Altered States

by Mark Alberhasky, October 25, 2013

As we view the world, most of us are locked into spatial perception based on everyday orientation. Photographs are correctly oriented the vast majority of the time because it is our natural perspective. If you view the world free of convention, however, your environment can become quite a different place.

On a recent Pop Photo Mentor Series trek I took participants to the shore of Lake Michigan, on the northern peninsula. After a beautiful sunny day with partly cloudy skies, a storm front approached as the sun dropped toward sunset. An incoming squall line created drama, both with an ominous quality of light and gale force winds. The conventional view is shown here:


As I looked within the scene for another interpretation my eye was drawn to the narrow space between lake surface and low clouds. The layering of clouds created not only different tonalities of light but erie shapes as they were twisted and fragmented by the wind. With the Nikon 70-200 f/4 on my D800 I sampled various compositions at the edge of the clouds, shooting the abstract shapes. Here is the frame that proved most satisfying from this study.


As I processed the image later I felt the blue in the clouds so intense as to be unrealistic. I even attempted processing away the saturation, but found the result unrewarding. Then another thought struck me… Could the blue clouds be interpreted as water? I simply inverted the above image and found this:


The transformation was nothing short of stunning. The cloud banks became a set of cresting waves and what were cloud wisps suddenly appeared as sea spray ripped from the wave by wind. Something about the inverted image resembles a painting more than a photograph. Frankly the inverted abstract appeals to me more than the original.

A common reference made about  photographers (or artists in general) is that they just “see things differently.” I agee completely and encourage every photographer to stray from only shooting reality to include abstract compositions in their work. It helps train your eye to see from a different perspective, useful not only with abstracts but for interpreting normal subjects from unique creative perspectives.


Mark Alberhasky is a Nikon Mentor for the Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks.

Join him as he travels and share his enthusiasm for photography and learning.