Getting Started with Abstract Macro Photography


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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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.

  • SylviaAJones

    ??????? that’s a full enjoy with digital-photography-school… Real Info Here </a


  • ricomm101
  • This looks great Ricomm!

  • Getting into macro-

  • Hans Heisenberg
  • Kim Passmore

    I’m just starting to experiment with macro. Here is a close up of a rose I took using an extension tube with my 50mm lens.

  • This is a good attempt Noel, but try and get even closer if possible. If you don’t have a macro lens, try and focus manually, you might be able to get a little closer.

  • This looks good Kim, but maybe try and fill the whole image with the rose, that will look even better!

  • I can too

    I think the background is what makes it beautiful. To suggest that it may look better would have been the thing to do. To suggest that “That will look even better!” is to suggest that the way you would do it is always the best way to do it. Are you that good that your way is always better?

  • Thanks for your comment I can too. In light of the article being about Abstract Macro Photography, the idea would be to fill the frame with the subject. Photography, like any art form is subjective, however, there are ways to improve an image and that was all I was offering in that comment. My intention was not to say that my way is better, my intention was to help kim in looking at the scene differently and perhaps getting a different image. Hope this helps.

  • I can too

    If I am so wrong why did you edit your original post from “that will look even better” to “that may look even better”? You seem to have for gotten to mention to the readers that you did that. Saying “may” instead of “will” is what I pointed out in the first place, and now you want to hide from it.

  • Please can you show where I said you were “so wrong”. I did not say you were wrong at all, I can too, I simply mentioned that the objective of the article was to practice abstract macro photography. I made the change because when I reread the comment it may have seemed like I was being prescriptive and I was not. I am not hiding from that. This comment forum is to discuss the article, if you have any comments about the article, please feel free to make them, but this string of comments is not really worthwhile to the readers or the article. I hope this clears everything up for you.

  • Deepak jo
  • I can too

    You would have continued to hide from the change you made in your op if I had not brought it up. You tried to make it look as though my comment was a mistake on my part. It wasn’t. Your op was prescriptive, and that is what my comment was about. End of conversation.

  • Thanks for sharing Deepak, some good images there!

  • Thanks for your comment, I can too, I appreciate any feedback. Looking forward to seeing your images!

  • Nice shot, thanks for sharing Hans

  • Bonno

    Very Nice done, composede and colors.

  • I can do that.

  • Looking forward to the results Noel

  • something I did a while ago and would like to hear how to better it

  • Kim Passmore

    Thanks Barry, I will definitely try that!

  • Kim Passmore

    Thanks Bonno.

  • Wayne Trestain

    Hi I’m new to photography so I’m look at all areas of photography this is a try at macro.

  • The hard part of shooting in Macro is reducing noise

  • This is very nice!

  • Mark

    Macro does not produce any more noise than shooting with a regular lens .. you photos seem both to be a bit underexposed, maybe that’s the issue? Try for a longer exposure (manual mode or use exposure compensation)

  • elle

    Steven Teo, I think this is exactly what the article is about. You have done a great job.

  • Guy Shultz

    The subject is a favorite pet peeve of mine, Abstract and Macro. Macro is NOT close-up. A macro is equal to or greater than 1:1 on the sensor. Now for some comments by Joseph Miller on abstracts: “A good abstract photograph is modern art; a poor abstract photograph is just that, a poor abstract photograph. Photography is visual writing, usually depicting a familiar subject such as landscapes, animals, birds, people, architecture, flowers, etc. Conversely, abstracts are non-representational and do not rely upon recognizable subject matter, but rather consist of colors, tones, shapes and textures. If the image has an obvious subject, it is NOT an abstract. Abstracts are the poetry of photography, free verse written in color and tones producing feelings of mystery regarding what the image is and what it is you’re trying to say.”

  • This is a good attempt Wayne. Try and get a little closer if you can!

  • Steven, this is a great image. Good colours, shapes and you have filled the frame with the subject…nicely done!

  • Thanks Wayne, I agree with Mark, macro images generally dont produce noise unless they are underexposed. Try and use a tripod and get in as close as possible, then get you best exposure using you cameras light meter.

  • Hi what lens would you uses I have a 18-55 with a macro screw on lens is the anything else I could use.

  • Hi all this is my latest macro shot I would be grateful for any comments.

  • This was taken at Llandudno Air Show

  • This was taken at Llandudno Air Show any comments welcome.

  • I have see the Red Arrows a few times so I knew their routine

  • Interesting article. I dabble in macros and have experimented with abstract macro flowers. I’m not sure if I like the idea or not. I bought a Canon 100 mm L, f/2.8, prime, macro lens because of the quality and sharpness of the lens. Using it for abstracts goes against why I bought it in the first place.. but it does add a unique perspective!

    Warmest Regards –
    Susan Wilkinson

  • I understand where you’re coming from but Abstract photography has many different levels Macro is close up it’s exstream close-up. some parts of my picture is totally obscured the back leafs ect. I can see many different areas in that one picture.

  • Hi, Great post.

    One thing I don’t particularly agree with is the need for a dedicated (expensive) macro only lens. I use extension tubes attached to my standard 50mm lens. They cost a fraction of the price (just a few pounds) and you can still make some amazing macro shots. I have been told that there is a slight degradation in sharpness but not having a dedicated lens myself makes it hard to compare. If your on a budget I would definitely recommend looking at extension tubes.


  • Fabiola

    This is what I got…

  • Nichola Chapman

    I really like this: whatever you did worked

  • Garfie Lowrider

    do u see any thing wrong with this picture

  • Joe Rogers

    I’ve been trying this for a while now and really enjoy it. This is a tiger lily.

  • Cdc22

    I can’t get any closer with the lens I have without losing focus. Is this photo close enough to count? I am new to photography but find macro useful when I don’t have time to ‘get out’ much. You can use what you have in your immediate vicinity.

  • Day Tooley

    I have trouble with out-of-focus, but really love looking closely at common things. Here’s an egg-rise over a salt & pepper landscape.

  • Donna

    I’m learning as I go. I hope these are considered abstract macros

  • smat

    I have a 50mm prime with extension tubes….will that also achieve the desired effect?

  • Graendel
  • Graendel

    …and this was my gear.

    PS: I think we can do a lot with so little.

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