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Using patterns in composition is easy, because they’re everywhere! I love an easy technique to great photos!

Wherever you are you can find a pattern. You can create a pattern and you can highlight a pattern by the way you photograph it. How you use patterns in composition can be emphasised with a few simple tricks.

What sorts of things make patterns?

Patterns exist all around us and are created by the repetition of:

  1. Colors
  2. Lines
  3. Shapes
  4. Tones

1. Colors

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.

2. Lines

If you get enough lines together, you’ve got a pattern. The angle that you choose to photograph it from and how to you choose to frame it will affect the impact of patterns in composition. Lines appear to move closer together when photographed from the side rather than from the front.

3. Shapes

Recurring shapes make great patterns. As do groups of similar shapes.

4.  Tones

Tones created by light and shadow can create wonderful patterns. Shadows created by the sun shining through railings could make wonderful patterns. The tonal variation between the light and dark areas, if repeated forms a pattern. This is a highly effective compositional technique particularly for black and white photography.

Repeated shapes and colors

Where to find patterns

Patterns occur all around us. Wherever enough elements repeat, a pattern is formed. Let’s look at:

  1. Naturally occurring patterns
  2. Man made patterns
  3. 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
  • A range of mountain peaks
  • A row of baby ducks walking behind their mother
Irregular pattern in composition

2. Made patterns

I was going to say man made patterns, but as animals also create patterns, I’ll just say made patterns. There’s a fascinating little fish, the puffer fish, that is the king of pattern making as he creates beautiful patterns in the sand on the seabed to attract a mate (and of course, there is a clip on YouTube).

  • Rows of vines in a vineyard
  • Bricks in a wall
  • Books on a shelf
  • Buildings and parts of buildings
  • A stack of oranges on a market stall
  • A line of people

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. Try something different and photograph them from 45 degrees. Same objects, different patterns.

Types of patterns

Patterns come in all forms, and can be broken down into two categories:

  1. Regular patterns
  2. Irregular patterns

1. Regular patterns

Regular patterns are what we usually think of when we think of patterns. These are regularly occurring arrangements of similar or identical objects.

2. Irregular patterns

However, there is very often a pattern that emerges in irregular shapes, colors, textures and tones. A good example is the wet beach sand photo above.

arches and brickwork patterns

Techniques for photographing patterns

There are few things you can do to make the most of using patterns as a composition technique. Interestingly, each of the techniques involves using another photography composition tool.

  1. Consider your angle
  2. Fill the frame
  3. 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 and how it changes as you pass each row.

2. Fill the frame

Getting in close and filling the frame simplifies the image and emphasises the pattern. The stronger composition makes the pattern more obvious.

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 is one odd book that doesn’t belong there. That odd book is going to draw your eye, because it is 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 is good to bear in mind another composition technique, the rule of thirds. Place the break in the composition on one of the grid intersections. This will automatically strengthen your composition.

And this is when you are using pattern as a compositional tool.

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A white feather breaks the pattern of the sand

If your family and friends are sick of being photographed and the family dog runs away the moment you pick up your camera, try shooting patterns. Half the fun is finding them and the other half is seeing how great they look when you photograph them!

If you have any questions about using patterns in composition, let us know in the comments.

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