Digital SLR Photography

How to photograph creative paper abstracts

By Caroline Schmidt. Posted

When the rainy days take hold, it’s time to set yourself a project. Seek out an assortment of coloured printing paper, grab your macro lens and let’s get going. As simple-looking abstract images go, these close-ups can be complex as a lot rides on the arrangement of paper and colour combinations – you’ll be taking yourself back to school to recap the colour wheel. Once you begin creating shapes and playing with light and different colours, you’ll find hours fly by as no two images are ever the same. To get the best quality, use a dedicated macro lens in the region of a 100mm for more working distance; a 60mm can work too as can extension tubes, but your images may be more prone to shadowing.

1 Set-up

Coloured origami paper or printing paper (80-120gsm) is ideal for creating delicate, smooth shapes. Have a range close to hand and some clear sticky tape and paper clips to secure sheets in place. Use two sheets of A3 paper to create a seamless background, or in this case poster board, if you’ve not got a still-life table.

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2 Lighting set-up

Shadows are the biggest problem when working with layered paper, which is one reason keeping kit minimal is the best approach. Studioflash and multiple flashguns can create their own shadows; instead, use a single flashgun, bounced off a large reflector, or position yourself in front of a large window for soft light.


3 Camera settings

If using natural light, shutter speeds can be too long to shoot handheld so use a tripod. If you prefer the flexibility and speed of handholding, attach a flashgun set to TTL and the camera to aperture-priority mode. Vary the aperture between f/3.5-f/5.6; you may have find you have more success manually focusing, too.

4 Pick your colours

Your combination of colours is very important, not just for the paper you shape but for what you use as a background. To maximise impact, opt for contrasting colours; for a softer look, choose similar and complementary colours. You’re ‘Googling’ the colour wheel right about now, aren’t you?


5 Combine and create

Try different coloured papers and background colours, as well as interesting curves and shapes. Try staggering the paper so colours are layered, crop in close so only the paper‘s edge is sharp or stop down for more detail. Be as experimental with composition and depth-of-field as your creativity will allow.

6 Put them into ‘post’

Your editing suite is the perfect place to play with colours, and if you need to open up any shadows that may have been cast. These are basic adjustments that can be applied in any software, but if using Lightroom use the Black and Shadows sliders to open up shadows as well as the HSL Adjustment tab for colour tweaks.


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