Abstract Photography

Image of Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky
Composition VIII – Wassily Kandinsky

For the longest time I had no appreciation for abstract art.  I could not understand what it was that people saw in it.  Certainly I was familiar with and even liked Wassily Kandinsky’s Composition VIII pictured above, but it didn’t have any real meaning for me.  I could not understand it.

Over the years my wife, a trained graphic artist and now high school science teacher, would try to convince me that I did not need to like something just because it was a “famous” piece of art.  And that just because I liked something, didn’t mean that I actually had to understand “why” I liked it.  It was OK to just appreciate the work that I liked and ignore the work that I didn’t.

CRW_1272_cropWith that foundation laid, when I met Joe Miller and was able to spend some time discussing photography, and that led to Joe’s preferred subject matter, abstract photography.  Joe was very patient with me, spending lots of time describing how lines, shapes, colors, textures and perspective all affect the way that we perceive a scene.  He spent a great deal of time explaining how Dave Carter, Joe’s longtime friend whom I met briefly before he passed away, would apply the psychological implications of visual design to his critiques of images.  Joe encouraged me to explore design-based, rather than subject-based, photography in a Portfolio Project for NVPS, for which I decided to work with the stained glass windows in Joe’s studio, but took all of the photographs in InfraRed using my converted Canon 10D.  The lack of color forced me to concentrate on the lines, tones and textures of the glass, however with the IR camera I got unexpected (for me) results.  Blues became translucent and bright, while reds became opaque and dark, frequently pure black.

All of this helped me to develop not only an appreciation of abstracts, but a greater appreciation of images in general.  It greatly improved my ability to abstract an image into its component shapes, which has improved my visual design.  I now find that I am framing images based on principles of visual design, even when I am shooting sporting events.

Joseph Miller


What can I say about Joe that hasn’t already been said?  Joe is my photographic mentor and good friend, founding member of the Northern Virginia Alliance of Camera Clubs, frequent speaker at local camera clubs, preacher of the 4C’s (Composition, Craftsmanship, Creativity and Communication) and Visual Communication, and promoter of the abstract photograph.

Joe has contributed more to the development of photography in the Northern Virginia region than any other individual.  In 1997 NVACC published its first Directory of Speakers and Judges, and currently maintains that directory for use by member clubs and the general public.  Joe also began providing a seminar for those who are interested in becoming a camera club judge, to increase the pool of people who could be chosen for each competition.  In the early 2000s, Joe began publishing photography booklets through NVACC for a small fee.  All of those booklets are available for download on the NVACC website now.

Two years ago Joe started an Annual Abstract Photography Exhibition and has worked tirelessly to make it successful, year after year.  He just began accepting entries for the exhibit this past weekend.

If you ever get an opportunity to attend one of Joe’s classes, seminars or presentations, I strongly suggest that you take advantage of it.

Freeman Patterson


photoimpressionismI cannot say enough good things about Freeman Patterson.  He is the most inspiring photographer that I have ever had the opportunity to meet.  I was turned on to Freeman Patterson by my camera club, the Northern Virginia Photographic Society, and eventually had the time and money to attend a workshop.  Freeman holds workshops with his partner Andre Gallant, another fine Canadian photographer.

photographingtheworldaroundI first bought “Photographing the World Around You: A Visual Design photographyofnaturalthingsWorkshop” to assist in attending my club’s self-improvement workshops back in 2006.  I also bought “Photography of Natural Things” and “Photography and the Art of Seeing: A Visual Perception Workshop for Film and Digital Photography” to get some more of Freeman’s writing.  Later, at the workshop, I bought “The Garden” and “Photoimpressionism and the Subjective Image: An Imagination Workshop for Photographers.”  All are well read, and I still get something out of reading each one of them again.photographyandtheartofseein

Multiple Exposure Compositions

Multiple exposures are something that are relatively easy to do with many Nikon cameras, but are not available at all with Canon.  I am a Canon shooter (too much money in Canon glass to change now) and I was intrigued by the multiple exposures that I had seen Freeman Patterson produce, like “Rudbeckia Swirl” and “Maple Spiral”.

While I am no where near that proficient at creating the spiraled multiple exposure images, I have made a number of attempts, and developed a series of actions to build multiple exposure images from 9, 10 and 16 images.

To create them you start with a series of images with a zoom and rotation (you can work with different camera movements to create other effects that are also pleasing) with the rotation working around a point of interest.


When you stack these images you create an image that looks more like this:


Definitely quite a departure from the original series, and it creates an impressionistic interpretation that I find very appealing when done well.

You will find 2 separate series of actions.  The first stacks the individual images as layers and then uses a formula of 1/# of layers to set the opacity of each additional layer.  I find that this Opacity method produces somewhat flat colors at times, so I will frequently use a Lab color adjustment layer that I adapted from Dan Margulis’ technique.  This generally produces WAY too much color and requires a reduced opacity and frequently a layer mask to shield some of the color.  I’ve include a Lab Color Boost action in this Action Set.

The alternative method uses a blend mode of Multiply and brings up a Curves layer that is a rough estimate at a one stop lightening of the image.  Individual images generally require an overexposure of the square root of the number of images, so with a 9 and 10 image stack the action creates 3 of these Curve layers (one stop each) on top of each image, and in the case of a 16 image stack the action creates 4 of these layers.

Either series of actions can be used on fewer images, but it will attempt to close the background image when it runs out of images to process, so if you get a dialog with an option “Don’t Save,” press the “Cancel” button and the “Stop” button when it appears.  If you are using the Multiply methods, you may need to delete some of the layers that lighten each layer.

As always, please provide some feedback or suggestions so that I can improve the actions.