Photoessay: everyday abstraction

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The cloud slicer

We frequently encounter everyday objects or miniature tableaux of objects that hold our attention for their texture, whimsy or simply pleasing nature; how often do we attempt to photograph and capture these? Personally, that answer is not really often enough, so I’ve been consciously going about attempting to do so whenever the opportunity presents itself, with whatever hardware I happen to have to hand at the time. The challenging part isn’t so much capturing the visually interesting bits: it’s excluding the ugly, discordant, incoherent surroundings that distract too much rather than provide contrast and context. Personally, I feel the resulting images actually work best with no context; that way we are able to enjoy them serendipitously without other considerations intruding and ruining the illusion of perfection. This is pure photography – a reduction of the world to nothing more than light, color and form, and a development on the ideas in this article. Enjoy! MT

Images from this series were processed with PS Workflow II.

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The illusion of something edible

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After the bath

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Defining shadow

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The multiple uses of wood

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Red blocks

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Attempting to project

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Truncated arrow

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Preservation for a time that never came

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Daily cubism


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Happy to find four of these already in my favorites collection. Must have good taste.

  2. some spectacular geometry and texture in these.
    thanks for sharing em.
    keep on…

  3. The forgotten corners can often be as interesting as the complete object, e.g. ‘Support’ or ‘The illusion of something edible’ because they are consciously designed, but the photographer takes control of the focus from the designer. Similarly with forgotten objects (‘Ladder’ and ‘After the bath’), there is intention in their placement and construction, but the photographer again controls the perception.

    This series started me thinking about how one could apply a similar style outside the constructed environment, and honestly has me stumped. There isn’t the same sense of power in capturing an oddly placed leaf or branch because no-one put it there in the first place. Whilst abstract natural photography is obviously still possible, it feels more co-operative than shooting in the human environment.

    • I think part of the challenge is the subjects themselves: the edges in the natural world are not regular, and it’s almost impossible to then create the illusion that they are. So we’re already limited by the subject in some sense.

      • Yes, generally you’re right there, though there are of course always exceptions to prove the rule such as horizons, certain rock formations, still water, etc.

        I decided to go for a quick shoot down at the beach after this to see what abstract photos I could get. Upon review however, even the better ones didn’t have many – if any – regular lines. They still looked okay, if a bit rushed.

        Thinking about it a bit more, it feels like a lot of visually abstract, natural photography relies on isolation using depth of field, macro photography for example. I dunno; it’s giving me something to think about.

        • Sometimes I also feel it’s as though we’re trying to impose our expectations of structure and order on a subject that doesn’t necessary like it; on top of that we have the limitations of the frame edges, which don’t exist in a natural environment…

          • I hadn’t read your latest post before commenting here. It seems your student has approached this subject already!

            Interesting that you say the frame edge is a limitation. Do you always feel that way?

            • Yes, because our eyes/brains are good at ‘feathering out’ the edges – there is never a hard transition, so we don’t have to worry about framing too tight or too loose or geometric interferences at the edges causing distractions.

        • Roel Vinckens says:

          Completely agree that most abstract nature photography relies on the more or less intense use of some elements of the photographic medium. I play around with this other look on nature from time to time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
          Ming, coincidentally I sent you some abstract nature on the Reader Potrfoilo today that more or less works for me. There’s another one that comes to mind, I’ll sent that one tomorrow.

  4. Thank you for the inspirations. I am a wedding photographer that only shoot weddings since I have family to feed. It never cross my mind to see everyday things with such concept (abstract). Again, thank you for the inspirations….

    • No problem. I think it’s important to shoot other things than your one chosen focus, if only to ensure you don’t stagnate in composition…

  5. Those type of images Ming was among what made me come back and read your blog again and again those days. Even though I can’t say I really picked up the style, I really love these images. They show me how it’s not always necessary to travel 1000 miles to find something interesting.
    Thanks for the tip and inspiration 🙂

  6. Always enjoy your abstract photos! If you don’t mind me asking, when it comes to abstract shots, how much do you get right in camera and how much do you correct in post (cropping, straightening, lighting)? I feel like I do more post-processing for my abstract photos than for any other kind, even though abstracts of still subjects seem like they should be the simplest to compose and expose. Maybe I just need more discipline.

    • Thanks Michael. I do very little PP – zero cropping, minimal straightening, and just enhancement of what’s already there. You can’t put in what wasn’t there to begin with 🙂

      • Michiel953 says:

        So true. One can try (and many do) to bring in what wasn’t there anyway through heavy post processing, but it never works, and usually just looks pathetic. If it’s not there (the light, the forms, the moment), it’s not there and never will be. Period.

  7. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Enjoying, just enjoying,
    and also with captions.

  8. Nice work, Ming. This is what actually drew me in to ‘landscape’ work in addition to macro (once I figured out what I really wanted to do with macro!). The defamiliarization is the key to moving into more abstract work.

    One thing I would say, though, is that *entirely* decontextualizing these kinds of shots would be pretty difficult: providing the little clues to context is what holds the viewer’s attention here, making viewers think and work out the puzzle (the sense of the unexpected).

    Any chance you might do some urban abstract macro work? Though carrying a tripod and perhaps a rail might slow you down too much, perhaps.

    • Thanks. I’m not sure there’s much need for getting that close for urban abstracts – there doesn’t tend to be that much of interest at that kind of scale; it’s usually just dirty/ gritty and decomposes into elements that aren’t that interesting.

  9. Terrific! Inspiring images, Ming. Hope you and family are well?


  10. Great series! I also feel that this type of subject is one where photography really shines at. IsolatIng objects of its context and thus leading the viewer to see then in a different light.

  11. really nice visions

  12. These are great! Again I think they work better together than separately. Somehow it puts these kind of images into the context they are otherwise lacking. Must be a good exercise for seeing interesting compositions with any subject, but not as easy as it looks judging from the time period over which these were made.

  13. Wonderful images Ming! A lot of fun capturing these photos. – Eric

  14. A very nice series

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