Close this search box.

Abstraction inspired by O’Keeffe

Using Art to Bring a New Lens to Photography

By Owen Biddle Photo School + SeeingHappy

Image from the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe

Georgia O’Keefe  (1887 – 1986)

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”

O’Keefe introduces us to flowers, and other natural things, in a way that reduces (and elevates) them to their abstract essentials.  Starting with the swirling structure, drawing us into the intimate interior, she brings us a universe that exists unnoticed in every flower.   


For this first project in abstraction we are thinking about the photograph as  two-dimensional. You will learn to think about the design of the entire rectangle that is the image, without neglecting any edge or corner.  


It is tempting, when working in abstraction, to take pictures that ignore three-dimensional form completely and may result in images that are flat.  Even if your object is so abstract that it becomes unrecognizable, you need to include enough to give feel of a round form in space to catch a picture that is interesting to the viewer.  Although these exercises deal with the two-dimensional aspect of the photograph, don’t forget that you are still taking pictures of objects in their space.  

 For this assignment I have given examples of possible subjects.  These are only to clarify the assignment.  You will have many ideas that are much more interesting and original.


Below are some concepts related to composing pictures.   Because of the variety of pictures you will be taking, there is no one set-up.  Use what you know about your camera to make these shots work.  There is really no right or wrong way to take abstract pictures, so experiment, have fun, see what you like….

Negative Space

This refers to the space around an object.  Once you start looking at this part of a picture, you will become sensitive to new ways to compose.  Look at all four edges of the picture to be sure the shapes, both positive and negative, are pleasing.

Examples:  the space around the curve of a violin against a wall,  a triangle created within your arm when you put your hand on your hip, the area inside the handle of a pitcher.


Look around yourself for repeating patterns you may have never noticed before.  Examples: a fence receding into space, the slats of the window blinds, the round bodies of a bunch of radishes.

Macro Isolation

Get close.  Get so close that you might not be able to recognize the object.  Look for wonderful contours, lines, textures that make up a great picture.  Or take a picture of just a slice of the object, so that we don’t know what it is, but the composition grabs our attention. Examples:  common objects that have wonderful shapes, fruit,  a pair of leaves, a fork or spoon.  


It has been said that black & white is about everything else, but color is about color.  For these shots, don’t think apple, think RED!  Take pictures that show colors and color combinations that you find beautiful, or satisfying or simply unusual.  Just be careful not to get so wrapped up in areas of color that the form is lost.  Examples:  Anything natural or manmade that interests you because of its color.

The Lesson

This is time to play.  Use these ideas as starting points to experiment.  Let composition take over as you forget about the subject.  Keep your attention on the design of your photograph.  Do you like the balance of shapes?  Do you see beautiful curves?  Is there a point that draws your interest? Do the lines lead your eye to that point?  Are the edges interesting too?  By minimizing your attention to objects, you can become more aware of the graphic beauty of the ordinary things all around.  

More Artists to Inspire Your Work:  

Irving Penn

Richard Avadon

Andre Kertesz still life

Ernst Haas

Jeffrey Beacom

Has art inspired you to see life differently? Tell us at!

Scroll to Top