Don’t put your camera away when the day dawns grey. Instead, turn dull conditions into creative opportunities. Dull, low light days are ideal for making beautiful abstract landscape images.
Nature Doesn’t Always Deliver Epic Landscape Weather
When you think of some of your favorite landscape images, I’ll bet what comes to mind is a sweeping mountain scene at sunrise or sunset. Or perhaps you see a seascape with coastal rock formations silhouetted by a vibrantly colored sky. Those are magical moments and as landscape photo hunters, these are the ones we set out and do our best to capture. But the truth is, many times Mother Nature doesn’t deliver the conditions we need to make those landscape images every time. Sometimes what we get is a dull day complete with flat clouds, gray skies, pale light, and no drama. These conditions may not be good for making those epic landscapes, but they’re ideal for creating landscape abstracts.
Low Light is Perfect for Creating Abstracts with Camera Movement
The sort of abstracts to which I’m referring involve what is called intentional camera movement or ICM. The ICM technique is simple – while pressing the shutter button, the camera is moved to intentionally blur what’s in the frame. The tricky part is that, in order to create this blur, you must keep the shutter open for an extended time. The longer the shutter is open, the more light hits the camera’s sensor; the risk is allowing too much light which results in an overexposed image with no detail. To avoid this we must limit the amount of light that can hit the sensor… which is why a dull day when the light is not as bright becomes the ideal type of day to make abstract images that use this technique. All of the images shown here were created on overcast days.
This abstract-creating technique takes a bit of practice, but here are a few tips to get you started:
- Use the following camera settings to get started:
ISO – Set this as low as possible. Mine was set at 50 for all of the images featured here .
F-Stop/Aperture – Try starting at f16 and adjust higher if get over-exposed (all white) images .
Speed – Set to BULB. The shutter stays open as long as you continue to press the shutter release button. If you are getting all white images, hold the shutter open for less time. If you are getting all black images, hold the shutter open for more time .
Image Quality – Shoot in RAW as this gives you a greater depth of information for post-processing. I find most abstract images benefit from at least some post-processing.
- Pay attention to color, shape, and line
Since the subject is obscured in abstract landscape images, complimentary or contrasting colours, interesting shapes, and strong lines play a more prominent roll in creating a pleasing image.
- Be open to experimenting
It’s OK to make mistakes here. Try moving the camera in different directions. You could start with moving in straight lines but by no means limit yourself to that. I find that moving the camera in circles, loops, and wave motions often produces very interesting results. Checking the camera back to see your results is highly recommended and very useful for helping you to refine your results.
- Never delete an image in the field
Be patient (you will make mistakes) and never delete an image in the field. I often find that my abstracts require at least some post-processing in order to bring out their full potential.
So… the next time you find your plans to capture epic landscape photo moments are foiled by grey skies, don’t abandon your camera. Instead, take advantage of the low-light conditions and try creating some abstract landscape images. I guarantee you’ll find it an interesting challenge and with a bit of practice, I have no doubt you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you create.
If you get some great results, be sure to share them with us in the comments below.