How to Make a Photograph Look Like an Abstract Painting

How to Make a Photograph Look Like an Abstract Painting image by Henri Bauholz

Photography and painting have long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Don’t forget that the age of photography predates the era of the French Impressionists. How much influence the camera had on the Impressionists is only speculation, but the arrival of the 20th century saw a great increase in the use and influence of the camera in painting and vice versa. Today, we can make pictures that resemble abstract paintings.


Step 1

Use a very powerful telephoto lens (200-400mm). This will reduce everything you photograph to two-dimensional, which is the exact place you want to be as you explore the world of abstract images.

Step 2

Use a macro lens to create abstract images. If you do not have a macro lens, you can still have a moderate amount of success by using your camera with the focal length set on minimum. Most modern cameras can focus in at less than 2 feet. This is enough to get the feel of how a close focal range can push your picture toward the two-dimensional.

Step 3

Look for settings where line and color come into strong play. The best place to do this is the old exterior wall. Masonry walls of a building are a great place to begin your search, which will hopefully send you searching for other similar places. Near where I live, one can find metal train cars, centuries-old lighthouses and old metal boat hulls, all of which can act as a modern-day canvas for the creative photographer.

Step 4

Look for reflective surfaces, especially water. Distortions of boats on the still waters of a harbor are a wonderful place to find fascinating images, but water in general can often be a great catalyst for a non-figurative photograph.

Step 5

Search the natural world for nature’s handiwork that comes in the form of a two-dimensional abstraction. The first thing that comes to mind here are the formation of lichens on rocks or even the bark of an old tree. Travel in the great outdoors for many more examples.

Step 6

Try a return to the three-dimensional image. Actually, creating a three-dimensional photograph that has the feel of a Jackson Pollack painting is not such an easy task. However, a slight return to the third dimension by picturing such items as water pipes, electrical lines, metal handles or door knobs can add a lot to an abstract image. The extra depth of field can add greatly to your image.

Tips and Warnings

The word "abstract" is often used as a catch-all phrase. The true definition of an abstract image is a picture made in some way that resembles a real-life object. A good example would be a triangle on top of a square representing a house. There are things in the world that have become classified by art critics and art historians as being non-objective or non-figurative. This short list might include a Jackson Pollack painting or a freshly baked pizza. Today, the general public would consider all these things to be abstract, while a professional artist might not. Expensive lenses for your camera are not necessary, to create abstract images, but a good, fresh mind is. Still, a macro and a strong telephoto lens can open whole new avenues of creativity for you.

Things You'll Need

Camera, Macro and a telephoto lens (optional)

About this Author

Henri Bauholz is a professional writer covering a variety of topics, including hiking, camping, foreign travel and nature. He has written travel articles for several online publications, and his travels have taken him all over the world, from Mexico to Latin America and across the Atlantic to Europe.

Photo by: Henri Bauholz

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