Lately I’m obsessed with abstract art and making digital abstract photos. When I walk through galleries it’s the abstracts that I seem to gravitate to. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s because I feel that I may have a shot at one day learning how to paint one. I don’t have any real drawing talent and it seems like trying to paint a real object would be very difficult, if not impossible for me. If you make a mistake it would be very obvious. But with abstracts, on the other hand, who would really know what you had originally intended? Anything goes!

Abstract digital photo

So lately I’ve been studying a lot of abstracts. My goal is to some day learn how to paint them or perhaps use mixed media to create some pieces of art and I think it has been influencing what’s coming out of my camera. Lately, my favorite shots are my purposefully blurry “artistic” shots. I have always liked this sort of thing, but the more I play with it the more I’m falling in love with it.

Abstract digital photo of leaves

I’ve been playing with three different techniques. The one I’ll cover today is the panning technique. Normally you would only pan a moving object, but here I’m moving the camera during the exposure while shooting a stationary object. This is an example of side to side panning and this works well when you are shooting a horizon or anything that has a natural horizontal line.

abstract photo using panning

Trees, on the other hand, usually lend themselves better to up and down or vertical panning.

Abstract digital photo of trees

I used to think this was only possible in low lighting, but the more I’m playing with it the more I’m learning. I’ve taken some pretty interesting shots even while the sun was out. The trick is to set the ISO very low, make the aperture as small as possible and play with the amount of panning it takes to get the effect you want. I usually take no less then 3 shots of each scene and always come away with 3 very different looks.

Abstract digital photo of trees

Not saying one is better than the other, but depending on the scene, or your mood, you will likely favor one over the others.

I find this technique to be easier when there’s no bright sky in the scene, but even when there is I’ve had some interesting results. The streaks of bright colors add an interesting dimension to the photo.

Abstract digital photo of trees

Abstract digital photo of trees

Here are some other examples of this panning technique that I recently took. The fall colors sure do make this fun to play with. I came upon a scene that I would normally not even have looked twice at. It was so hum drum and boring. Here’s the scene shot with the correct exposure and focus. Yawn.


But here’s the same scene purposefully shot out of focus. I find it much more interesting.

Abstract digital photo of trees

Here’s another example of the only semi-interesting actual scene . . .

Fall birch trees

And the scene shot with a more artistic approach . . .

Abstract digital photo of trees

All of the photos shown in this post are straight-out-of-the-camera with no editing. Yes, you can buy all kinds of fancy filters and plugins to achieve these effects, but you can save yourself time and money by just doing it right in camera! You never know what you’re going to get when you start experimenting and looking at scenes for just their color and light values. This really makes you look at things differently and that alone is a great photographic exercise.