This months Tutorial is about Urban Abstraction.

I am sure there are many of you who are wondering “what is he on about, what is Urban Abstraction?”

Let’s look at a few definitions:

  1. Of or pertaining to the formal aspect of art, emphasizing lines, colours, generalized or geometrical forms
  1. Something that concentrates in itself the essential qualities of a thing.
  1. Where the subject is represented by shapes and patterns rather than by a realistic likeness.
  1. The act of withdrawing or removing something.
  1. A general concept formed by extracting common features from specific examples.

Urban Abstraction can then be considered as depicting the essence of the urban environment without depicting the environment as a whole.

Urban Abstraction differs from Urban Landscape photography, in so far as the first can be considered specific, and the latter – general in their depiction of the subject matter.

To achieve an abstraction of an urban environment, we need to remove all non-essential elements, to strip the subject back to depict its true nature. Abstraction is about extraction and reduction.

In this respect, Urban Abstraction is about purity of form.

When you approach your subject, ask yourself:

“What aspect of my subject describes the true, pure nature of itself?”,


“How can I describe the whole by only depicting the part?”

Compositionally, Abstractions should be clean and simple, using basic geometric shapes and lines (both diverging and non-diverging). Bold use of colour can enhance these elements, as can the use of various techniques like the Rule of Thirds, Golden Ratio, etc.

Unlike a Landscape photograph where Light and Shadow are used to transition across the subject, in an Abstraction they can be used to enhance or even create geometric shapes and lines.

In some respects, an Abstraction can be thought of in 2-Dimensional terms rather than 3-Dimensional, again – reducing the subject to its simplest form.

In many styles of artistic photography, it is important to “ground” your subject, that is – to give it a sense of place so that the viewer can understand the subject by understanding the environment in which it exists. But an abstraction can be quite the opposite – our understanding of the environment in which the subject exists comes from understanding the essence or spirit of the subject itself.

Urban Abstraction, like many other styles of photography, is deceptively difficult to execute. It is not a style that is (of itself) pretty or typically beautiful like a Landscape photograph or a portrait of a cute child, yet there is a beauty in this style which comes from seeing the subject in a different way and in its simplest terms. Abstractions are not a quick snap, one does not need to capture the moment, rather we should study our subject, take our time – slow down and really look so that we capture the essence and soul of our subject in a unique and precise way.

Look at this image by JULIAN ESCARDO

This is a fine example of diverging lines being used effectively to create a very abstract image of a very real urban environment. JULIAN has used strong geometric shapes to depict the essence of the environment without showing us the environment as a whole.

The viewer has no concept of where this is, the subject is not grounded in its environment in anyway. Instead JULIAN has precisely shown us the true nature of this environment by showing us its most typical purest form.

Check out JULIAN ESCARDO’s PORTFOLIO work, he has many fantastic examples of Urban Abstraction/Realism

Look at this image by PAUL VANZELLA

PAUL has used bold geometric shapes and lines, combined with blocks of simple colour to create a unique 2-Dimensional image of a 3-Dimensional urban environment.

I consider PAUL to be one of the best exponents of this style of photography and I strongly recommend studying his PORTFOLIO

In this final example by BENSOUND you can see how BEN has used simple compositional elements and non-intrusive secondary-subjects (the lady and the pram, and the crow) to create an image that is almost surreal, yet somehow familiar.

BEN has employed contrasting colours and with bold horizontal statements and secondary subjects to make a powerfull yet quiet image. The brown ground versus the bright bold colours of the building, and then the stunning sky (which seems strange juxtaposed against the cold hard modernity of the building) all enhance the feelings of abstraction (and a bit of loneliness) within the urban setting.

BEN skillfully uses compositional elements in his imagery. His use of ND Filters and Secondary Subjects are a common theme in his work. I strongly recommend checking out his PORTFOLIO


Special thanks to the following RedBubble Members for permission to use their work:




Journal Comments

  • funkybunch