Tips for Abstract Landscape Photography Success

by Dec 16, 2021Photography Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Tips for Abstract Landscape Photography Success

Abstract landscape photography can seem like an easy option at times, especially when the weather is dull. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t work well and is a common mistake amongst photographers. If you’re faced with dull weather conditions, this tutorial will help you more. But if you want to shoot good abstract landscape photography this tutorial has some simple tips that can help. Let’s start by looking at what abstract landscape photograph is.

There isn’t a Definition for Abstract Landscape Photography

To better define abstract landscape photography, it’s probably best to start by understanding what we mean by abstract.

When we talk about abstract photography, we mean that the main subject of the photograph is removed from the surroundings that would otherwise give it context. Because of this, it’s not obvious what the image is at first glance. In the case of a landscape photograph, we would typically limit our field of view so that we only see part of the image. This might allow the viewer to first recognise the light in the image or perhaps a pattern rather than seeing it as a landscape.

Now because we remove the context from the image it means the viewer must work harder to understand what it is. When done well, this means the viewers’ attention will be held whilst they try to work out what the image is. The more we remove the surroundings from the frame the harder it becomes for the viewer to recognise the subject. Instead, they see (and hopefully appreciate) the characteristics of the subject. Look at the following shot.

Example 1 abstract landscape photograph

I’m sure you recognise that it’s a beach scene. But because you can’t see the context of the beach, you probably focussed on the pattern in the sand and the blue of the sky reflected on the wet surface. You are appreciating these characteristics that I wanted to emphasise without any other distraction. Which brings us to tip one for shooting good abstract landscape photography.

Tip One – Find Something Interesting

When shooting abstract landscape photography, it isn’t enough to just crop in on any old area of the landscape to take a shot. There must be something interesting or eye catching about the subject. If there isn’t then you will lose the viewer’s attention and interest. In the example above, it’s the blue light highlighting the ripples in the sand. Without the light, the image would be dull and wouldn’t draw any interest.

Tip Two – Forget Your Tripod

If you regularly shoot landscape photography, it’s likely you’re accustomed to using a tripod. Tripods provide stability and are great tools for composition, especially because they slow down your pace and make you think. But whilst using a tripod is a great way to improve your photography, it’s perhaps not very good for abstract landscape photography.

It can be very difficult to explore scenes in the landscape when you’re using a tripod. Instead, it’s much better to spend a little time using your camera to walk around, exploring different areas. This approach can also help you get nearer to objects or lower to achieve an unusual angle. When you’re using a tripod, your mobility is limited.

If you don’t find it easy to work this way with your camera, try using your mobile phone instead. There are some great photography viewfinder apps that can help with framing and composition. These are ideal for abstract landscape photography as they allow you to easily explore ideas and angles. Only once you’ve found a composition that works, consider using a tripod. Even then, if you already managed to shoot a high-quality image handheld, why bother with the tripod at all.

abstract landscape photography example taken without a tripod

Because I was using the camera handheld for shot, I was able to use its tilting screen to get much lower than with a tripod. This allowed me to achieve more interesting angles and compose the scene differently than if I’d been using a tripod.

Tip Three – Use Side Lighting

Side lighting isn’t essential but it’s an excellent tool for creating interesting abstracts. In the previous example, the side lighting casts shadows on the landscape, emphasising the contours which also disguises the scale of the landscape.

This next example also features side lighting to highlight pattern and texture in the landscape.

side lighting in abstract landscape photography

Notice how the shadows cast by the sidelight, even though subtle, enhance the texture in the landscape.

Tip Four – Look for Patterns in the Landscape

The previous image is also a good example of pattern. Patterns create great opportunities especially if they repeat regularly. The human brain is incredibly good at detecting patterns, often where there isn’t one. You can use this to your advantage as the viewers eye will work hard trying to detect the pattern.

example abstract landscape photo using side lighting to emphasise contours

This is another example of using strong side lighting to create shadows in the scene. Because of the shadows we can see the contours in the land much more easily and our eye follows the sand patterns around.

Tip Five – Use a Longer Lens

If you look through the abstract images in this tutorial, you will find most shot with a long lens. Using a longer focal length allows you to crop in onto the detail in the scene. This makes it easier to exclude unwanted surroundings which might otherwise give context to the subject and be distracting. By using a longer focal length we isolate the important detail that we want to show the viewer.

long focal length lens used to isolate elements of a scene to create an abstract

Here a long lens was used to isolate part of the scene, making it harder to understand what the subject is. At the same time, this image employs several other techniques mentioned in this article. For example, the blue is created by the sky reflecting on the surface water whilst the raised ripples in the sand catch the sidelight. The blue and orange then create contrast with each other, producing a more obvious pattern.

Tip Six – Use Scale to Create Interest

Most of the images in this article use a long focal length to isolate part of the landscape. In many cases, because there is no obvious point of reference or context, the viewer can’t determine the scale of the subject. When this happens, our brains immediately engage in trying to work out the size of the subject, adding interest to the image.

Here’s another image using scale to create interest along with strong lighting.

using scale in abstract landscape photography

Here, the scale of the scene isn’t immediately obvious. Unusually, a wide-angle lens was used to diminish otherwise obvious features like people and the depth marker post. The scene also employs a form of minimalism by using a limited colour palette.

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Summary of abstract landscape photography tips

Throughout this tutorial we’ve looked at tips you can use to shot better abstract landscape photography. There are probably many more tips that I could have included but chose not to. Too many tips only confuse the photographer and increases complexity. This in turn can make it harder to get a good shot as you try to remember everything.

Ultimately, creating an interesting abstract landscape photograph can be reduced to three things.

  1. Isolating the subject so that it’s context is less obvious.
  2. Create interest for the viewer for example using a strong pattern or lack of obvious scale.
  3. Using good light to emphasise pattern, shadow, or colour.

If you try to incorporate these three things into your work, you will greatly increase your chances of success.

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