Welcome friends - I'm posting published articles and sundry items as time allows. Most subjects pertain to conservation, photo trekking and tourism in borderlands Arizona, USA. More of my articles can be seen on my publisher's website

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Article: "Abstracts of Nature"

(Published May 2009 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.)

The beauty and drama of the borderlands region can move a photographer to distraction. He or she can venture beyond the literal scenes and open a new world of abstraction.
An aerial view of the Santa Cruz River in
 Mexico illustrates the potential of sharp angles.
For you, the creative and imaginative borderlands photographer, while trekking through southern Arizona in search of meaning and solace, a fresh vision can leap from an otherwise conventional viewpoint.
There’s nothing prosaic about a photo of an historic mission or a monsoon sunset or a pair of deer on grassland or a cactus flower with a bee on it. These are wonderful images which simply are a bit more common.
Viewing the scene in front of you with an unorthodox, abstract vision can require you to isolate a small section of it, by zooming or leaning or, later, cropping the frame. It can mean eliminating the surroundings or context of the subject, removing the milieu.
Disconnecting a subject from its context is one of the hallmarks of the abstract image. The things that surround a subject often define it, so these things should be removed, to some degree. Deciding what to keep defines composition and can result in a striking abstract photograph. A saguaro cactus standing on a slope with other cacti is just that, and really no more. But choosing a particular specimen and emphasizing one view of it can turn the plant into much more.
A thunderhead over the Santa Ritas appears
 impossibly fluffy.
You may evoke an image of something that the subject of the photo is not. In doing so, you create a more intriguing image and you keep the audience guessing. The abstract style involves treating the components of scenery as individual elements. Natural elements can be rendered nearly unrecognizable. Shape and form take priority. Elements can be juxtaposed for comparison or contrast, isolated by extreme close-up, reduced to silhouettes by underexposure, and so on. Normal rules, such as focus and shutter speed, may not apply.
A furled agave of Cochise Stronghold beckons
the imagination.
Two of the easiest techniques of abstract photography are close-ups and water shots. In close-up photography, the minute detail that appears is normally invisible to the human eye, and thus can be a delightful discovery. With water, the reflections and distortions created by it can provide an illusive effect of fantasy. Abstract photography is about presenting an image with no clear subject; it leaves more to the imagination. I’ll add a note about “pure” nature photography which is what I do. It’s without software manipulation. That “photo manip” is rife with opportunity for abstractness, and as a technique it employs lots of people, but is outside the scope of my comments. Instead, I try to exploit the abstractness that comes naturally.
A few months ago I wrote about photography of urban abstracts; personally I find the opportunities for abstract photography in urban settings to be more numerous and thus less challenging. Angles, straight lines, and man-made lights tend to multiply the options in the urban setting.
To create an abstract image in nature you will experiment with color, contrast, and form. Lose the constraints of a conventional view when creating such images. Try black-and- experiment with camera movement and slow shutter speeds and shadows and extremes of contrast.
And go ahead and make mistakes – it’s a snap for most of us to do this with a camera. Learn from the errors; skill is required when trying to replicate your mistakes.
The borderlands photographer can be set free by embracing the artfulness of abstract images and escaping the limitations of literal and reference photography.