Big cities are certainly not short on subjects that can make great abstract photographs.
Melbourne was my first stop in Australia, and it couldn’t have been more different to what I’d seen in South-East Asia. By then, I’d forgotten what skyscrapers looked like. So I was absorbed by the colourful glossy sheen of the windows in the big city. I knew they had potential to make a set of striking images and I wanted to use a telephoto lens to pick out the small details to create abstracts. Any long lens like a 70-300mm or even the zoom on a compact would be ideal for this technique. A tripod will help you compose and get a sharp shot, but isn’t essential on a bright, sunny day.
If you’re shooting handheld you should brace yourself against a wall or lamppost to steady the camera and lens. You’ll want your shutter speed to be equal to or higher than your focal length for a sharp handheld shot. This means you’ll need a shutter speed of at least 1/200sec when shooting at 200mm, or 1/320sec or faster when shooting at 300mm etc. To get this fast shutter speed, open your aperture as wide as it will go and increase the ISO value until your shutter speed is fast enough.
Zoom in and focus on a detail in your building. When composing, keep an eye on the shapes, colours, vertical and horizontal lines in the shot. When shooting straight-on to the building I tried to get the straight lines of the windows to line-up perpendicular to the frame edges. Professional architectural photographers use special tilt & shift lenses to make sure these vertical and horizontal lines appear exactly straight. But costing several thousands of pounds, these specialist optics are out of the equation for many shooters, myself included! What you can do is rectify the straight lines in Adobe Photoshop or Elements...
1. Add some guides
Hit Ctrl+R to bring up the rulers in Photoshop or Elements. Now hover your cursor over the top or side ruler, and you’ll see it change to the mouse pointer. Now, click and drag the mouse towards your shot – you’ll see that you’ve pulled out a blue guide out from the ruler. Drag this guide until it’s over one of the lines in your shot that you’d like to be totally straight. I usually pull out four guides – one for the left, one for the right, one for the top and another for the bottom. Hit Ctrl+; to hide the Rulers at any point.
2. Use Free Transform to straighten the lines
With the Rulers in place, hit Ctrl+A to select the whole shot and Ctrl+T to put it into Free Transform mode. You’ll see there is now a bounding box around the picture. What you need to do is hover your cursor over one of the corner squares of the bounding box. Now hold down the Ctrl key and pull the corners out until those lines have been squared up. You can also move the guides as you go by holding down the Ctrl key and dragging them into place. When you’re dragging the corner handles, you can simultaneously hold down the Shift key to keep the adjustment straight. You can also hold down Ctrl+Alt+Shift to adjust the two top or bottom corners at the same time. When you’ve straightened up hit Enter to apply the change and Ctrl+D to deselect the image.
These abstract architectural shots, backed up by some strong street photography, create a great travel portfolio that will transport the viewer to the heart of the city.
Dan Mold is a professional travel and wildlife photographer and a regular contributor to Practical Photography and Digital Photo. He has recently returned from an epic adventure around Asia and Australia. See more of his work here.