Macro Photography: Photographing Patterns in Nature

By Geoff Harris

The natural world is a wonderful source of inspiration for close up or macro photography that makes use of patterns. Some of these photos can even become quite abstract. Once you train your eye to start to look for patterns in nature, you’ll soon find that you’re noticing them everywhere!


One of the best things about this kind of photography is that no special equipment is needed. A basic compact camera will usually have a good close-focusing ability, making it well able to take this kind of image. If you have a DSLR with a zoom lens which includes a standard length and longer, it will be very versatile – and if you have a macro lens, then you have a whole world of possibilities!

You don’t have to look very far for suitable subjects either. Patterns in nature can be found everywhere. The fronds of a fern, ripples in the sand on a beach, the spines of a cactus, or the overlapping petals in the centre of a dahlia – the list is endless. At this time of year, when flowers and foliage are not so abundant, tree bark can be a great source of pattern pictures. In this photo of a birch trunk, I composed the picture so that the stripes were at a diagonal across the frame, which I though made the picture a bit more interesting than having them horizontal.

leaf with raindrops

The more you crop into your subject, the more your macro photography will feel abstract. We all know that the bark photo is a picture of bark – but in fact it is more a picture about patterns and color.

In the same way, this close up of raindrops on a leaf has an abstract feel to it. Of course we know that it’s a leaf – but because it’s only part of a leaf, and not the whole, it seems to be more an abstract pattern made by the veins of the leaf and the circular drops of water.

lily gloriosa abstract

For this photo of a Gloriosa lily, I intentionally threw the entire subject out of focus, so that the picture has become very abstract indeed, just a composition of colors and curving shapes. It’s about as far as you can get from a botanical record photograph of the lily!

If you would like to learn more about macro Photography why not consider doing Heather Angel 4 week online course Mastering Macro Photography.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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