Stories behind the images: Abstracts and Abstractions


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Shoot-n-Print workshop in Walla Walla:

Total Solar Eclipse:

Croatia Waterfalls and Culture:


This show is brought you by me, myself and I. And what I mean by that is my workshops I’m offering this summer. I’ve got the Shoot-n-Print workshop happening here in Walla Walla this summer, starting June 17. We’ll spend the mornings and evenings out shooting the landscapes here in the region and in the heat of the day we’ll spend learning the print process and making our own prints. I’m convinced that learning the print process will make you a better photographer. You’ll learn what details to be concerned over and what to let go. And we’ll all be in it together helping each other and inspiring each other.

Then there’s the total solar eclipse in Chile in early July. It actually starts June 30. We’ll photograph the La Serena region in anticipation of the eclipse, and then we’ll head on down to Valparaiso which is a hilly town with a lot of funiculars and a great market. We’ll end the time there in Santiago photographing the San Cristobal hill, a city park with great views of the city as the sun sets, mountains too. 

And finally, the waterfalls and historic culture of Croatia in the tail end of August. On that one, we can either do the last week of August, or the first week of September. We still have some flexibility there. Let me know which one works best for you and we can make it happen. This workshop will be a bit slower than the Chile workshop. We’ll have a bit more time to revisit the places we shoot. I’m very much looking forward to these experiences where you will be able to focus on learning more, growing in your photography and being inspired by others and being an inspiration to others.

Oh, in the spirit of learning, growing and being in inspiration to others. I’m starting a new section of the show where I’ll review three of your images. What I’m looking to do is have a post in the fb group to submit your images and we’ll have a theme as well. This time it’s all about texture. So if you’re so inclined, head on over to the group, find the post where I’m asking for these images and please be sure to read my first comment which has the guidelines for what I’m doing here. In a show I record in February I’ll go over three of these images and offer a bit of critique. Thank you to all that have submitted thus far. If your images don’t get included in a show I encourage you to submit again. Even if they don’t get talked about here on the show it’s about making them available for others to see there. I know I really enjoy seeing them and they are an inspiration to me. So thank you for participating.


The topic of today’s show is “abstractions” or “abstracts.”  I really love shooting abstracts for a couple of reasons. The first is that I feel it allows me an easy alternative to the cliché landscapes that already exist for popular destinations. I like to still get that iconic shot and try to put my spin on it, but the true excitement for me comes when I can get what I know is a truly unique image, and sometimes that’s done through an abstract. 

By abstract, I mean something that doesn’t represent the original form or subject, it’s just a beautiful mess of color, texture, pattern, what have you. Or it can mean something that is still fairly literal, but it’s a zoomed in portion of the object. That’s where I would call it an abstraction. 

For creating abstracts, I often use either my 24-70 or my 70-300. While the 16-35 can certainly work, I find it easier to achieve my purpose if I’m isolating the field of view a bit. But if I’m doing a multiple exposure shot then the 16-35 can really be a great option.

I’ll also use a tripod to keep things straight an organized, or I’ll go more freewheeling, all depending on that look I’m trying to achieve. You can also really stop down the lens to a small aperture which creates a long shutter speed or use something more “normal” that’s in air quotes by the way. I also like to play with exposure, usually on the side of over-exposing the scene, and then I’ll experiment with focus too. De-focusing can make for some excellent color blobs that make beautiful backgrounds for your phone or desktop. In the end, I guess I have to say there’s very little rules for shooting abstracts. The main idea is getting in on a subject and creating art for the sake of creating art.

One word of caution I have though, if you are hoping that people will “get” your image and understand what it is, then you may need to create a series of images that builds in to the abstraction. I’ve had some images that are more appreciated once you set the stage and show folks what they are looking at. In general, I try to be successful in making an image without the need for setting the stage, but it doesn’t hurt to have those as backup images just in case you need it. Besides, a series or sequence of images can be very powerful too. Especially if shown in a triptych format where they’re all experienced at the same time and the sequence is obvious. You can run into troubles if you give the viewer the opportunity to alter the sequence of how they are experiencing your images.

And finally, before we get to the images themselves, think about the type of reaction you want from your viewers. Should they contemplate it a bit and should the image grow on them? Or should it be immediate joy and that initial happiness is what keeps them coming back for more? We often want that initial joy experience for our viewers, but I’ve found success in some images that have little nuggets to discover overtime as well. Though they are more complex and not as easy to get the “win” also in air quotes, as it were.

Time to get to the images. Let’s go through them here and this is an enhanced episode which means you’ll be able to see the images in your player if your player supports it anyway. The images are also available on the blog post show notes on the latitude photography podcast website. So if you wanted to, you could follow along there. However, I’ll do my best to describe these images so that you can learn everything here in the audio only format.

Several of these images are coming from Mexico. First up is three from 

La Casa de Hernan Cortes, 

just north of Veracruz, Mexico.

To set the stage a bit, I was there with a friend and we had just finished shooting for a mission trip in the state of Chiapas which is in the deep south of Mexico. We elected to take the bus back to Mexico City with a lot of zigging and zagging along the way for a week. One of those zigs took us to Veracruz, a city along the Gulf of Mexico. While there I learned about this place and we hired a taxi to drive us there. He overcharged us, but there’s not much that can be done about that now.

Anyway, this site is the ruins of Cortez, which is in the town of Antigua, the first Spanish settlement in Mexico dating from 1519. There’s also a small church there where I got an awesome shot, but this is about abstracts, so I’ll not get too sidetracked.

So it’s a series of old ruins, walls that have been used by nature to support these threes. The roots cover the doorways, walls, and other areas. Mostly, it’s all roots you see, not much in the way of bricks. This first image is horizontal with the bottom of the image terminating just below where the roots go into the ground. The top of the image crops just below where the trunk might be imagined. And we don’t see the top of the wall either. We do see a tiny amount of brick on either side, but everything is about the texture of these roots, and the energy they have going up and down. But more than that, the energy idea, it’s a chaotic energy. It’s not a free-flowing energy. The roots branch off, they go over other roots, or under other roots, they are intertwined. 

Casa de Cortez, built in the 16th century, still stands even though the trees are slowing taking over. La Antigua, Veracruz, Mexico.

This next image is vertically oriented. And we have a few leaves in the scene too. It’s a doorway with a subtle arch, and brick on the far-right side and you can see through the doorway as well. The left side is taken over by this tree. It’s interesting to see how it wraps around the doorway and it reaches to the interior of the building. The roots on the ground are darker, but they run rather chaotically searching for a place to penetrate the earth for the much-needed nutrients. 

Casa de Cortez, built in the 16th century, still stands even though the trees are slowing taking over. La Antigua, Veracruz, Mexico.

And finally, we zoom in even further. This last image is my favorite. The roots start so small, and they converge into larger branches and they combine as they move toward the top. They slope off to the left and we see a pock marked wall on the right. The texture is really coming through in both the roots and the wall. There’s so much goodness for the eye to feast on, it’s rather chaotic, but the contrast in those textures and forms gives it meaning, gives it purpose. If I filled the frame with either texture, either the wall or the roots, I think it could still be a good image, but with the combination of the two, I find it much better at telling its story.

All three of these images are in B&W which helps us focus on the texture, forms and the raw subject matter. Color, as muted as it was, may help some viewers, in fact, the first image has a slight sepia tone set to it. But in general, for these subjects I found the color distracting. It doesn’t enhance anything here.

Hierve el Agua

North America, Mexico, Oaxaca. Hierve el Agua is a popular place to relax in the natural spring water.

This next image is a foundational image so you can get a sense of where we’re at and what this place is like. Heirve el Agua is difficult to get to. We took a bus from Oaxaca to the tiny town of Mitla. I had no idea this place was out here.

 We walked around Mitla for a bit, saw the archeological site they have going on there and saw a sign to Heirve el Agua. So we bought a ticket on the small pickup truck that would take us there. It took at least two hours and the mountainous road was extremely bumpy. So much so that I feared damaging my camera if I left it on the floor of the bed of the truck. We had piled in and sat on some makeshift benches. There were about five of us in the back, and one up front. I held my camera bag on my lap so as to give the gear a bit of more cushion.

When we got there, it just looked like a run-down resort. There was nothing interesting. Then we walked through the gate and followed the crowd and low and behold, here we were. Mind you, I had no idea this place even existed just two hours before. I had no idea what it looked like. I was just taking a trip out further into the country side because we had the time and it was cheap. I figured it must be worth something if they are ferrying people out there en masse. 

It’s a spring that comes up on the mountain side. The water is rich with minerals. And those minerals have formed a waterfall-like formation as it runs over the side of the mountain. If you were to look at it from the distance it looks like it’s a gushing waterfall. But it’s just the calcium deposits that you’re looking at. It barely trickles over the edge.

But they’ve made pools out of this place. The water is kinda warm too. We didn’t have any swimming gear so we were out of luck there, but we got some great shots. 

Hierve el Agua is a popular place to relax in the natural spring water. This detail shows the natural formation of the minerals and the color of the water. Oaxaca State. Mexico.

This abstract shot, finally getting to it, is just a small detail of the water at the edge. There’s some rounded off calcium deposits that you can tell people have stepped on over the years as it’s rather rounded off. And the water is quite green. There’s lots of these little details all around the edge of the main pool. That first pic was a man-made pool, but there’s some natural pools as well. I love looking at these details and searching for the graphic shapes and forms that we find in nature. I’ve got plenty of these types of shots that I kept. I’m just showing one of them here for now. 

Jellyfish, Veracruz Mexico

North America, Mexico, Veracruz, Veracruz City. Jellyfish swim in the acquarium at Veracruz.

Veracruz also has a really good aquarium. And in the jellyfish tank I was able to get these beauties. I love the calm feeling I get when I look at these creatures. They are suspended in this clear liquid, their tentacles flowing, rather serenely. I’ve got one focused here but there was a whole pool of these. They are a bit tricky to shoot. You have to be slammed up against the glass so as to not get any reflections. And you have to boost your ISO a bit. I have it at about 1250 on this shot. This allowed for a 1/80 of a second shutter speed at f/5.6.  You can shoot at a bit wider of an aperture, but I find the extremely shallow DOF doesn’t work well for this subject. I’m at 135mm, so I’m zoomed in quite a bit. The blue background is just the tank they are in, but it feels somewhat natural, and I love how the warm hues of the jellies contrast with the cool hues of the background areas.

Agave Plant, Mexico and Croatia

Agave plant detail, Chiapas, Mexico.

I love plant details. And that’s what these next two shots are all about. The agave plant grows on many continents. In different forms, but they’re still a good succulent that can look great, especially when you zoom in on the details.

This first one is a slightly wider shot than the second, but we still only see agave. We see the central spire with the leaves pealing away. I love how they leave an impression of the saw-like teeth on the side of the inner leaf. I had to look it up to ensure I’m using the right terminology. Looks like I am. The leaves are also known as the penca, and the ball of leaves is known as the piña or cabeza. Anyway, this first one is from Chiapas, Mexico.

This next one is from Lokrum Island, Croatia. Lokrum is just a short 10-minute boat ride off the coast from old town Dubrovnik. We’ll head out here on my Croatia workshop later this summer.

Agave ghiesbghti detail. Lokrum Island Botanical Gardens. Croatia.

I absolutely love the brilliant colors on this one. The teeth are much larger and closer together than the one I found in Mexico. We have a repeating pattern of the leaves, but not too regular. There’s still some chaos here too. But that central row of teeth is the main interest and there’s so much there that just hurts since everything else is so soft and easy to look at.

I think I’ll have to end it here and continue on with another episode in the future. I’ll talk about images I found in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Prague, Boston, Walla Walla and more. All with an abstracts theme or idea.

And finally, I talked about these images from Praugue, but I’ll go into more detail in a future episode.

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