Abstract Art and Photography

It happens. Almost a foot of snow from midnight to 6 AM. Another foot is forecast for today. If you’re in a similar situation, or just want some pleasant diversion, here’s a show I did three years ago for a large photo club (the meeting was canceled due to snow).

Followers of this site know that I like abstract photography. It’s not everyone’s cup-of-tea, more of an acquired-taste, but worthwhile exploring for the benefits it will bring to your photography in general. Why else would abstracts be covered on a site called Photography Improvement? 😉

Here’s a multimedia presentation I made for several photography clubs in Feb 2014

Click the image for

A set of three multimedia videos

Slightly OT – What famous artist popularized “selfies” hundreds of years ago?

That, among other interesting tidbits, is revealed in part-1-of-3


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A re-post from 5-years ago…

Just something to break the photo-a-day monotony

A Mandala

The mandala began with this next image ( growing in my water garden)

The transformation, in Photoshop, went as follows –

– Crop off the bottom to leave a square
– Duplicate this square 3 times

  • Rotated 1 copy 90 degrees CW
  • Rotated 1 copy 90 degrees CCW
  • Rotated 1 copy 180 degrees

– There are now 4 squares, one rotated to each of the 4 possible rotations

  • Set the blending mode for each to Overlay
  • Flatten the 4 layers to make a single image layer
  • Duplicate this new layer
  • Flip the new layer vertically
  • Set its blending mode to overlay

–  Flatten these two layers

– Adjust color & tonal contrast to taste
– Crop to a circle
– Fill the border with a color that suits
– and – it’s finished.

To summarize the above

The final image is a blended composite of all eight possible orientations of the original square image

This is my recipe for creating a photo mandala. When I first tried this several years ago, it seemed to be the natural (intuitive?) way to do it in Photoshop (at least for someone who doesn’t use PS much).

When writing this post I Googled to see what others did – and was surprised that no one else did it this way (that I found). The “standard” involved cutting a triangular wedge from the starting photo & repeatedly copying, pasting, and moving each new wedge to a position alongside the others

much like if you cut a pie into 12-15 slices, took them out of the pie plate and then put them all back together again. That approach results in something like this –

Whatever floats your boat. 😉

Here is my first mandala from May 2007 together with its starting image. Same technique as today’s.

Done my way, its difficult to imagine the final result. Every one is a surprise. I’ve found that simple starting images like this tree and the flower in the featured image work best – at least for my taste. Busier images end up looking – well, too busy, all a big jumble like this next one –

A GIF Winter Wonderland

Animated images, GIFS, have existed for 25 years, but it’s only been in the last 2-3 years that they’ve become popular – web news and social media are the drivers. Would you like to learn how to make GIFS from your photos? Easy-peasy!

This is an intro to a short series on creating GIF images. In the next several posts return with me to January 2012 when I originally did this series (ahead of my time 😉 ).

Today, in anticipation of a potentially record-breaking snow event here in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., I’ll begin & end the post with an example. Subsequent posts will show how to do this on your own.

winter wonderland


Made while I was out wandering in a heavy snow.

Loved the experience – peaceful, still, no people

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Soft Focus Spring Closeups

This an extract from a five year old post. It follows the macro theme of yesterday’s post. It was done in the spring while, here & now, our first major snow of the winter is two days away – and the real-feel is near zero. Enjoy the faux-spring blossoms.

I love doing macros – especially flowers. Spring has sprung around here & I was out & about for several hours today with my camera checking out the flora.

My most used lens for this type of shooting is a Nikkor 105mm 2.8 macro although I occasionally use a Canon 500D closeup lens or a 1.4X teleconverter on one of my other lenses.

  • I recently bought a set of extension tubes and last year bought a Tokina 50-135 2.8 lens.
  • I decided to stick a 36mm extension tube on this lens and see what I could see.
  • The lesson? Images like this don’t absolutely need a macro lens.

Here’s a Japanese Cherry Blossoms image (why drive an hour to DC – with no parking – when I can shoot this in my neighbor’s yard?).

  • DOF of field was almost non-existent which is fine since that’s the way I prefer shots like this (of course keeping the wind-blown blossoms anywhere near in focus was tricky).
  • Gitzo tripod, Nikon D300, Tokina 50-135 lens at 135mm, Kenko 36mm extension tube, and
  • 1/40 sec at f/2.8, ISO200, EV0.0, Center weighted metering, Aperture priority exposure mode, Cloudy warm white balance.
  • Blossoms about 18″ from camera sensor plane.
  • RAW image converted in Nikon Capture NX2.

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Space: The Final Frontier

An abstract photo example

Strange New Worlds

“…explore strange new worlds… boldly go where no photographer has gone before”

Extreme macro of a piece of stained-glass

As captured; no crop nor Photoshop extremes

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Image Critiquing: A How-To

This is a repost. It’s long, but if you read it & take it to heart I guarantee you will be a better photographer – or you get your money back 😉

Summary – There are lots of ways to critique. Regardless of how you do it – learn to critique. If you don’t know what is & isn’t a good image, how can you hope to ever make one?

I Critique using the “4-C’s”

Do you know how to critique an image? No, not –

WOW! I like that!“.

That’s not a critique. That’s a Flickr comment.

Supportive but not useful if better photography is the ultimate goal.

Even the most well-intentioned critiques can be hard to take – ego’s need to be put aside.

One of the most common reasons given by newbies for not entering club competitions is fear/embarrassment because of criticisms.

A typical image has both good and bad points. Both should be recognized – the good acknowledged and constructive criticism offered for the bad. To be useful, the praise and criticism must be specific, not general – even more specific than

“There’s a problem with the focus”

What & where specifically and why do you think this happened so the maker can avoid the problem in the future

“The background is more in focus than the subject’s eyes. Your focal point was wrong for the shallow depth of field you used.”

Knowing how to critique images is a key step toward becoming a better photographer.

If you don’t know what makes an image good – and bad – how can you hope to make good images?

If you can’t recognize problems when viewing a displayed image, how do expect to see them when looking through your viewfinder?

The most important critique is self-critique of your own images

I use a structured method for critiquing images built around what I call the 4-C’s.

Take a look at this blog’s subtitle at the top of the page

The subtitle is there because I firmly believe that

Mastery of these four elements is key to Photography Improvement.

The 4-C’s

  1. CRAFTSMANSHIP – Using your camera to control exposure, focus and color for a technically perfect image or for the creative image that you want. Key message – putting you in control of the camera & not vice-verse.
  2. COMPOSITION – Making aesthetically pleasing two-dimensional images
  3. CREATIVITY – Making your images YOUR images (and not like everyone else’s) by building on craftsmanship and composition skills
  4. COMMUNICATION – Inserting emotion and feeling into your images. Great artists believed that art sprang from emotion. (A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. Paul Cezanne)

The list above is in the order that the C’s should be applied in an a critique.

The list begins with the most basic skills and progresses to the most difficult to master

Good craftsmanship should be a given even for a relative beginner – especially with today’s cameras

Communication on the other hand is very difficult – especially since it’s so viewer dependent

In another sense the list progresses from “objective” criteria through to “subjective”

Craftsmanship elements, color for example, are very objective. Unless the maker is making some artistic statement (see creativity & communication) we all know what color the bride’s skin and gown should be – it’s not a subjective thing.

Communication, on the other hand, is nearly 100% subjective. What “sings” to me may be “nails on a blackboard” to you.

To round out the story, the list is exactly in the opposite order I use when making an image rather than critiquing one.

Making an image begins with Cezanne’s quote – A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. If I can see the potential for an image that sings to me, I’m 90% of the way home toward making a good image.

We can’t begin with an everyday scene, craft & compose it in a creative way – and then “glue emotion” to it at the last-minute. It doesn’t happen that way.

Note – “good image” here means one that is good for me. I really don’t care about what others think. Depending on where you are in your photography development journey, you may (or should) care.

Now that I’ve found my singing image, the rest is straight forward. Starting with creativity I try not to make the presentation of my “song” routine & predictable – I want to be creative. My ingredients for creativity are the first 2-C’s (and treating them as the “RULES” of composition and craftsmanship probably won’t get the creative job done – but you do have to know them before you can break them).

The final two steps are relatively easy.

Usually the most difficult composition task is simplifying the image.

Craftsmanship is easy (or it damn well should be else it’s back to the drawing board for you). You HAVE TO reach the point where craftsmanship (using your tools – camera/lens) is instinctive and your camera is an extension of YOU.

If you have to think about it, even for 5 seconds, you’re not ready to be the best photographer you can be. This where practice, practice, practice comes in….

Craftsmanship errors are inexcusable

This is one reason that Craftsmanship comes first in a critique (especially in judging where 75% of all entries must be eliminated; if you can’t do the basics, there’s little reason to go further)

Craftsmanship is essential in terms of making your camera do what your vision requires for this singing image, including bending & breaking rules in the name of creativity

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