Abstract Photos: In Camera vs. Post-processing?

Summary – Is there a point at which an abstract photograph becomes less a photograph and more digital art? Reasonable people may agree to disagree. Spoiler alert – I vote yes.

Abstract anything goes 08

The White Wall


The goal of this abstract photography series is to discuss

How to make quality abstract photographs, considering

Craftsmanship, composition, creativity & communication


Before doing that, we need a common understanding of

What is meant by an abstract photograph


Specifically, the meaning that applies for future posts

Regardless of your personal views

(not to minimize your views, but for pragmatic reasons) 


If you’re curious, the above is a photo

(of a white wall; Photoshop just made it more interesting 😉 )

The how-to is at the end of the post

Did it cross some line?

Not if the “rules” say – start with a photo then anything goes

but – It crossed a galaxy for purposes of future series’ posts


We began with definitions of

Representational and non-representational (abstract) images

Followed by an extension of the definitions

From images to photographic images

Each of these two posts narrowed

The meaning of abstract photograph for this series

Today’s post, the third,

Discusses the final narrowing of the definition of

What is an abstract photograph

It considers the question

When do abstract photos become abstract digital art?

The lawyers among us need not file briefs

For purposes of future posts the judge has decided already

No appeals, the decision is final 😉


An example of abstract photography – NOT

Start with a photo of this famous Wassily Kandinsky painting

We’re already on thin ice

It’s a photo of an abstract & not an abstract photo

(That objection from the defense is over-ruled ;-))

11-15-2013 8-37-23 AM


Now crop out the upper left corner

You are entering an exhibit that allows image alteration of any sort

?What’s a “little” cropping?



Next, pump up Wassily’s color a bit

You’re a Photoshop-whiz and the exhibit’s rules allow this 😦



Just to make sure the judge doesn’t suspect the source

(although the rules are silent on this)

Distort the image and shift the colors

Which is also permitted in “anything-goes”

This is still a photo? Really?? Come on, be serious!!!


IF – The rules require that the entry start as a photograph

and – Any and all post-processing adjustments are legal

Voila – a rule abiding abstract photograph

If it’s not clear – this isn’t an abstract photo in my book

Digital Art yes, but an abstract photo – NOT!


Competition & exhibits usually all have rules

There’s the letter of the law and

There’s the spirit of the law – which is meaningless to some entrants

How would I prevent things like the “Wassily-trick”?

(Assuming that not everything/anything goes)

I’d require two files for each image entered

#1 – The proposed entry (usually a jpeg or tiff file)

#2 – The original negative (i.e. an unaltered Raw file)

Comparing 1 & 2 readily shows the difference between

The capture & the image submitted  for entry

Then – It’s up to the judge to decide

If some line (don’t ask) has been crossed

Not fool-proof but very effective except for

The most determined rule-benders 😉

11-15-2013 8-37-23 AM

This is the reason I refuse to enter any event

That calls itself photographic, but

Doesn’t separate entries into categories

Based on how the images are made

Comparing a “pure” photo and the “Wassily-trick”

Is an apples & oranges comparison

Yeah – they’re both fruit, but….

YMMV – it’s just my personal opinion & preference


From the ridiculous to the sublime

This starts with a photograph

The white wall in front of my desk

Followed by seven routine PS adjustments

No arguing that the result is an abstract

It’s calling it an abstract photograph that I won’t accept

Even though it would be a legal entry in some events

How could a judge tell?

Compare the negative (white wall) with the “entry”

By the way – the whole “adjustment” took less than 5 minutes


Click on an image to step through a slide show

Photoshop adjust description is at lower left of slide


Do you think no entrant would go to these extremes?

Look at some abstract “photograph ” examples and think again

Does anyone care?

Apparently only a few of us

But let’s ask anyway

A show of hands, please

Provide answers based on your thoughts as

You (hypothetically) consider entering an event

Titled Abstract Photography (not abstract art)

If you’d never even consider entering such an event

Please abstain from voting



If unlimited P-P were allowed, in your opinion

Are you entering an abstract art or photography event?


The question arises with unlimited P-P

Is the playing field level for those

Who are photographers, not digital artists?


If you consider yourself primarily a photographer

Would you enter under “unlimited P-P” or

Choose an alternative if it existed?


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