Macro Photography: Choosing Your Subject

So you’ve just bought (or dug out) your macro lens and are full of inspiration from those macro photos you’ve been browsing through recently. You’ve got the gear, the ambition, and the time – now all you need the right subject.

One of the most difficult aspects of photography is deciding what you’re going to photograph in the first place. Macro photography is great in the sense that you can make a subject out of anything, given you incorporate some creative lighting and perspectives. It’s a perfect technique for creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Below you’ll find some ideas on choosing your subject for macro, both traditional and contemporary, which will help to get you started. In later articles, I’ll go over specific macro photography techniques and also post-processing, but for now let’s work on picking out the right subject for your shoot.


The first subject photographers think of when they hear “macro” is flowers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create entirely original photos. (You’ll have to get a bit creative – which is a good thing.) Flowers of any size can be possible macro subjects as you can select a certain part to be your main subject, not the flower as a whole. A select petal, a thorn, or any other area you isolate can be a potential macro subject.

Make sure to try out different vantage points as well. A flower shot taken directly overhead has definitely lost its originality, so the more creative thinking you put into your shoot, the better your results will be.


Photo by dmpop


Photo by gwen


Photo by Christopher O’Donnell


The macro photos possible with insects are limitless – but require a lot of patience, timing, and a bit of luck. Since you’re dealing with a subject that isn’t going to follow your directions, you need to be extremely flexible with your shooting style and accommodate for the changing environment. This means being skilled with changing your settings on a whim, waiting around for the right moment, and placing yourself in awkward positions in order to get the shot you want. However, any discomfort is definitely worthwhile, as seen with the insect photos below.


Photo by Shahan


Photo by nutmeg66

Water Drops

Whether dew drops on flowers or a mirror reflection, macro images of water drops are a creative way to take a common subject and turn it into an awe-inspiring moment.

Water drops have the ability to mirror your environment on a small scale, which makes it the perfect macro subject. Typically you wouldn’t be able to see the detailed reflections with a regular lens as the drops would be far too small. With a macro lens, you can zoom in to see just how intricate these reflections can be.


Photo by Steve took it


Photo by ~jjjohn~

Tip 1: If you’re looking to replicate the morning dew look found outside in the morning, bring along a spray bottle filled with water (with a mist function). This gives you great control over where you want your water drops to be.

Tip 2: The water drops in the daisy image above are a little too perfect to be natural. They most likely had glycerin added to them. Using glycerin not only gives your drops a more globular appearance, but they also tend to stay in place vs. just using plain water. This will give you more time to set up your environment and also a better opportunity for multiple shots.

Anything Else Under the Sun

While the images above represent the most common macro subjects, they are certainly not an exclusive list. Once you have a proper technique down (which I’ll talk about in the next macro installment), literally anything can be your subject. The only limitation is your imagination.


Photo by LegOfenris


Photo by young_einstein


Photo by andi.vs.zf


Photo by Solo


Photo by photoprodigy

Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell on his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter. You can also find him on 500px.