very shallow depth of field by using a wide aperture so that the backgrounds will become abstract. She says this technique helps her to see in shapes and colors. By training her eye, she began to notice interesting abstractions in unremarkable places, ranging from her sink to a car wash, to a park and even to her neighborhood IKEA store. The focus of this project is to investigate line, shape, form and color through photography.
CREATIVE USE OF SHUTTER SPEED
As Myers demonstrates in a number of her abstract images, she often handholds her camera with shutter speeds slightly slower than those that are effective in freezing an object. She feels that the “organic” movement created by using shutter speeds such as 1?15 sec. removes a bit more of the reality from her compositions.
One of the unique aspects of macro photography is that it opens up a world that’s normally out of reach of our eyes. An economical way to turn a nonmacro lens into a macro is to use close-up filters, which often come in sets with varying diopter strengths. These filters allow you to get magnification at a minimal cost. If you get into macro, you might invest in a pro lens for the purpose; I use a Nikon 105mm ƒ/2.8 Macro.
BREAK OUT OF YOUR ROUTINE
There are a number of products available on the market such as Holga cameras and Lensbaby lenses that are particularly well suited for creative abstractions. The unique characteristics of alternative gear can open your eye to a new way of seeing. Regardless of the equipment used, seeking the abstract and overlooked is an effective way to explore the visual world around us and expands our creativity with all of our photo subjects.