For years I have been toying with the idea of making very abstract photographs. One thing that intrigues me about abstract images is how they free the viewer to imagine their own meaning. Also, I find trying a different style or subject matter teaches me things I would not learn from my usual photography. This photograph of storm clouds over Boundary Bay in British Columbia was one early attempt.
It was the color and contrast that attracted me to this scene. I used a telephoto lens to isolate the most interesting part of the sky and eliminate the horizon and any sense of scale. Although this is more abstract than my typical landscapes, it is still recognizable as storm clouds.
Another attempt at an abstract image was with a flame azalea flower. The stamens on these flowers are very long and extend quite far from the petals. I pointed a macro lens straight down the center of the flower with the stamens pointing into the lens and with the petals filling the background. A wide aperture resulted in a very shallow depth of field which rendered the petals in the background completely out of focus.
I did not want the details in the petals to show because I wanted to make this image more about the color than the structure of the plant. But the sharp focus on the stamens anchors this image in reality and tells the viewer this is a flower.
While these images are more abstract than what I typically create, there was something about them that did not sit well with me. I liked them but they were just not the abstract images I was after. I did not understand what I was missing until I had an interesting accident.
Back in June I was trying to photograph a plant in an open field but it was far too windy. In desperation I dispensed with the tripod since it does no good to hold the camera steady when the plants are swaying in and out of view. Instead, I hand held the camera with the fastest shutter speed I could to avoid camera shake. To improve my odds of a sharp, detailed photograph, I set the camera to allow the shutter to release only when focus had been achieved. Then I manually focused the macro lens to give me the close framing I wanted. My plan was to just keep trying to frame the plant as it moved in the wind and hopefully the camera would only fire when the plant was in focus. My plan worked, by the way, but that is not the point of this story.
While trying to get my body into position for this shot I must have had my finger on the shutter release because the camera suddenly went off. Some random blade of grass had passed through the autofocus sensor at just the right distance and triggered the shutter. You can see the point of focus near the center of the frame.
Although I gave this image little thought at the time, something compelled me to keep it. Only now, seven months later, do I think I understand why. This is just the sort of abstract image I had wanted to make! I usually base my compositions on some unique character of the subject. My earlier attempts at abstract photography were still locked into this way of thinking. Even though they were more abstract than my usual work, the idea for the photograph was still based on something visual about the subject. This composition is completely abstract; it is not based on anything! Maybe now I will be able to consciously break out of my usual pattern and make an abstract image on purpose.