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Turning Travel Photography Into Fine Art: Think Abstract!

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While most of travel photography is usually about documenting the people you meet, the sites you see along the way, or the events that happen to you and around you, there is a way to cross the line and to turn your documentary travel photographs into fine art. How to do it? Think abstract! Learning to see shapes, patterns and colours through your camera lens is not only good training for your creative eye, but also lots of fun!

Abstract photograph 5
Berlin, Germany

So what is abstract photography? It can be described as a departure from photographing recognisable reality by using the visual language of shapes, lines, colours, and patterns combined in an aesthetically pleasing composition. In other words, if you cannot immediately recognize the subject in the photo, but still get a "wow" effect, then it most probably is a successful abstract image.

As you may guess, emotion is an important ingredient to abstract photography: all images are subject to our judgment and we put labels on what we like and dislike, what we find interesting or boring etc. These are based on our own concepts of aesthetics and should be recognized as such. Therefore, the main purpose of abstract photography is to evoke an emotional response from the viewer by combining colours, shapes, and/or lines, instead of concentrating on a particular subject. Does this mean that only completely unrecognisable subjects make a good abstract image? There are no set rules here: it may be completely, partially or slightly unrecognisable, but still strong and interesting to explore.

Abstract photograph 2
Burano, Italy

Some points to consider to create a great abstract photos:

  • Carefully observe and think outside the box, read between the lines;
  • See beyond the subjects, i.e. remove all labels from what you are looking at;
  • Look for ways to express your emotion;
  • Keep the composition simple! Reduce it to the strict essentials by exclude any distracting elements from the image;
  • Bring order out of chaos by stripping the composition down to colours, shapes or texture;
  • There are no magic camera settings for abstract images. It all depends on the result you want to achieve.

Need some inspiration? Here are some examples and ideas to get you started:

  • It may be easier to start with close-ups of familiar objects.
  • Start with a simple frame with only two elements, then add more visual elements until you are satisfied with the composition.
Abstract photograph 3
Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech, Morocco
  • Look for bold colours and combine them them with an other element. 
  • Zoom in, get closer, reposition the composition until you are satisfied it with it.
  • Let your imagination run free!
Abstract photograph 1
Burano, Italy
  • Look at landscapes with fresh eyes to find lines, textures repetitions to create a simple composition.
  • Look out for strong contrasts.
Abstract photograph 4
Tuscany, Italy
  • Use water reflections: a slight ripple will distort the reflection of the surroundings into interesting shapes and curls.
Abstract photograph 6
Paris, France
  • Slow down the shutter speed for motion blur effect or use zooming in/out technique.
Abstract photograph 7
Paris, France

Finally, remember to simply have fun and share your abstract photos with us!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.