from impressionism to abstract

When I said I could not construct my Digital Impressionism photos at will, I was lying. Well, sort of. With digital zoom, low light and camera movement, I know I will get some interesting results. This nighttime view of central London seen from a railway bridge, gave me a good vantage point from which to experiment.

The gentle gradient of the featureless sky makes a canvas to ‘paint’ on with the scene below. I also like the limited colour palette. Starting with a steady-as-I-can hand-held photo, I then use increasing camera movement to see if I can produce incrimental painting effects.

1: The starting point is with maximum zoom and hand-held as steady as I can. This results in a recognisable image with jpeg ‘halo’ pixelation on the contrasting edges

The first photo has no ‘painting’ in it. The blurring and pixelation is a consequence of the camera struggling to resolve in the low light and my not-quite steady handhold.

With gentle, vertical movement of the camera, the hard pixelation on the edges in the image are softened. The mixture of blurring but with harder lines preserved, particularly in the trees, creates that 'impressionist' look
2: With gentle, vertical movement of the camera, the hard pixelation on the edges in the image are softened. The mixture of blurring but with harder lines preserved, particularly in the trees, creates that ‘impressionist’ look

In the second photo I have started to paint. By moving the camera during exposure, I am applying my digital brush strokes. The verticle movement creates emphasis on verticle lines while softening and bluring horozontal ones. This mixture produces the painted effect I like in the shadowy trees in the top left and bottom centre. I also like the ‘squaring’ of the lights in the distance where the movement gives them the look of having been dabbed in with a square-tipped brush.

More vertical movement and the 'brush strokes' are broader and less detailed. I think it is still possible for the observer to gain an idea of what the view is – lighted windows in buildings – but we are very much in the realm of an impression
3: More vertical movement and the ‘brush strokes’ are broader and less detailed. I think it is still possible for the observer to gain an idea of what the view is – lighted windows in buildings – but we are very much in the realm of an impression
Faster vertical movement plus a little oscillation makes for soft and blurry strokes. Is this still 'impressionism' though? Without the context of the other images, what would the viewer see here?
4: Faster vertical movement plus some horizontal makes for soft and blurry strokes. Is this still ‘impressionism’ though? Without the context of the other images, what would the viewer see here?

Photos 3 and 4 both feature more camera movement, a mixture of steep verticle and a little horizontal. Increasingly, the camera movement I’m using is making the results less predictable.

More and faster and now I have definitely left the realm of impressionism and migrated to abstract
5: More and faster and now I have definitely left the realm of impressionism and migrated to abstract

With much more movement, my images are abstract and I’m now getting images that I am not anticipating and I like them.

More fast-fingered jiggery-pokery and I am defeating the auto-focus now to create a truly abstract image
6: More fast-fingered jiggery-pokery and I am defeating the auto-focus now to create a truly abstract image

From Renoir to Rothko

As an exercise in digital painting, this worked. Photos 2, 3 and 4 are demonstrations of how the lighting and movement create a mixture of sharpening and blurring of the pixels which generate a mood in the impression of the scene. It is still clear to the observer what is depicted in the image but without the forensic detail we ordinarily associate with a photograph.

Photo 4 is a transition. It is difficult for me (and now, you) to judge as we know what this is a photo of but without the context, I think there is still enough there for a viewer to interpret that this is a nighttime skyline with lights in windows. It is somewhere between impressionism and abstract.

Humans are equipped with the cognitive skills to find shapes and patterns, even when they do not exist. We do it with cloud formations or scorching on toast, so attributing form and function to the shapes in these photos is easy.

Humans are equipped with the cognitive skills to find shapes and patterns that do not exist

By photo 5, any impression of a real-world scene is lost. There is no sense of depth or perspective and nothing to suggest what this is actually a photo of. The last image, photo 6, is purely abstract.

Or is it? Even though I know exactly what I photographed and that the image represents an abstraction of only the simplest and most anonymous elements of that scene, I can still ‘see’ something here. It reminds me of those photos through a rain-speckled or misted window where the photographer has focused on the glass rather than the view beyond it. But then the observer finding their own intepretation is the raison d’être of Modern art.

I’ve lied again. Sort of

Using my tried and trusted ingredients in this exercise I knew I could create a photo in my Digital Impressionism style. Photos 2, 3 and 4 all give an impression of the view of central London with different measures of my painting. I like them but there were no surprises. For me, each of the photos in my Digital Impressionism collection contains something unexpected.

But the exercise as a whole did contain a surprise – photo 6. Having captured the images I wanted for this exercise, I tried one last thing. On impulse and with the last frame of the shoot, I got that abstract image. In exploring my Digital Impressionism, I had not expected to span Modernism and arrive in Abstract.

Should this photo go in my Digital Impressionism collection? Strictly speaking, I should either change the name of the collection to ‘Digital Modernism’, but that sounds like a moniker for an interior design concept, or start a new collection called ‘Digital Abstract’, but that sounds like an online precis for a scientific paper.

But my abstract image does comply with my own self-imposed criteria for my Digital Collection project. The image revealed itself to me in the preparation for this article and in the writing of it, it has revealed its perfectly abstract name. So Photo 6 is in.◽

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