Getting Started with Abstract Macro Photography

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Editor’s Note: This is part a series on macro photography this week. Look for a new one each day. The next newsletter will have them all if you miss any!

Lines and light can emphasise your subject

Lines and light can emphasize your subject

Macro photography truly is a unique genre of photography. In most of the other types of photography (landscape, portrait, sport, etc.) you want to get the context of your scene in the image. In macro photography, you can literally focus in on what’s important and remove any distractions by simply getting closer. One of the best things about macro photography is that you can do it anywhere, all you need is something to photograph. In my previous article: Getting Started Guide to Macro or Close-Up Photography, I went into some details about what you will need to get started in macro photography. Take a look at that article to be sure that you understand more about the genre of macro photography.

In this article we are going to be looking at getting great abstract images using macro photography.

Look for shape and colour

Look for shape and colour

What is abstract macro photography?

Abstract photography in general is about representing a subject in a non-literal way. The focus of abstract photography is more about colour, shape, and texture as opposed to the literal representation of the subject. Abstract macro photography, takes this to the next level by enabling you to get even closer to your subject, and therefore also able to be more abstract in a sense.

The same guidelines around composition apply, you can use the rule of thirds, curves, and lines to draw the viewer into the image. The difference is, the subject may not be immediately recognizable, your centre of interest might be a colour or a curve of a flower. So for abstract macro photography, you will need to think a little differently.

Abstract close up of a lily

Abstract close up of a lily

What will I need?

You will need a macro lens if you want to get in really close. You can use a prime lens like a 50mm, or even an 85mm lens, but for this type of work, a macro lens will work best. The reason is that you want be able to get in close enough to remove all distractions; in other words, you want to fill the frame with your subject. With a macro lens, you can do this. Most macro lenses have the ability to focus on subjects that are really close to the lens. The prime lenses can focus on subjects that are reasonably close, but you may not be able to get in close enough to remove the background.

You will also need to use a tripod. The close focusing ability of the macro lens means that it is very easy for your subject to become out of focus with the slightest movement. Ideally, you will want to have you camera set up with your macro lens mounted, then get that in as close as possible to your subject. Next, you will want to set your aperture to f/8, or higher, and then click onto manual focus to get your subject good and sharp in the frame.

Frayed rope abstract

Frayed rope abstract

What can I photograph?

For abstract macro photography, I find that organic items work best. By organic I mean flowers, wood, fruit, vegetables, and so on. That does not mean you can’t photograph an abstract macro image of a computer keyboard or a coffee cup, but sometimes, these well known shapes are difficult to transform into abstract images. If you are going to photograph a product like a computer or another manufactured product, try shooting it from a different angle or get in very close so that any telltale signs of what it is, will be lost. Ultimately, you can photograph anything that you think will work, but start out with some easy subjects first,  then move on to the trickier ones.

Buds about to bloom

Buds about to bloom

Try this…

Set up your subject and get your camera in position. Look through the viewfinder and start working on your composition. Try some of these pointers to get started and work from there:

  • Work on building your composition – are there any curves, lines, shapes ,or colours that you want to emphasize?
  • Use manual focus to bring even a small part of your image into sharp focus, this will be your centre of interest.
  • Make sure your centre of interest is obvious. In other words it should be in focus, it can be a different colour to the rest of the frame, or it can even be a well defined line or shape in the image
  • Check the exposure to make sure that you are exposing your scene correctly.
  • You can even overexpose slightly. In abstract macro photography, some slight overexposure is okay, as long as it does not distract from the rest of the image
  • Capture the shot
  • Try shooting the same image from a different angle and maybe even a different centre of interest.
  • Take as many images as possible, from different angles, with different focal points.
  • Choose the best three images and edit them in your chosen image editing software.

This is a great indoor project, but you can try this outside too. Shooting macro images outside can be more challenging as the subject may be affected by changes in lighting. If it is a flower or a plant, there may be a slight breeze which can move the flower as you are trying to photograph it. The most important thing is to try this type of photography if you can. It will cause you to think creatively and to look for different things in your image setup. Give it a try and load up your results below – let’s see what you get.

Abstract of a lily leaf

Abstract of a lily leaf


macro-coverWant to learn more about macro photography? Check out Ed Versosky’s Introduction to Close-Up & Macro Photography ebook – just $10 (over 30% off) this week with coupon code: DPS. You will need to enter the code to apply the discount.

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Barry J Brady

is a Fine Art Landscape and commercial photographer based in Vancouver, BC. He is also an addicted traveller and loves travelling to far off places and capturing their essence. Barry is an entertaining and experienced photography teacher and public speaker. He loves nothing more than being behind his camera or showing other photographers how to get the most out of their camera. To see more of his work, visit his site here. You can also join Barry on a photography workshop in Canada. Click here to find out more.

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