“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something...” ~ Pablo Picasso
“Seeing” opportunities to abstract is an amazing skill set in your creative toolbox.
I recently led a photo walk in The Great Smoky Mountains where we spent four hours exploring a the beautiful things that water and nature reflections do at the Townsend “Wye.” Keep in mind that many of those I was leading in this artistic exercise have been shooting for decades longer than I have. But for some reason, I instinctively see the world differently than most, so I was thrilled to share what I’ve learned about capturing the unexpected and magnificent world of moving water.
Preparing for that afternoon, I practiced at a location closer to home—the Shortline Trail near Tallulah Gorge in the North Georgia Mountains, where I shot the images in this post.
There’s a particular bend in the trail, where the water’s flowing up and over rocks and swirling in competing currents—and on that particular fall day the landscape reflections where KILLER—that caught my wandering eye. Literally, I’d been wandering for nearly a half hour, and then suddenly I’d discovered where I’d be shooting until the sun set.
Each image I’m sharing was captured in this same maybe ten-foot spot of water. They vary because of focal length, shutter speed angle of view (whether I was low or high or somewhere in between) and how I positioned the camera.
Each image stands alone, even though they were shot within moments of one another.
I’m astounded still by the variety of what I captured.
But I learned an important lesson I was then able to pass along to my group in Townsend.
With abstract photography, you first must see the story unfolding in front of you, the “reality” of a fantastic scene so many pass without a backwards glance. It’s essential to recognize these chances, BEFORE you can capture the fantasy you long to share.
I’ve been shooting abstract water photography for years, since long before I understood how my camera was doing what it was doing. At first, I was hacking the “programmed” settings on my then cropped sensor Nikon, drunk on the amazing images I could create. I didn’t know how to post-process. If I couldn’t get the water movement right, I didn’t know how to manually change my camera settings.
What I DID know how to do was see what was there—but not there. Fantasies flowing past me begging to be discovered. So that’s what I did for over a year and a half, until my camera skills caught up with the rest.
I’ve learned to work a scene. If you’ve been with me on a shoot, you know I really CAN spend hours shooting the same water running through the same ten foot span of river bed.
And I’m thrilled to being given the chance now to share with others how to develop their own visual stories out of nothing much at all.
Nothing but color and light and texture and the crazy compositions you can make as you work them. Because there actually is something there, catching my eye, grabbing my attention…
Water abstracts grow from reality. Realities you only can work with, once you challenge yourself to be open and vulnerable and seeking whatever “something” is ready to be discovered.
That’s what my afternoon at Tallulah inspired me to share.
Fast-forward to my weekend in Townsend, and off I want to explore the Wye solo, the day before our photo walk. I needed to scout things out before I could help others see their own fantasies.
It was an amazing location. Such a successful creative walk with other photographers, sharing technique and how to recognize your own opportunities. I learned, too, by watching what others created in the same space. I left, I suspect, the most inspired of the group!
People were smiling and cheering and holding up their cameras to share what they’d captured. We followed the light and nature reflections all afternoon, hours and hours of grabbing image after image so beautiful we couldn’t stop.
But, bottom line, the success of that photo walk came down to work. To seeing what was there to begin with, and THEN learning what we could do with it by growing our technique of capture water movement and texture and reflection with our cameras.
So, yes, we must always begin with something. It’s essential to learn how to identify opportunities to capture that “something.” That’s how we’re blessed our next chance to work. That’s how creating magic—even when that magic is a fantastical abstract.
And, before we go, THIS was my something that day at Tallulah. This was the larger reflection (fall trees shimmering in moving water) that I saw that had me wading out into the shallows to get close enough to shoot the rest. Every abstract image in this post is a component of this whole.
I’m not certain I could tell you now.
Join me on my next water reflection photo walk, though, and I’d be THRILLED to show you!