Caption: This subject might be a little more obvious. Ice – right? Actually, these are evaporation patterns in a salt flat in Death Valley National Park. I took this photo at twilight, which added the blue cast. I like that the blue cast guides a viewer toward ice instead of salt, and thus this photo is a bit more of a surprise in a portfolio of Death Valley National Park.
#1: LET’S START WITH A (FLEXIBLE) DEFINITION
I have noticed a trend in online photography discussions recently. Any subject isolated with a telephoto lens is referred to as an “abstract” photograph. While some photographs taken with a telephoto lens are indeed abstract renditions of natural subjects, this definition doesn’t work for all such photographs. I am not a fan of “rules” being applied to creative pursuits and acknowledge that any definition related to art is by its very nature flexible. However, in this case, I do think it is important to carefully use certain words. “Abstract” is one of those words.
When creating a photograph in nature, there is always a literal subject (or multiple subjects in many cases) – trees, rocks, waves, leaves, mountains, sand dunes, mud, flowers, reflections, ripples, and many others. These subjects have other qualities that are less literal and more abstract – think of qualities like pattern, order, chaos, texture, shape, scale, color, spacing, repetition, balance, and dominance. Light and other elements, like seasonal changes and atmospheric conditions, can dramatically change both the literal and abstract qualities of many subjects.