One of the best things about photography is the ability to transform ordinary object into something extraordinary. For decades photographers have used simple materials like light and paper to create captivating, minimalist images that focus on tone and form. This tutorial expands on this idea while also taking it in a new and exciting direction. The great thing about this technique is that is it so, so easy to create new images by changing the patterns and colour of the light, that you’ll be able to come up with endless amazing compositions.
- A screen, such as a computer monitor, tablet or phone. Larger screens are the most versatile, and if you are using something like a phone you’ll likely want to use a macro lens to compensate for it’s size.
- Regular office paper. The cheap, thin stuff is good as this allows light to travel through it.
- Camera and lens (you can even use your phone camera)
- Tripod (this isn’t essential but makes life easier)
Step 1: Create the background colour
The first thing to do is to create an image filled with the colour you are wanting to use. You can choose literally any colour you want, and you’ll likely want to give a few colours a go as you try different compositions.
If you are using a computer, the easiest way to do this is to use photoshop (or photopea.com as a free alternative). Create a new document and add a colour fill layer with a colour of your choosing. If you are using a tablet or phone, use the PicsArt app (it’s free), create a new document and change the background colour to your colour of choice.
Step 2: Setting up the equipment
Once you’ve chosen your colour, make sure the colour is filling as much of the screen as possible turn the brightness up. Lay the screen flat on the ground, ready to lay your paper on top, and make the room as dark as possible. If you have a tripod, set your camera up above the screen. This will allow you move the paper around while you are looking through the camera and makes creating the compositions a lot easier. Zoom in as close as you can so that the colour fills up the entirety of the frame. If you are using a tablet or phone as a screen and can’t completely fill the frame, just get as close as you can, you can always crop in more after the photo is taken.
Camera settings will vary depending on your setup, however we used these to capture out images:
- Aperture Priority
- Aperture: f/8
- ISO: 100
- Exposure Compensation: -1
This returned shutter speeds between 2-8 seconds depending on the colour I chose. If you aren’t using a tripod, you’ll need to prioritise a quicker shutter speed. We recommend using these settings instead:
- Shutter Priority
- Shutter Speed: The slowest you can handhold (start at 1/50th of a second)
- ISO: Auto
- Exposure Compensation: -1
The reason why we set the exposure compensation to -1 is that when using extreme colours like this it can be easy to clip (lose data) on the individual colour channels. It’s a good idea to check these as you take photos and make sure you aren’t hitting the right-hand side of the histogram.
Step 3: Add in the paper
Start with one piece of paper covering the entire frame. Then add other pieces of paper on top of this in whatever pattern you desire. Each layer of paper will make the colour darker, so you can use this to create some interesting effects. As a guide to making your patterns, remember classic compositional guides like the rule of thirds and leading lines. Our eyes will typically be drawn to the brightest part of the frame, so put the brightest part of the image somewhere that sits on the rule of thirds. Use pieces of paper to create lines that point towards this part of the frame, helping direct the eye where you want it to go.
And that’s it! Just a few simple steps to creating amazing and versatile abstract images. What kind of compositions will you come up with?