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How to Create Abstract Photo Art with Construction Paper

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Creating a unique image from what looks like nothing is what this tutorial is all about. We’re going to be building a small construction paper 3D design and shooting it from interesting angles to make photo art. A few simple Photoshop techniques take this abstract project to a new artistic level.

What You Will Need

  • Colored Construction Paper
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • A Lamp
  • The Right Lens

1. Cut and Build

Start out by cutting various shapes in different colors from construction paper. Circles, rectangles, odd curves or sharp edges. Be creative. You don't need to think about what the overall image will look like. The point is to leave the outcome a mystery.

Position your shapes on another piece of construction paper and tape them down. Create some depth by spreading the shapes out. When you shoot, the image will be compressed - making the shapes seem closer together.

Set up a background using another piece of colored construction paper. For this I just taped several different colors of paper to the wall.

2. Light

Any lamp on the table will work well for creating shadows and highlights on your paper construction.

I set a soft-light lamp about 30 cm from my paper construction and turned the overhead light off in order to create a nice contrast. Not only does light create more interest, it will also help to distinguish the different shapes from each other.

3. Look for Angles and Shoot

This is the part when you get to be the most creative.

The limited amount of space in the frame and the obscurity of the subject really get your mind thinking about how to creativity capture this seemingly unimportant paper object.

Shoot straight on, from both sides, and stand on a chair and shoot downward. From every direction you'll see a new image.

I've used a 17-40mm f/4.0 lens for this kind of project (which worked well), but today I'm using a 70-200mm f/2.8.

The compression and sharpness this lens achieves is great for this shoot. I also like how you can get as tight as you can before cropping in Photoshop.

4. Review Your Images

After you've achieved a bunch of different angles, review your images in the image-viewing program of your choice. Here I'm using Adobe Bridge.

Most likely you're going to be cropping quite a bit to get the best composition. Keeping this in mind when you're selecting an image, look for what the image can become. Not just what it looks like straight out of the camera.

Here I've selected an image I think can be cropped nicely for better composition and a more obscure look.

5. First Step in Photoshop: Cropping

Open your selected image in Photoshop.

Look for different ways to crop it. This step is crucial and it's okay to try multiple times to get it just right.

Use the Crop Tool (C) in the Toolbar.

Don't be afraid to crop out certain shapes or leave others partially in frame. This is what achieves the abstract look we want.

6. Hue/Saturation

Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation

Set Hue to +88 and Saturation to +10

Depending on the original color of the paper you chose and the new colors you want to achieve in this step, your settings for Hue/Saturation will probably be different.

You want to ultimately create an image that looks like nothing like the original.

7. Levels

Levels are essential to the overall tone and look of the final image.

Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels

Here you can see my settings as a reference:

As you can see, we're pretty far from where we started with the original image with only a few simple steps.

Let's see what else we can do to make it look even more abstract and artistic.

8. Watercolor Filter

Go to Filter > Artistic > Watercolor

In the settings panel, set Brush Detail to 9, Shadow Intensity to 1, and Texture to 1

Final Image

There you have it!

Now you can print, frame it and put it on your wall as a stunning piece of photo art. Others probably won't even know how you did it.

Wait, There's More

You can take it a step further by applying another filter on top of the previous one.

Bonus Step: Graphic Pen

If you want to create a black and white image that still retains the unique characteristics of the shapes, try the Graphic Pen Filter.

Go to Filter > Sketch > Graphic Pen

Leave the default settings as shown below.

Simply a different effect, yet a completely different style.


The possibilities of this photo art project are endless. You can create a lot of different images from the same setup, or create new constructions and make a collection.

The best part is seeing what you can create from what initially seems like nothing. You already have a camera and the creativity. All you need is some paper, scissors, and tape.

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