Get a killer shot out of nothing

Abstract Photography: how to create depth - f/5

Abstract Photography: get a killer shot out of nothing

Creating a shot from nothing may sound like an impossible act, but training your eye to look for images in spots others ignore may be more rewarding than you could ever imagine.

Why not take time to look around your area and find interesting locations bursting with intricate details? You’ll be amazed at the potential for close-up abstracts in seemingly mundane settings.

Not only is the fine art world full of abstract images, it’s everywhere you look these days, from the walls of coffee shops and trendy wine bars to furniture stores and market stalls. So why not get involved? All you needs is your camera and a standard 18-55mm kit lens and you can get some great pictures, as we’ve done here.

Abstract Photography: what to look out for in your urban landscape

What to look out for…

From decaying buildings that should have been knocked down years ago, to futuristic-looking architecture (check out our essential night photography tips for the architectural photographer) that would be more at home in a sci-fi film, finding locations and subjects for abstract images is easier than you may think.

You probably walk straight past a number of ideal possibilities every day on your way to work. Vibrant colour, texture, detail, patterns, lines – and a creative eye – are all you need to find that perfect abstract opportunity.

Abstract Photography: tips for how to shoot detail

How to go and shoot it
The important thing is to not restrict yourself to constantly trying to find possible shots through your viewfinder. Instead, make sure you take the time to look around for possible areas where you might shoot and explore them to see if a more interesting image lies within that scene.

The best abstract images can often be found in seemingly the most mundane places. Using our 18-55mm kit lens, we captured what we feel is a really good selection of shots by concentrating on what was right in front of us to searching high and low for those more hidden abstracts.

Abstract Photography: tips for getting the right exposure

Expose for impact
An underground car park was an ideal location for this abstract image – you can’t get more urban than this! We made use of the fantastic shaft of light that was coming down through the stairwell.

Taking a spot-meter reading of the bright light that was falling on the wall above (find out when to use spot metering), we were able to expose this perfectly and darken the rest of the scene, creating a shot with depth and mood. The exposure hasn’t made the detail completely disappear as the graffiti is still just about visible.

Creating images with lots of lines and shapes is great for keeping the viewer interested – here we’ve created an image with plenty of triangular shapes.

Abstract Photography: how to ensure the best image quality in detail shots Abstract Photography: how to ensure the best image quality in detail shots

How to get the best quality
To really get the most from your camera and capture detail, tones and colours exactly how you see them, set your camera to shoot RAW images and at a low ISO rating. This gives you the ability to work on images shot at the highest quality.

When it comes to exposure, try working in Aperture Priority (Av) mode to give quick control over the aperture and depth of field in your shots – high f-stops in the region of f/11 and f/16 will give more front-to-back sharpness, while lower f-stops will allow you to isolate subjects between foreground and background blur (learn more about f stops and when to use a small or wide aperture).

Abstract Photography: how to ensure the best image quality in detail shots Abstract Photography: how to ensure the best image quality in detail shots

Keep an eye on the shutter speed, though – it needs to be fast enough so that your images are pin-sharp (see our guide to common mistakes at every shutter speed – and the best settings to use). For maximum sharpness, use a tripod (find out how to use a tripod the right way), lock up the mirror and trigger the shutter with a remote release.

Most importantly, be ruthless when it comes to composition (see the 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work). Try and get the framing of the shot right in-camera, so you don’t sacrifice picture quality by cropping in software later.

Explore every angle, try all focal lengths and reduce the image down to its simplest form – if an element doesn’t add anything to the shot, leave it out.

Final tips for abstract photography

Abstract Photography: how to create depth - f/10

Shot at f/10

Abstract Photography: how to create depth - f/5

Shot at f/5

1 Create depth
We used these desolate locations to our advantage when we discovered this cracked parking sign. To create the different looks of the two images, we opened up the aperture from f/10 on the first shot to f/5 on the second, so that only the focal point at the centre of the image remained pin-sharp. By moving to shoot the sign from an angle in the second shot, we also created a greater sense of depth and a more artistic image.

Abstract Photography: use fill flash

Shot with no flash

Abstract Photography: use fill flash

Shot with fill flash

2 Add fill-in flash
By using your DSLR’s built-in pop-up flash to add a burst of light , you can make your aperture much smaller and produce a shot with more detail. This reflective metal arrow on a fence provided an ideal subject on which to try out this technique (find out how to master using fill flash in 4 easy steps).

Abstract Photography: use a macro lens

Too far out

Abstract Photography: use a macro lens

Get in close!

3 Use a macro lens
We spotted this drainpipe with its interesting peeling paint colours down an alleyway. Its blues and greens contrasted well with the red of the nearby railing and the worn brickwork. But we felt that by using a macro lens and concentrating solely on the pipe we could get a far more pleasing image.

Using a macro lens can maximise the detail in a scene. We shot this image at f/5.6 and focused on a piece of rust in the middle of the shot.

Macro lenses are very sensitive to focus, so be careful – the closer you get to your subject the more out of control the autofocus gets. Try manual focusing to ensure that the area you want to be pin-sharp is captured accurately (see our in-depth guide to Manual Focus: what you need to know to get sharp images).


99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
How to be a Getty contributor
The essential A-Z of photography slang terms