Abstracts In Photography

Great Egret Photo by Scott Bourne

Abstracts In Photography

Great Egret Photo by Scott Bourne
(And more specifically – bird photography)

You might be surprised to learn that out of nearly 750,000 bird photographs, one of my most popular is this abstract of a great egret I made 10 years at Little Estero Lagoon on Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.

I have always been fascinated by abstract art but when I was young, I very mistakenly thought it was something people did when they couldn’t make something realistic. I assumed they gave up and went with something abstract. I was dead wrong.

Abstract art can be harder to make than “traditional” art because you have to be able to “SEE” it in advance to really make it work.

As someone who spends a great deal of time with birds (okay I admit it – I spend more time with birds than with humans – and neither group really wants to hang around with me all that much to begin with) and sometimes I yearn for something different.

On the day I made this image I went out for abstracts. I knew that if I had a still morning on the lagoon that would be a starting point and sure enough it was the basis of everything I did that day.

While there are no real rules to abstract photography, there are seven factors I try to keep in mind when making such images. Of the seven, the last is the most important and since this is a blog post, and not a book, I’ll key in on that one a bit more in a minute.

The seven factors are:

Angle of View

Some people confuse surreal photography with abstract photography. In surrealism, you are actually making something up – creating something that doesn’t exist. In abstract photography, you are relying heavily on mystery. What makes it abstract is that it is indeed real, and something recognizable, although not immediately. That is where mystery comes in.

In the case of this image, I’ve cut off the top (and reflected bottom) leaving only the middle part of the bird and his legs. You know he has a head, but you can’t see it. It creates a sense of wonder and curiosity.

I relied on the water to obscure the bird’s feet, which adds even more mystery, and while color can be a positive factor that increases the abstract nature of a photograph, I went the other way here to monochrome to deepen the mystery even more.

I “SAW” this in my mind, and then went wading through the lagoon to find it.


When I was new at photography, I was like everyone else. I specialized in REACTING with my camera. Something would flash by or catch my attention and I would photograph it. As I get older, and more experienced, I am more drawn to scenes that I can see in my mind’s eye first, and then go find. It’s counterintuitive for some, but that’s okay. It’s art, so there are no real rules.

To find out if abstract photography is for you, I suggest you work through the list of seven factors I provided and see if any resonate with you and your imagery. Or just go more mystery in your shots – abstract or not. It helps tell a story. Either way, have fun and know I am rooting for you.

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2 Responses

  1. I also find that abstract is what distinguishes art photography from documentary photography. Both are valid categories, but they are quite distinct in many ways.

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