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5 Tips for Getting Fresh Ideas for Macro Photography

Are you seeking some inspiration for getting creative with some new macro photographs? Perhaps you’ve grown tired of taking close-ups of typical macro subjects like flowers and insects. Help is on the way.

There is a whole world of macro photography available to you that doesn’t involve the typical subject matter so often associated with close-up photography. There are some amazing images of insects and flowers to enjoy on the web, but what about going in a different direction?

Photo 1 macro photography ideas

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing, to challenge your imagination, and direct you to doing more interesting macro photography:

1. Pick a location

This is a good technique to use when the weather outside isn’t the best for macro work. Your kitchen is the easiest place to start generating ideas. I usually grab a notebook, or a tablet and a pen, and start brainstorming by opening drawers and cabinets and writing ideas down.

You have appliances, silverware, glasses, cooking utensils, and plates to start with. Add food and liquids to your list and you’ve got a great big inventory to work with. Coffee beans, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts work well because of their size and variety in surface and color (see photo above).

A few years back, I gave myself a photo assignment to create some new macro images using bathroom subjects. I don’t consider myself an expert macro photographer, but I did have a good time with the challenge of making a few non-typical macro photos. Cottons swabs, a suction-cup shampoo bottle holder, and a razor became the subjects from the bathroom.

Photo 2 macro photography ideas

Other locations could be an office, a workshop, or yes, perhaps even the bedroom. You could also leave your house and take a trip into town, visit a junkyard, or go to a local thrift store.

2. Come up with a theme

Rather than limit yourself to a single location, take a theme approach. What if you picked texture as a theme to develop? Take a second right now to jot down anything you can think of that has texture. Take a deep breath, relax, clothes your eyes, and let your mind go.

Use a mind map like the one pictured below. This is just a brainstorming method to generate creative possibilities. Here are just four random examples. These can lead to other tangent ideas so write down all of your thoughts and you can edit your lists later.

Photo 3 macro photography ideas mind map

3. Take a workshop

There are plenty of courses online you can take, or find a live workshop nearby. Not only will you be exposed to the close-up photos from the instructor, but you’ll surely have an opportunity to interact with other budding macro shooters.

You could ask them what their most unusual macro subject has been. They may have ideas that never would have occurred to you.

I started a practice of attending a minimum of at least two workshops or seminars yearly, and it has been a great way for me to recharge my creativity.

4. View macro photography portfolios

One of the most powerful idea tools I use is Google. Try using a variety of keyword searches with “macro” and “close-up”. Search specific categories and those search results will lead you to other themes and ideas.

You can go to big photo gallery web sites that have search boxes to explore literally millions of macro images. Do a variety of macro searches, based on subject, lighting, or location at web sites like 500pixels, SmugMug, or Flickr, just to mention a few.

5. Play with the lighting

Challenge yourself to come up with a few completely different ways to light one of your subjects. We know photography is a form of painting with light. Try to significantly change the appearance of your subject by dramatically changing the way you light it.

Change the direction, the size of your light source, and the shadow to highlight ratio in a variety of ways to get new results. This may lead to the discovery of different ways to reveal specific characteristics of your subject like texture, color or compositional lines.

The red pepper photo below was lit with a single speedlight, bounced off of a small white piece of cardboard, above and behind the subject.

Photo 4 macro red pepper speedlite

Idea generating tips

The best time for creative thinking is when your mind is fresh and rested. Many personal development books and various brain studies make the point that there are specific peak performance conditions that you can implement to boost your creativity and effectiveness.

For many, certain environments or activities can work. A few minutes of focused and relaxed breathing, time during or after exercise, a walk in the woods, or even brainstorming while in the shower can bring forth great ideas.

Other avenues you can explore can be taking your macro photographs with different lenses or manipulating them afterward with software. The photo below is of a plastic model turbine engine.

Photo 5 macro photography ideas software

I liked all of the details revealed in the close-up, but the original photo had remnants of a yellowish glue from its assembly. I used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2’s Low Key filter to convert it to a black and white image.

In addition to these five ways of getting creative ideas for macro photography, there is a wealth of information available to you for creativity, imagination, and brainstorming techniques in general which you can apply to your photography.

Some of the books by Michael Michalko, Amy Wallace, and Austin Kleon are worthwhile reading if you are looking to apply creativity to your photography or any another aspect of your life.

Have a blast and share any comments or images you have below.

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Bruce Lovelace
Bruce Lovelace

is primarily a portrait photographer in New Jersey. When time permits he travels and enjoys playing with nature photography and macro photography. He also maintains two blogs about photography; Better Digital Photo Tips and Canon Camera Geek.

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