4 Ways to Capture Abstract Landscape Photography

Photographing beautiful land or seascapes is one of the most popular reasons people pick up a camera. Capturing land, or as is the case in this first photo, seascapes, under ideal dramatic lighting is indeed what I’m most passionate about when it comes to my photography.

Fiery skies reflected in the wet sand at Hampton Beach, NH

While sunrises like the one in “Coming Soon,” (above), an image I shot just before sunrise along New Hampshire’s Hampton Beach, are what gets me out of bed in the morning, sometimes I want something more, or at least different than what Mother Nature has given me.

That’s when I start thinking about abstract landscape photography shots like this one:

Abstract sunrise over the seacoast

With a few “normal” shots in the camera on this beautiful morning on the seacoast, I wanted to get creative and make some photos that are a little different while I still had some really great light to work with. Read on to find out how this photo was made, if you haven’t figured it out on your own!

Here are the tricks I use to extract the abstract form the landscape:

Mountain Silhouettes. South Twin, The Bonds, Bond Cliff.

There are several techniques I use to create landscape photos that have more of an abstract quality to them. Through camera movement, subject movement, using different focal lengths, as well as simply using the light, I’m able to create landscape photos that have an abstract impressionistic look.

The silhouette

Silhouettes are what I would consider to be the easiest way to create an abstract interpretation of the landscape. Like with the photo above. I like to make sure I’m on location long before the sun comes up. Being there as early as I usually am means the mountains are only black silhouettes against the faint light in the sky. These silhouettes make great abstract photos.

Accidental Art, Moving Color.

Camera motion

Another technique that can have great results is using camera motion during exposure to give your photo an abstract look. In both the sunrise photo at the beginning of the article and this fall foliage photo, all I did was loosen my tripod head and swing the camera from left to right as I pressed the shutter. This technique does require some experimentation with exposure time and the speed with which you move the camera, but that’s half the fun since you never know what you’re going to get until the preview pops up on the camera’s LCD.

Autumn Impressions, Four Birch Trees On Bear Notch Road.

Don’t limit yourself to moving the camera horizontally, either. Vertical movement can have equally interesting results. I let the subject dictate how I move the camera. If the predominant lines in the scene are horizontal, that’s the way I’ll move the camera. If, as is the case with the above birch trees, the subjects are more vertically oriented, I’ll move the camera vertically up and down.

Three painted trillium flowers on the forest florr. Zoomed during exposure.

Zooming during exposure

This technique is really fun, and just like with camera motion, you’ll need to experiment a little to get the look you want. All you need to do is set up your tripod, frame the shot, and zoom the lens as you press the shutter. It doesn’t matter, in or out, heck, try them both. It helps to stop the lens down using a smaller aperture (higher number f-stop) f/16-f/22. What you’re after is a long enough exposure time to give you time to zoom the lens while the shutter is still open. Also, you’ll want to experiment with how fast you zoom the lens.

Autumn Chaos

Subject motion

Long exposures and moving subjects are yet another great way to put an abstract spin on your landscapes. The leaves that were ever so gently floating on the currents on this stream were really nothing spectacular. Capturing the same leaves that appeared to be barely moving to the naked eye, using a 57-second exposure made all the difference.

One of the best things about creating abstract landscape photos is that you can throw out the rule book and try just about anything. I guarantee you’re going to have quite a few failures, but when your experiments go just right, you can end up with some truly amazing photographs.

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