Salt ’n Spar

Let’s consider abstract pictures

Sun, 06/19/2022 - 8:00am

Abstract photography can be a lot of fun, that is taking a picture of something ordinary that looks well, extraordinary. Over the years, I have taken many different images that have had people guessing what on Earth it could be. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about and all but one of these were taken right here in Wiscasset.

The first was taken one early December morning while I was hiking Cushman Mountain Preserve off Birch Point Road. It’s a closeup showing spring water bubbling up in a frozen pool along the trail. The colors you see are just as they appear, the blue on the icy surface is reflecting the sky while yellow and tan swirls are foam just below the surface. There’s a very recognizable red oak leaf in the upper right. I took the picture with a Nikon 3500 digital camera equipped with a standard 55 mm lens.

This next image was found in mid-winter off Old Stage Road near the small wooden bridge that carries motorists into Woolwich. It’s actually a small part of a larger picture showing the brook which was frozen solid. I used a mini Canon ELPH 190 digital camera equipped with a 10X optical zoom. This camera fits nicely in my pocket and is very reliable. I took it with me to Italy a few years ago using it to photograph the ancient cities of Pompeii and Paestum.

Shown next is a picture taken in 1986 using a pinhole camera made by me from a round Quaker Oats oatmeal box. Shown is the small office on Water Street where I published the Wiscasset Times, a weekly newspaper. The unusual distortion is caused by the roundness of the box. You’ll notice the American flag at the right is blurred, that’s because the exposure required about 90 seconds and a light breeze caused the flag to move. The trick to taking a picture with a pinhole camera is picking a subject that’s well lit and not moving. Trial and error are required to get the right exposure and the camera box has to be kept still. Making a picture from a pinhole camera is a two-step process: First you have to make a negative, which is then contact printed in the darkroom to make a positive print. With practice and patience you can take some pretty interesting pictures.

I’m kind of fond of the next picture, which is a time lapse image. Any ideas what it is? Here’s a clue, it was taken at night on the Wiscasset waterfront on the Fourth of July. That’s right, exploding fireworks! Using a slow shutter speed, I snapped a picture at the start the fireworks grand finale hoping to get a great picture. What happened instead was this, just as I was taking the picture someone bumped into me, jarring the camera. The result created the surprising web of colors you see.

I never left home for the next image taken in mid-summer shortly after sundown. I was looking west from my back porch on Langdon Road. I took several shots at different intervals. The cloud pattern is interesting but it’s the colors that caught my eye that continued to change as nighttime came.

This past October I was walking Bo my dog on Popham Beach. It was around midday during the low tide and I noticed an interesting sand pattern. The sunlight created a golden hue and the different shades of black made an interesting pattern. The small flecks of white are bits of broken shells. I took this image with my phone, which goes to show just how far we’ve come since the time of the pinhole camera.

You don’t have to travel far to take an abstract picture and some of the more interesting images can be found right in your own backyard, or in your house. The best ones are usually ordinary things seen from a different perspective, or taken closeup. Try some yourself and see if you can’t stump your friends.

Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in journalism studies from Colorado State University and an M.A. in journalism at University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to the Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at