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Abstract Photography: Unconventional Materials


EOS 600D, EF100mm F/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, f/14, 1/30sec, 100mm, ISO100 by Olli Henze

Abstract Photography does not have clear a definition. It mainly communicates with the viewer through the use of colours, lines, shapes and form, which means nearly anything can be used to produce abstract shots – you just need to get creative.

1. Smoke  

Using smoke is one of the easiest ways to form abstract patterns. Shot against a dark backdrop and playing with different coloured lights, you can achieve some really beautiful mood pieces. Apart from your camera and a flash, you will need a source of smoke and the most inexpensive option is incense sticks. Set up your sticks to the left or right of your backdrop and ensure there is no light spilling into the background.  Shoot with a fast shutter and with your flash at full strength.

EOS 6D, EF50mm F/1.4L USM lens, f/8, 1/120sec, 50mm, ISO400 by Vanan M

2. Using a projector

I’m sure many of you have watched ‪B.o.B - Airplanes ft. Hayley Williams of Paramore’s music video. In the music video you’ll see Hayley Williams in-between the projector and the wall. This created some interesting shadows and lit her up in in a spectrum of colours. This concept could also be used in abstract photography.

You would need a surface to project on, a projector, a video or photo files to project and a model. Take your time experimenting with various projections and angles of positioning the projector.

EOS 60D,EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens, f/2.8, 17mm, 1/13sec, ISO 800 by Pank Seelen

3. Broken glass

Glass reflects light beautifully, allowing you to play with shadows and light refraction. For this shot, I smashed a wine glass against a sheet of canvas and allowed the pieces to fall organically, and captured as is. Using a simple material like glass means you have to get creative with your angles, so try anything from wide angle shots to macro.

EOS 6D, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, f/4, 1/60sec, ISO600 by Vanan M

4. Oil Droplets and water

As we know oil and water don’t mix. We can use this property for abstract photography as well.

You’ll need big clear glass mixing bowl. A light source, a table lamp works best for this. A few droppers. And some various kind of oils, I would suggest extra virgin olive oil as it has a green tint to it or chili oil for the red. Fill up the mixing bowl with water and use the table lamp to illuminate the bowl. Next up use the dropper to drop various amount oils to create droplets of various size and colours.

EOS 40D, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, f/4, 105mm, 1/13sec, ISO100 by Lee Netherton

5. Light Trails

This is play on long exposure photography. Light trails form interesting and often unexpected patterns that add dimension to your photo. Set up a camera in an open space on a tripod in blub mode. I would advise you to use a wireless remote for the shutter. Set aperture lower than f/8 and a 15 to 30 sec exposure should be perfect. 

EOS 7D, EF-S28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens, f/4, 28mm, 30sec, ISO2500 by Luke Anderson



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Vanan M

Vanan M is a Singapore-based food and lifestyle photographer and nightlife aficionado. He is either behind the camera or behind DJ booths at nightclubs.