Finding Character Through Your Macro Lens

by Mike Moats | September 3, 2011

© Mike MoatsIf you have ever had a chance to see a performance by the singer Lady Gaga, you would be amazed by some of the elaborate costumes she wears in concert. It is part of her shock and awe style that she brings to the stage. I have heard many comments by those who have seen her perform, and the common phase is “she’s quite a character.”

We all know of a family member, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance who may be a little quirky or unusual, someone we might consider to be a “character.” Photographic portraits often reveal a person’s individual character in the irregular features of their face and body or in their flamboyant style of dress and attitude.

Just as in our world of characters, nature has its own characters that stand out. Every macro photographer has many flower portraits of the perfect standard flower, but finding character in nature is about creating images that set themselves apart from the ordinary and mundane images that most photographers capture. Character is reflected in an object’s distinctive shape, remarkable lines, exceptional contrast, unusual patterns, unique textures, or special lighting.

When I’m in a field of flowers, I am always looking for that flower with a distinctive shape and design that is different from all the rest of the flowers in the field. Here is a Purple Coneflower that caught my eye because it was wrapped around the nearby seed head; these flowers usually stand alone with perfectly arranged petals drooping downward. In addition to the interesting interplay between the flower and the seed head, the intricate petals have their own unusual flow and design. The little bug on one petal added to the uniqueness of the shot. This flower has the character that we are looking for because it is so different from the appearance of a normal coneflower.

Flower and bug detail © Mike Moats

Searching out subjects with lines can produces nice images with character. I like to look for old stumps that have an interesting design created from lines in the wood. Here is an image of an old Bristle Cone Pine trunk from the Eastern Sierras in California.

Eastern Sierras in California © Mike Moats

Here is a standard Black Eyed Susan that would normally be considered a typical flower close-up, but with the added early morning fall frost, the texture of the frost really adds some character to this standard flower shot.

Black Eyed Susan © Mike Moats

I’m always keeping my eye and mind open to any unique subject like this next image. I was walking on a trail along a small pond lined with Sycamore trees. The low angle of the early morning sun caused the leaves to glow. I was watching the leaves for any interesting potential backlighting when I saw this nice shadow on the large leaf. I could see the leaves that were causing the shadow and noticed the veins standing out from the backlighting of the sun. Because the subjects lined up perfectly, the special lighting conditions created a wonderful composition with great character.

Sycamore tree leaves © Mike Moats

Fern Fronds are always full of character, and here is one that has a very nice flow in the curvature of the stem and ends at the nicely coiled head. Usually the stems are straight up with the head on the top, but the heavy weight of the fern’s tip caused it to bend in a downward spiral creating a unique look with character.

Fern fronds © Mike Moats

Next time you go out to shoot, search for the subjects that differ from the normal and expected. Study the light, textures, contrast, lines, and patterns of each subject in order to find the character in nature.

Finding Character in Nature Photography eBook by Mike Moats

Finding Character in Nature
Photography eBook by Mike Moats

For more tips on creating nature photographs with character, purchase Mike’s photography eBook – Finding Character in Nature available through the NatureScapes Store. Also check out Mike’s other eBooks Guide to Macro Composition and Macro Workshop.

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About the Author

Mike is an award winning pro macro nature photographer from Michigan. His articles and images have been published in major photo magazines and he has written several how-to macro and photo business book/ebooks. He is one of Tamron’s master macro photographers, and was a member of the Fuji Pro Talent Team. Mike teaches three day “Macro Boot Camps” across the country, owns the “Macro Nature Forum”, and teaches macro photography through online webinars. Visit Mike's websites: and

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