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How To Shoot An Abstract Landscape

For this series of photos Alfonso Calero was inspired by Russian-American painter Mark Rothko. He shares the camera techniques he used to create an abstract look, and explains why libraries are such good places to search for inspiration. The following photos take their inspiration from Russian painter Mark Rothko. Rather than capturing a literal view of a particular place, these images hint at a location and mood but are entirely open to interpretation. Rothko always resisted explaining the meaning of his work. “Silence is so accurate,” he once said. He felt that if he explained his art it would limit people’s ability to interpret his work. Here is my tribute to the artistry of Mark Rothko and some thoughts on how you can start creating your own abstract photos.

No.8. Mark Rothko, 1952.


The blur effect in these images was created by setting a slow shutter speed and moving the camera. Experiment with different shutter speeds and try moving the camera at different rates. Generally speaking, blur will appear in your images at shutter speeds slower than 1/30 or 1/15s. The slower the shutter speed, the more blur you will get. In these pictures I set the camera’s exposure mode to Shutter Priority (abbreviated as S or Tv on the top dial) and switched the shutter speed to 30 seconds.

Photo by Alfonso Calero.


Use your camera’s lowest ISO setting – usually 100 or 200 ISO. This will not only reduce the appearance of noise in your image, it will also allow you to choose a slower shutter speed.

Photo by Alfonso Calero.


If you are shooting during the day you will probably find that it is too bright to select a really slow shutter speed. You can reduce the brightness of the scene, and access a slower shutter speed, by placing a neutral density (ND) filter in front of the lens. ND filters work a little like sunglasses, reducing the amount of light that enters the lens. By darkening the scene you can choose a slower shutter speeds and/or a wider aperture. ND filters come in different strengths (ND2 reduces light by 1 stop, ND4 by 2 stops, ND8 by three stops) and are available through most camera stores. (Near dawn and dusk it should be dark enough to use a slow shutter speed without having to use an ND filter.)

Photo by Alfonso Calero.


It seems counterintuitive but a tripod can be useful when creating blurred images. In these pictures I mounted the camera on a tripod and slowly panned from left to right. I used a small spirit level to make sure the camera was perfectly level when I took these shots. Experiment with different variations of movement and see which one you like best. A fluid and steady movement will help you avoid jagged edges on the lines.

Photo by Alfonso Calero.


The options for abstract photography are almost endless and I encourage you to experiment with different camera settings, subjects and post production effects. This project began because I was interested in the abstract pantings of Mark Rothko. I often find myself in the local library reading about artists and art movements that interest me. Often we look to photographers for inspiration, but the wider art world can also be a rich source of creativity and ideas. Who and what inspires you? Born and raised in the Philippines, Alfonso Calero moved to Australia at the age of 15. He graduated from the Sydney Institute of Technology with an Associate Diploma in Photography in 2001 and has been professionally photographing food, portraits, landscapes and travel subjects ever since. He started a travel education and tours company four years ago delivering workshops every Saturday morning in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Fremantle. He also takes groups of four people to Japan, Philippines, Spain and Tasmania once a year for 10-14 day photography workshops. You can buy cards and prints of Alfonso's Rothko inspired images here.

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