How to Create Abstract Photos by Using the Hipstamatic App

How to Create Abstract Photos by Using the Hipstamatic App

Years ago I discovered the app Hipstamatic for my smartphone. It was love at first sight. I even have to admit I once bought another iPhone to have more pixels and speed.

As an artist, I love abstract art. Taking pictures with abstract results enhances that love and using the Hipstamatic app for those pictures doubles the fun.

In this article on how to create abstract photos, the focus is on the app Hipstamatic. In the meantime, I also explain how you can make your pictures more abstract without the app.

Some of the links are affiliate links. As an affiliate associate, I earn a small commission when you purchase any of the products offered through the shared links at no extra cost to you. This helps me to maintain this website and I thank you for supporting me.

How to create abstract photos

Abstract means that there is no immediately recognizable representation of reality. In photography, this can be achieved through movement, shots at close range, contrasts, rhythms, shadows, or reflections.

How photography changed

Hannie, 1970
Me, taken with my old Agfa Click II, when a double exposure meant taking a picture twice without moving the film

My DSLR camera is my companion on some occasions. I exchanged a quite heavy Canon Mark II for a much lighter Lumix DMC-GX8 and still, I don’t always feel like carrying it along.

Yet, my iPhone is always with me. And Hipstamatic adds a lot of fun to use the phone for photography.

The camera of the phone doesn’t quite live up to my standards for a decent picture, but since the Hipstamatic app is faking to be an old-fashioned plastic camera, that argument is not counting anymore.*

I think it’s really funny that with nowadays technique, there is this app that adds dust or extreme vignette to pictures. It was a no go in the old days and now it’s allowed! Times sure change!

* It might just as well be that I don’t know enough about the camera of the phone so I am taking a course now to improve that.

What is Hipstamatic?

The app Hipstamatic will put filters over the pictures. The app pretends to be an old fashioned camera and darkroom. Taking a picture requires choosing a combination of a lens, film, and flash. You can take the picture directly with the app or edit an existing picture later in the app.

When taking pictures directly, you either choose your own combination or let the app make the choice by shaking the phone. Every time you shake, a different combination is randomly chosen. You only see which combination afterwards when the photo is ready. 

app Hipstamatic
This is how the screen of my phone looks, you can even choose which case you want to see.

You only have partial control over the result. For example, if you choose the lens Lucifer VI and the film DC, you know there will be a huge vignette and a lot of red haze in the picture. But you don’t know the exact position or the strength of it. For a perfectionist as I am, it’s very surprising that I can appreciate this randomness.

It always makes me laugh that sometimes I am carrying my heavy and expensive photo gear on my back and still busy myself with an app that costs a couple of dollars. And what really was hilarious with the older iPhones: after taking the picture I had to wait for “one print developing” endlessly.

Unfortunately for Android owners, the app is only available for the iPhone.

What is an abstract image?

Free the ocean of plastic
Play Free the Ocean‘s game every day for free and fund the removal of plastic.

When I was young I went to art school and was trained as a sketcher and painter. The classes included figure drawing and still life drawing, but my free work was often abstract. Colours and rhythms got my attention more than realistic images.

Photos are generally a record of realistic events. Yet it is an extension of your photographic possibilities to photograph abstractly.

In my opinion, it is not a coincidence that abstract art is about as old as photography.

Artists had been trying for centuries to capture reality by mastering the rules of perspective, depicting the different materials, and painting the right colours.

Then came photography and it was suddenly possible to gain that result in a second. Very frustrating.

Related: How is Negative Space Helpful for Designers and Artists?

A gesso print I made for my 365-challenge in 2019.

Abstract art

Abstract is the opposite of figurative. In abstract work, you can either hardly see what is depicted or there isn’t anything at all that is derived from reality.

A painter such as Mondrian abstracted trees to the compositions in red, blue and yellow we know. While someone like Rothko studied the influence colours had on each other by painting fuzzy rectangles.

Photography has always captured something of reality to begin with. The abstract results from a specific point of view or from blurring because of movement and from filtering the way Hipstamatic does.

Abstract photography


Bright colours or strange colours make an abstract subject stand out. Look for colours that are unusual for the subject, have a combination that is thought to be ugly, or are very bright.

Yellow table
Yellow table with glass balls
Shadows made by coloured lights


Shadows are a great subject for abstract photography. The shape making the shadow may or may not be in the picture depending on the effect.

The shadow of a rubber coaster
Shutter shadow
Shade from semi-closed blinds


Often you do not know what you are actually seeing. This alienation contributes to the abstraction of the image.

Bag handles
An open bag with the hinges hanging over it
Statue of a man, Museum De Pont, Tilburg


Reflections can distort the image they reflect, as water or windows do. The reflective surface will at times be part of the final image in merging with the mirrored subject.

Reflecting windows
Reflecting windows in skyscrapers
Reflection in work of art
Reflection in work by Anish Kapoor, Museum De Pont, Tilburg

Point of view

Taking a picture from above or from the bottom-up distorts our normal view of a subject. Hold the mobile almost to the floor or stand on a high apartment floor. Remember to look up at ceilings, they can result in very interesting images.

Separation fence at an airport
Garden chairs
Chairs at a table, seen from above


Patterns are deliberately created by, for example, the decorations of clothing or the tiles in a swimming pool. And sometimes they arise accidentally because things have been put together.

A pattern of lines and tiles
Folded umbrellas
Folded umbrellas at a terrace


Lamps and lamplight are fantastic subjects to make abstract images of. Especially when the lights are on.

Fluorescent beams
Fluorescent beams multiplied by the Salvador-lens of Hipstamatic
Ceiling lamp
A lamp, consisting of glasses mounted in a sphere


The surfaces of materials, architecture, or found in nature provide great images.

The front of a store
Scrapwood furniture


Motion can be solidified motion or an image that looks vague due to a slow shutter speed. You can blur photos to suggest movement.

Plastic blowing in the wind
Plastic blowing in the wind
Dancers at a Bal Folk

Rhythm or repetition

Moving lights
A pattern at night, caused by movement
Car backlight
The taillight of a car

Close Up

Get up close to get an alienating effect. With a macro lens (yes, they also exist for the iPhone) you can get even closer to a subject.

Drying squid
Squid, hanging to dry, and their shadow
Red cabbage
Cut-through red cabbage

Lines and shapes

Factory wall
Wall in an old factory

Through another material

Textured glass, plain and ribbed bottles, or thin fabric are great materials to place between you and the subject for a special shot.

Through plastic
Shot through a plastic bottle
Through glass
Shot through a glass

As you can see the elaborations and examples of the concepts overlap at times. That’s okay, it’s about the starting point and the way to get inspiration.

Hipstamatic is not synonymous with abstract

A moth. I have to admit,  it was dead when I took this picture of it

The abstract images shown above are sometimes abstract because of the way I photographed them.

Yet, some are abstract or even more abstract because of the filters of the Hipstamatic app that I used.

It’s such a joy to play with the different possibilities.

Still, Hipstamatic does not mean by definition that an image is abstract. It is only a tool to enhance certain effects.

Do you use your smartphone as a plain camera or do you always edit the pictures with an app? Tell me in the comment box below.

This article is an update. Originally published on 23-06-2013.

Wealthy Affiliate
Join me at Wealthy Affiliate and start with a free 10-lesson course.

4 thoughts on “How to Create Abstract Photos by Using the Hipstamatic App”

  1. Ahhhh, am I bummed! I so wanted to try this …
    I feel like all the good apps are only available for iOS. Being an Android user for years I have my moments when FOMO hits me, especially when it comes to photography-related apps.

    Do you know an alternative for Hipstamatic for Android?

    • I can imagine it’s frustrating, Katelyn. A friend of mine has the same problem and feelings. But we have found an alternative. It’s not exactly the same as Hipstamatic but the effects look like it: have a look at Snapseed.

      Snapseed is usually for editing and polishing your pictures but it has tools like ‘Vintage’ and ‘Grunge’ that are great to play with. And the best part is that the app is free.

      I hope you like it. Thanks for your question and enjoy playing.

  2. All these look insanely good! Right now I’m in the phase where I just tinker with the exposure and contrast and leave it at that, especially when it comes to photos that land on my Instagram account. But at heart, I’m all about abstract, conceptual photos.

    • I would concentrate on abstract pictures for a while, Violet. If that is where your heart is, then you would probably also have a steeper learning curve in dealing with exposure and contrast. Having fun at what you do is so important and makes it much easier to understand things. 🙂

      Good luck and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.