It’s easy to stay confined within the rules of ‘standard’ photography, looking to showcase subjects in their ‘natural’ way, but why not tell a story and why stick to the norm?
In the world of digital photography in particular there’s such huge possibility for adventure and exploration, a chance to express one’s creative side, that abstract thinking should be something enthusiastically encouraged.
Abstract photography separates the reality of a subject through the use of imagination and provokes the thought of story. Instead of an accurate, concrete image, abstract imagery instead conveys feeling, mood, colour, movement and/or texture. While there is not a hard and fast definition of abstract nature photography, we can apply the principles found in abstract art to create captivating images.
One doesn’t need to capture the tree canopy, the leopard feeding nor the half eaten impala to tell the story.
Exploring and using an abstract approach in nature/wildlife photography positively impacts our creativity in 1) composition, 2)the use of colour, movement, lines and texture, and 3) post-processing. When delving into abstract, a key tip is to bring the focus to the elements of the subject versus the subject itself. Elements become the main focus and not the entirety of the image.
Composition, movement, colour or black and white, lines and textures… these become often the most important aspects to focus on. For example, you are lucky to find a leopard on game drive yet it is lying in a dense bush and to you the big picture is that there is no photograph.
But look closer…
Now and then this leopard peers back through the dense green bush and there is a striking yellow eye amongst the uniform greenery. Focus on the eye surrounded by rosettes, nestled in the uniform foliage of the bush or explore the difference black and white may have on the image. After all, leopards are cats that prefer dense vegetation where they can go unnoticed and setup ambush for passing prey or avoid other predators. Capturing the eye through the dense vegetation will often tell more of a story and add mystery or thought rather than a leopard full body shot out in the open. Look closer.
The Inyathini male leopard lay up in a dense guarri thicket. Immediately cameras were placed back down as there was a very limited view, but what no one realized at the time was the potential of capturing a shot that told more of a story. An eye looking back with intent is all that was needed to create mystery and mood.
Your final images may not be ones you’ve imagined of before, but exploring these techniques and ideas will help to improve your process and creative thinking when you’re out in the field, whether looking for abstract images or not.
The long grass of summer. An ideal environment to remain completely hidden. All that is captured is the eyes and ears of one of the Styx pride females. Would you believe that there are nine other lions lying in the grass alongside this individual? Set the subject off-center to make it more captivating. Place it higher up in the frame to showcase the extent of the high grass and how a full grown lion can disappear as it wishes.
Using light at night is something that can be used to convey a lot of mood. Just the outline of this animal tells us what it is. A large male lion, head perked up and listening to the sounds of the night. The hours of darkness are when lions are most active and the blackness combined with backlight add to the eerie feel of this image.
Uniform grey with rough skin and textures. An image of a white rhino is best expressed in shades of black and white as the texture of the skin and shadows is more emphasized. It adds mood and story and provokes thought.
Uniform textures and colour of a drying pan broken by beautiful burgundy browns and whites of an African jacana. Allow the subject to look into space, and emphasize the cracked mud by zooming out.
A silhouette of an iconic animal at sunset as this herd of elephants kicks up the dust. One wouldn’t normally be interested in taking a photograph directly into the sun but try something different and underexpose; wait for the sun to emphasize the outline of the subject to gain a different perspective.
I’m sure most people would be able to tell which animal this belongs to and no it’s not a macro shot of some form of caterpillar. Getting in close allows one to focus more on the details. Notice the wire-like hairs and wrinkles as this elephant curls its trunk to its mouth to pour in litres of water and quench its thirst.
White with black stripes or black with white stripes is what some may joke about; in my opinion there is nothing better than to portray a zebra’s coat in black and white. After all it is believed to be part of their defense and confusion in the grey-scale eyes of their main predator, a lion.
Get fun, get creative and a good way of doing so is to flip reflection images. Which way is the correct way round as this hippo bull returns to a body of water after feeding through the night?
Emphasizing the elusive nature of these scaled mammals and creating a natural border through the use of grass. The scales and textures are like no other as this pangolin rolls into a ball in defense.
Rough, tough and well-textured skin of an African elephant.
Get in close, focus on the eye and see the detail. A close-up of rosettes and bright yellow green eye of the Tamboti young female.
By far the most impressive, fattest and possibly the oldest Leadwood tree on Londolozi. Amazingly textured and detailed. How old was this dead tree and how many years has it been standing here? Hundreds?
Back light outlining a silent hunter of the night; a leopard. Light adding highlights to whiskers and fine hairs that play a vital role in the art of hunting and stealth. A wide aperture to gain enough light at night, medium to high ISO and a slow to medium shutter speed with focus on the chin is what allows one to capture this.
Shy yet inquisitive, it takes some time for young leopard cubs to realize that a Land Rover poses no threat. Ears lowered and only eyes peeking over a boulder adds in minimizing its profile. Allow for the foreground of rock to be in frame and out of focus; it creates the impression that this young leopard is peering over a boulder it was hiding behind.
Teeth of a fourteen year old apex predator. Just the wear and tear of the teeth alone tell the stories of what this male lion has gone through in his time. Notice the barbs on the tongue? These will assist in a comb like fashion when grooming dry blood out of fur and could possibly assist in removing soft meat from bone.
Slowing the shutter down and dropping the ISO to achieve something different. A motion blur of a white-backed vulture coming in to land. The motion blur gives a sense of movement in the picture.