Home photography ideas: a seriously cereal-y macro swimming pool scene!

Watch video: Home photography ideas – Shoot a seriously cereal-y macro scene

Being stuck indoors right now gives you a great opportunity to shoot some macro photography – but you can only take so many close-ups of leaves and flowers and household nick-nacks before things feel a little stale. So this project injects some serious fun into your macro scenes! 

By adding some miniature figures, we can turn a bowl of cereal into a creative macro swimming pool, and produce some inventive images. Fancy lighting kit isn't essential, but you will need good midday light if you’re using natural light. You will certainly get the best results if you add some supplemental illumination, though.

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Our photo hack for creating a DIY light tent is ideal for this shoot, as your cereal bowl fits perfectly inside and will be extremely well lit. Macro ringflash units will do the trick, though this will produce very directional light and might create shadows that you don’t want in your finished image. 

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

We’re using a set of cheap continuous lights, and we’re shooting onto a sheet of white poster board (which we’ve set up on an ironing board to give us good working height) to show that you really can get great results on a budget!

We’ve chosen an interesting-looking brand of cereal, with fun shapes and bright colors, and we’re using yoghurt instead of milk – this stops the cereal going soggy and bleeding color into the pool, and also buoys our ‘swimming’ figures. 

We can use a wide aperture of f/2.8 to isolate an individual figure, or stop down to f/32 to get the whole bowl in focus. And when we finish, we’ll have a hard-earned snack ready for us as a bonus! 

01 Gather the supplies

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

We’re using an ironing board to give us elevation, with a sheet of white poster board as our shooting surface. Choose a cereal that has interesting shapes and colors – it may not be the most nutritious option, but it will make your photographs look more exciting! Your figures can even stand on or interact with the cereal pieces. 

Milk isn’t ideal as cereal quickly gets soggy, the colors bleed, and the figures will sink. Thick yoghurt will keep the cereal drier for longer, and your swimmers will stay afloat – you could even sculpt ‘waves’ if you’re feeling adventurous! Picking the right bowl is important, too. You don’t want it white, as it will disappear against the background, and you don’t want it too patterned or busy as it will distract from your subjects.

02 Little people

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

The secret to this shot is the teeny tiny figures. We’re using 1:87 scale miniatures by German company Preiser (these Preiser swimmers are only $15 on Amazon), though a quick eBay search will bring up everything from swimmers to rowing boats depending on how creative you're feeling.

03 Build the set

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

Spoon the yoghurt into the bowl and dress the set with just a handful of cereal pieces – adding too many will make your figures feel lost, so don't fill the bowl as if you were having breakfast! Use tweezers to place the figures in and around the pieces, or even standing on top of them.

04 Snack a Tac

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

For our figures that are sitting or standing on the edge of the ‘pool’, we're using Blu-tack to stick them in place. Unless you’re ultra-precise with your tac, you'll probably need to do a bit of cloning to remove it in post-production.

05 Kitting up

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

You'll need to mount your camera on a tripod, and obviously you'll need to use a macro lens; we're shooting with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM on the Canon EOS R, with focus peaking to help us with fine focusing. If we shoot wide open at f/2.8 we can isolate a single figure in the scene, while stopping right down to f/32 renders the whole bowl in focus.

06 Alright on the light

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

Using natural light is an option if you're working in a big bright space with a large window, but you'll get best results with supplemental light. A pair of continuous lights or strobes with softboxes, set up to cross- (or sandwich-) light the scene will minimize shadows. 

If you're a seasoned macro shooter you may also have a ring flash, which can do the trick but will likely produce unwanted shadows. Another alternative is to use our DIY light tent photo hack, which will produce evenly lit results using a couple of speed lights without any flash modifiers.

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

Read more: 

The best macro lenses in 2020: get closer to your subjects than ever before!
Photography tips and techniques videos
The best lighting kits for home studio or location photography

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.