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Getting started with architectural abstracts

Editor’s Note: We welcome Michael Muraz, an international award-winning architecture photographer, bringing technical precision and creative passion to his fine art and commercial work. Based in Toronto, Michael travels extensively, photographing buildings and leading workshops all over the world. Join Michael for a workshop at

In my last post, I wrote about the different genres of architectural photography. Today, let’s explore architectural abstracts.

First, what exactly is an architectural abstract? The Tate Museum defines Abstract Art as:

“art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead uses shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect.”

In architecture photography, it means creating images that do not represent accurately the building, but rather create shapes and forms through composition and use of light, that make the viewer wonder, “What am I looking at?”

Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex – Mississauga, Ontario

Isolating elements

So, how do you create abstracts? The key is to isolate architectural elements to draw the viewer’s attention to shapes, form, color and/or light.

The first way to achieve this is to zero in on interesting features and fill the frame of your images, thus, removing distracting elements and simplifying your composition.

Kellogg School of Management – Evanston, Ill.

Another way to isolate an architectural element is to use negative space. Including empty space in your composition will focus the attention to the element you want to feature and help create an abstract form.

Petersen Museum – Los Angeles, Calif.

What gear do I need?

Simpler is better. Focus on your creativity. Any camera will do… I mean that! Then, I recommend a telephoto lens, 70-200mm or equivalent. You’ll be able to take advantage of the longer focal length to zoom in on details and create abstract compositions.

If you want a second lens, I suggest a mid-range lens, 24-70mm or equivalent. I recommend shooting in aperture priority mode between f/8 and f/11.

235 Van Buren – Chicago, Ill.

Do I need a tripod?

No! A tripod will complicate things and prevent you from exploring different compositions. In most cases, shooting handheld is your best option. If you’re inside and it’s dark, increase your ISO (most modern cameras can handle it).

13 Avenue Pierre Mendès-France – Paris, France

What do I do once I’m on location?

Take your time. This is important. I can spend several hours photographing a single location. It will allow you to explore the building and go beyond the obvious, cliché images. You will be able to really think through every composition and find angles that are easy to miss. Shooting abstracts is about making little adjustments to create shapes and remove distractions.

Take the time to go behind the building, across the street and even inside the building. The longer you stay, the more the light will change, providing even more unique opportunities to shoot.

Toronto Reference Library – Toronto, Ontario

If you like a building, go back! A different time of the day, a different time of the year, different weather conditions…so many factors will affect how the building looks and will provide more opportunities to get different images.

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