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How to make abstract watercolor photography

The post How to do abstract watercolor photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Rick Ohnsman.

Less about what it is, more about how you feel is this "watercolors" shot, "Visual Jazz." © Rick Ohnsman

When you are ready to make the transition from "snapshooter" to a serious photographer, you take photos instead of just taking photos, then you are also ready to start thinking like an artist. You no longer have to take a photo to simply view what you saw. You want to start thinking about how to edit your image so that it tells a story, captures the emotion and engages the viewer in a way that communicates with him. Although the subject and location still matter, it is also important to consider "how does my image feel to the viewer?"

A Wikipedia article about the famous photographer, Minor White, (July 9, 1908 – June 24, 1976) describes him in this way – "An American photographer, theorist, critic and educator. He combined an intense interest in how people view and understand photos with a personal vision guided by a variety of spiritual and intellectual philosophies."

I especially like this quote from White –

"One should not only photograph things as they are, but for what else they are." – Minor White

Reflections of water ripples are sometimes distorted, which yields interesting summaries. © Rick Ohnsman

Photographing "Watercolors"

The use of the term watercolors in this article is not to describe how you can photograph a watercolor, nor is it to use digital tools and techniques to pursue a watercolor look with your photo. Instead, we investigate how you can learn to see and then photograph the interplay of light and water to create interesting and often abstract images. For such images you have to look harder, quietly observe, study and then decide how you will use your camera to take the photo. You will want to think about how the scene makes you feel and how you will communicate that to your viewer.

A real advantage of taking this type of photo ' s is – unlike participating in the dozens of photographers who could stand in line at that iconic location at sunrise and all cut away, essentially all taking the same photo – this type of photo ' s will be unique to you.

Each image will be different. In most cases you could not replicate the recording even if you tried.

There is a lot of satisfaction in creating something that is unique to your vision and creation.

The qualities of light and water

Yes, it is a wave, but this photo is all about the patterns, colors and reflections in the sea and surfing. © Rick Ohnsman

You may have heard the origin of the word ' photography & # 39 ;, based on the Greek words ' phos ' for light and ' graphé & # 39 ;, which means drawing. Photography is therefore ' drawing with light & # 39 ;.

It is the light that enters our camera lens straight away (emitted from a source such as the sun or an artificial light source), or reflected (light that returns from an object and in our lens). We study the effect of light, and it's absence, and use it to define the objects that we photograph.

Now add water to the scene. Water can also reflect the light (and the different colors that make it up). It can also refract the light – bending, modifying and even splitting into the component colors.

Light waves are changed as they move from a less dense material such as air to a more dense medium such as water. Understanding the physics behind how this works is not important. What you as a photographer, a trained observer and an artist want to do is learn to watch and capture the interplay of light and water.

Water exists in all three forms in this shot; liquid, solid and gas. © Rick Ohnsman

The three properties of water

Okay, wait a minute, a little more physics here.

Water exists in three states:

  1. liquid,
  2. solid (ice and snow), and
  3. gas (steam, fog, clouds, fog).

How light behaves when it is reflected or broken by the water in these situations will be part of your observation training as a photographer and artist.

A long exposure fades the liquid water, but the ice on the rocks is silent, a way to display the static and dynamic properties of water. © Rick Ohnsman

A long exposure blurs the water of Avalanche Falls in the Flume Gorge of New Hampshire. © Rick Ohnsman

Photos can always be taken if this mobile phone recording of water flows along the windscreen during a journey through the car wash. © Rick Ohnsman

Capture motion

Pick up the duck for a hint of reality, use only the reflection, or catch a wrinkled reflection for an abstract, there are many creative possibilities. © Rick Ohnsman

Water that drips along the wall of a building creates a "realistic abstract." © Rick Ohnsman

Another thing that water can do is move. From massive ocean waves, flowing rivers, erupting geysers, man-made fountains, small dripping drops, swirling mist and fog, snow and rain, in many forms water movements.

Our cameras can freeze that movement with high shutter speeds or flash or fade with long exposure times. Water and how it behaves gives us great opportunities for creativity with our cameras.

Combining still objects in the photo that do not move (think of a rocky coastline), with water that (like the waves) does a long exposure, and you create an exciting image that displays both static and dynamic elements.

There is the realism of the water lily, but then in the corner of the shot … © Rick Ohnsman

Realistic or abstract?

There are no rules when it comes to how you choose to display water in your photo. It is perhaps quite literally like an image of a waterfall. It could play a "supporting role" and add story and color to an image. Or it can be about how the light interacts with the water; liquid, solid or gas. Alternatively, perhaps it is completely abstract – all about the shape, form, line and color without any care for what the subject could be.

The goal is to become a ' student of light ' to become, who observes how light and water interact to create interesting scenes for photography.

… a complete abstract. © Rick Ohnsman

Learn by observing

The rest of this article is about the photos ' s. Study how I made them all and how water, in its various forms, is used in combination with the light to make the image. I have subtitled the photos with additional information about them. See what you can learn and then start creating your own unique images.

Water vapor, or what we call fog, creates effects with the light. © Rick Ohnsman

Ice is solid water. It reflects, breaks and changes the light while taking fantastic forms. © Rick Ohnsman

Reflections on the wet sand make great watercolors. © Rick Ohnsman

It can come in a bottle, but sparkling water is a great way to add bubbles to your watercolors. © Rick Ohnsman

Even if watercolors may not be the main subject, they can play a strong supporting role. © Rick Ohnsman

The post How to do abstract watercolor photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Rick Ohnsman.

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