How to get more creative abstract landscapes

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An abstract approach to landscape photography yields interesting and creative images, as Lynne Douglas reveals.

Some years ago while reviewing images from a trip to the Hebrides, one image stood out from the rest – it was beautifully blurred because I had accidentally moved the camera while taking the shot. I had such an emotional response to this impressionist-style image that I began to explore ways to recreate the effect. At that time, the photography world seemed to be obsessed with hyperfocal distance and front-to-back sharpness; my attraction to camera movement seemed off-key. Ten years on, my happy accidents are now making me a living.

There are many ways to create painterly compositions, but there are always two basic factors that need to balance: shutter speed and movement. While the results of random movements are often interesting, developing a work ow will improve your success rate. Slow down and experiment with movement and shutter-speed combinations to fine-tune your technique. Having said that, this is a game of experimentation and there is no right or wrong way. So let your heart rule your head, shake off any preconceived ideas and let your creative juices flow.

Over the years I have developed some routine starting points for my speed, direction of movement and shutter speed depending on the subject I am shooting. As the main aim is to work with slow exposure and movement, there is no real need to worry about the aperture or the type of lens other than using those to your advantage in slowing the speed. A narrow aperture and longer lens can add a couple of stops and lengthen the time you have to make the shot. In my kit I always carry a large set of Lee Filters and rarely make a shot without my 0.9 neutral density (ND) filter. If shooting in daylight, I often combine graduated and ND filters as well as using my lowest aperture to maximise the shutter speed. Dark gloomy days are perfect for slowing down, and rain or mist can add to the effect.

There are so many options here that it really depends on personal interest to decide what to shoot. Personally, I enjoy working with mountains and beaches but forests and rivers have also been fruitful, as have studio shots of leaves and flowers. Mountains with strong graphic shapes can be used to create gentle, subtle movements, resulting in soft, flowing images. Whereas a two-step movement from one focal point to another will give repeats, by focusing most of the exposure time on the main composition before moving the camera to a second position you can reinforce the graphic elements.

Seascapes can be made dramatically minimal by panning across the scene in a straight line using the tripod or a monopod to keep the camera steady. For this type of shot it is important to review the test shot before you start, and ensure the horizon is straight and in the right position. These minimal seascapes work well with my EF 70- 200mm lens with a narrow aperture setting of f/32. The results are often simple exquisite lines and strips of colour. Freehand shots of distinct waves while moving the camera result in repeated misty waves that appear to drag colours across the image like a watercolour painting.

There are no rules for the length of an exposure or the degree of movement you should use, and what works for one subject may not work for another. Working in a forest using autumn leaves as my subject, an exposure of 0.5-1 second with a strong downward curving movement in line with the direction the leaves were moving resulted in pleasing effects. Sideways movements and short speeds with too little movement tended to look uninteresting and unintentionally blurry. Watch out for the light at the top of trees too. Downward movements will drag the white light from the sky through your darker colours, which is not always pleasing.