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Photography

Abstract and Colourful Close-Ups

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This post is part of a series called Macro Photography.
Finding Macro Inspiration in the Garden
Focus Stacking for Extended Depth of Field

Abstract and colourful macro photos can look fantastic and are fun to do. You don’t need to worry so much about the technical aspect of your camera: it’s more about expression and visual interest. In this tutorial we’ll look at some simple ways to get some great abstract shots.

 Work With the Existing

Potential abstract photos are everywhere. Sometimes all it takes is you photographing a shot out of focus, a breeze blowing to move a plant or some fantastic industrial decay.

Finding the Unexpected Under Your Feet

I spotted this heart shape in amongst cracks in peeling paint at the site of an old and now derelict, outdoor swimming pool:

Heart macro
Peeling, old paint is a great source of close up abstract. [photo: Marie Gardiner]

The heart became my focal point. I’ve placed it on the bottom right intersection of our imaginary rule of thirds grid, which brings visual-focus and a feeling of space. The lines spiralling outwards are almost vein-like.

Wonderful Wet Canvas

After it's rained can be a nice time to do some abstract photos. Dappled rain drops and moisture patterns make an interesting background, and sometimes the droplets themselves are a great point of interest on objects. Take this plant pot for example: 

plant pot close up
A macro photo of a plant pot after rain. [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Its shape is ordinarily fairly interesting, but nothing special. Add the raindrops and you have a wonderfully textured object and great bokeh where the drops go out of focus. The silver and pink tones here really help add interest too.

Fabulous Flora

Plants and grass in the wind do the work for you when looking for abstract.

Grass abstract
Blowing grass does the work for you! [photo: Marie Gardiner]

This blue coloured grass was blowing around, creating lovely blurred, ghost-like images. I’ve used split toning in Adobe Photoshop here to enhance the existing colours. You can see the cool blue-green of the grass really stands out against the warm red background.

Set Up Your Own Abstract Shot

If you have a small area in your house you can photograph in, then creating your own abstract shots can be really simple.

Bubbles

Bubbles from washing-up liquid or bubble bath are a lovely to experiment with. The results are never the same twice:

Bubble macro
Bubbles produce wonderful shapes and colours. [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Play with the lighting to get a wonderful spectrum of colours and effects.

Glitter

Glitter is great too, although messy! Shoot wide open and with nothing in focus for some amazing bokeh.

Bokeh
Out of focus glitter makes brilliant bokeh [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Again, experiment with colours to see what works, although I personally find that two colours is enough when mixing them together otherwise it can look too ‘busy’.

If you are of a ‘more colours the better’ mind, then instead of mixing them, you could try arranging them more purposefully like this:

Rainbow glitter abstract
Arrange glitter purposefully for a different effect [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Spirals of glitter look good too if you have the patience. Just have the vacuum cleaner to hand!

Lights Under Glass

You can create some really ethereal looking pieces with a simple battery powered LED light. I picked up 2 for a £1 in the pound shop and they’re great for this kind of thing. Glass tables will allow you to light your subject from below but if you don’t have one then try using a glass coaster; just prop up the four corners with something and you’ll be able to put the light underneath. I did this with an autumnal leaf:

Leaf abstract
Lighting something from underneath can entirely change the perspective [photo: Marie Gardiner]

The LED light from underneath was the only lighting used here and I love how it creates the cool blue shadow which completely contrasts with the warm yellow-brown of the leaf.

Conclusion

 Abstract close ups don’t require you to get too technical so you can just have fun creating anything you think will look good. Experiment with lighting, focal length and aperture to get different perspectives on the same shot. Think about colours too and don’t be afraid of pushing up the saturation in post-processing; after all it’s about expression and interpretation, not about being true to life or perfect.


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