Using pattern in photography composition is easy, because patterns are everywhere! I love an easy composition technique!
So, wherever you are you can find a pattern to use as an element of composition in photographs.
What’s more, you can create a pattern and you can highlight a pattern just by the way you photograph it.
Let’s look at how to make the most of pattern photography by emphasising it as a composition element with a few simple tricks.
What composition elements make patterns in photography?
As I said, patterns exist all around us. They are created by the repetition of:
Shades of a particular color can form a pattern, as well as groupings of completely different colors.
Even the repetition of the same color, if repeated enough, will form a pattern in photography composition.
If you get enough lines together, you’ve got a pattern.
The angle that you choose to photograph the line pattern from and how to you choose to frame the scene will affect the impact of patterns in composition.
What’s interesting is that lines appear to move closer together when photographed from the side rather than from the front.
Further reading: 7 types of lines in photography composition and how to use them
Look out for shapes too, because recurring shapes make great patterns in photography. As do groups of similar shapes.
Just the tones formed by light and shadow can create wonderful patterns in photographs.
For example, shadows created by the sun shining through railings could make a really interesting pattern.
Repeated tonal variation between light and dark areas can be a highly effective composition element for black and white photography in particular.
Where to start with pattern photography?
Wherever enough elements repeat, a pattern is formed. Let’s look at:
- Naturally occurring patterns
- Made patterns
- Photographer made patterns
1. Naturally occurring patterns
- Petals on a flower
- Waves rolling to the beach
- Ripples in a pond when you throw a stone in
- Ranges of mountain peaks
- A row of ducklings walking behind their mother
2. Made patterns
I was going to say man made patterns, but as animals also create patterns, I’ll just say made patterns.
- Rows of vines in a vineyard
- Bricks in a wall
- Books on a shelf
- Buildings and parts of buildings
- Stacked oranges on a market stall
- A line of people
There’s a fascinating little fish, the puffer fish, that’s the king of pattern making. As you can see in this 1 minute clip from a BBC documentary, the male fish creates beautiful patterns in the sand on the seabed to attract a mate.
3. Photographer made patterns
Aah, this is where you get to have fun and be creative!
- Arrange a group of similar items and photograph them from them from above.
- Then photograph the same set up from 45 degrees.
By doing this exercise you’ll notice instantly that, although they’re the same objects, they create different patterns in photos.
Types of patterns in photography
Patterns come in all forms, and can be broken down into two categories:
- Regular patterns
- Irregular patterns
1. Regular patterns
When we think of patterns it’s usually regular patterns that spring to mind.
Regular patterns are regularly occurring arrangements of similar or identical objects that make up a pattern.
2. Irregular patterns
However, very often a pattern emerges in irregular shapes, colors, textures and tones.
A good example of an irregular pattern is the wet beach sand photo further up in the article.
Techniques for photographing patterns
There are few things you can do to make the most of using patterns as an element of composition in photography. Interestingly, each of these tips involves using another photography composition technique.
- Consider your angle
- Fill the frame
- Break the pattern
1. Angles and viewpoints
When composing your shot, think about the angle that you’re photographing from. Try out different viewpoints if possible to see which works best.
If you’ve ever driven past a vineyard, an orchard or a plantation of any kind, I’m sure you’ve been mesmerised by the patterns formed by the rows and how the pattern changes as you pass each row.
Further reading: 4 of the best viewpoints for impressive composition
2. Fill the frame
Getting in close and filling the frame simplifies the image and emphasises the pattern photography.
The stronger composition makes the pattern more obvious.
Further reading: Fill the frame for photos with impact – how, when, why
3. Break the pattern
The rebels among us are going to love this!
If you really want to emphasise a pattern, try breaking it. You’ll need to make sure that the break in the pattern is obvious, otherwise it won’t contribute much to the composition of the image.
Imagine you’re at the bookshop, looking at a display of the latest release and there’s one odd book that doesn’t belong there. That odd book is going to draw your eye, because it’s different.
This strengthens the composition of the pattern, because it gives the eye somewhere to go and rest instead of constantly moving over the same books. It also adds tension to the image by constantly drawing the eye back to it.
A red apple in a display of green apples is going to draw your attention by being the odd one out. This makes the image more interesting.
When you do break the pattern, it’s good to bear in mind another composition technique, the rule of thirds. Place the break in the composition on one of the grid intersections to automatically strengthen your composition.
Further reading: Why you need to know the rule of thirds, and how easy it is
Give pattern photography a go
If your family and friends are sick of being photographed and the family dog runs away the moment you pick up your camera, try photographing just patterns.
Photograph patterns on their own, as the subject of the photo, rather than as an element of composition.
Half the fun of pattern photography is finding the pattern and the other half is seeing how great it looks in photos!
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