Focus on Travel Photography

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Abstract Composition
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Abstract Composition

No rule in photography says every picture you take must be a literal translation of your subject. Indeed, many of the most alluring travel photographs break from reality and offer an interpretive or even totally abstract vision of the world. Because travel itself is often a surreal and fragmented experience, occasional forays into abstraction may be the best way to capture the true spirit of a trip. There are no rights or wrongs: You can simply let your imagination run wild.

Where to find fodder for your abstract ambitions? After a rain, reflections from wet sidewalks and puddles produce myriad impressionistic images. At twilight, when neon store signs and traffic lights begin to glow, wet asphalt becomes a luminous billboard of color. Look also to the fractured, mosaic-like mirror of city life found in the glass-and-steel facades of modern buildings.

Striking abstract subjects can emerge from well-observed (though often overlooked) confluences of color, shape, texture, and form that are the components of larger scenes. Pioneer color photographer Ernst Haas, one of the masters of abstract color photography, had an intense affection for peculiarly shaped fragments of peeling paint, torn billboard posters, and even crushed beer cans. Another master of photographic abstraction, Pete Turner, frequently finds his colorful compositions in the odd shapes and contrasting colors of such ordinary things as plastic garbage cans and beach umbrellas.

Whatever the source of the design, as with patterns, the secret to finding and capturing powerful abstracts is isolation—extracting the components of your images from their surroundings completely enough so the design and not the individual object or objects becomes your subject. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone will see the same beauty in your flights of visual whimsy that you do; don't be too offended by quizzical stares when you pass your snaps around at the office.

Next: "Establishing Size"