Tips for Using Patterns in Photography

Patterns are basically just repeated shapes, objects or colors either ordered in precise formations or just random designs scattered across a scene. The important thing about patterns is that they create images that are very pleasing to the eye and add a new dimension to your photos.

patterns in photography

“tuscan magic” captured by PictureSocial member David Hobcote

Patterns can be found everywhere in our world, from natural forms to our urban and industrial environments. Use them effectively in an image and you’ll create a photo that is dynamic and attracts the eye to the main subject or focal point. It will help you learn digital photography in interesting ways.

There are two ways to look at patterns. Take a bird’s eye view and look down on say a car park where you’ll see predictable rows of vehicles. Then the other way is to get in closer and look for not so obvious patterns like tire treads and grill patterns. If you really want to be successful in shooting a pattern make sure that you fill the whole frame so that the pattern extends form edge to edge.

So what are the most effective ways to use patterns in your photography? Here are a few ways.

1. Regular patterns

These are easily identifiable and make really outstanding images especially when there is a lot of color involved. Rows and rows of soldiers in red jackets make up a really great pattern formation. Be sure to try different angles and viewpoints to get more interesting shots. Regular patterns are made up of ordered rows of geometric designs or other objects of the same shape and size. Office blocks made up of rows of windows, rows of trees in an orchard or even a honeycomb.

2. Irregular patterns

These form an interesting image just by the irregular nature of the pattern. Objects that are randomly placed in a scene but fairly close together still reveal a sense of repetition. For example, a sky full of parachutists with colored parachutes above them or the leaves on a tree or even a forest floor with a carpet of leaves or acorns. None of these have regular patterns but they are still identified as patterns. Again by filling the frame edge to edge you will emphasize the actual pattern and contain it with great effect.

3. Multiple patterns

This is an interesting one and you’ll often see it in a wall of say an ancient building where different additions have been made. The regular pattern goes in one direction and changes as a new addition of bricks or tiles has been added hundreds of years later.

patterns photo

“Perspective 17” captured by PictureSocial member Junsjazz

Brick paving leading up to a tiled wall will reveal a contrast between two types of patterns. Sometimes you’ll see this with the old and new as in a stone wall with a corrugated metal structure behind it.

4. Breaking the pattern

Picture this. A tray of thirty eggs all uniform in color and size with just one egg that has been broken revealing the bright yellow yolk. The uniformity of pattern is interrupted by the single broken egg. This doesn’t weaken the patterned effect as you would think but strengthens the overall image quite dramatically. These are created pattern breaks, but, by looking for them occurring natural is the challenge. For example, the field of red tulips in a Dutch field with just one yellow flower growing in the middle, or, a row of cars at factory storage facility with one color breaking the pattern. A fun experiment is creating your own pattern breaks with shells on the beach or acorns in a forest. You don’t have to have an object that is different to the rest. I shot a great image of a tiny shoot of a baby pine tree pushing its way through a carpet of brown pine needles. The green shoot contrasted against the brown needles and made an outstanding image.

photos with patterns

“Shadows” captured by PictureSocial member Ian Clark

As you learn digital photography, the idea of using patterns creates an opportunity for seeing with your photographic eye. Look for patterns within patterns as with the car park I mentioned earlier. Taking the time to see is vital when trying to create a great image. You will often find that in getting closer and looking for detail you’ll often spot a unique pattern opportunity.

About the Author:
Wayne Turner has been teaching photography for 25 years and has written three books on photography. He has produced 21 Steps to Perfect Photos; a program of learner-based training using outcomes based education.

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  1. Anna Patrick says:

    Patterns are amazing subjects for photography, and it definitely takes great skills to highlight them!

  2. Me and my Photographers here in Edmonton always strive to look for patterns first before anything else. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot… But for me personal.. I always look for this… It just makes the picture a lot more interesting.

  3. I have so many seen the pattern of the Photo but this is a amazing and never seen this.The multiple pattern you have describe here. Thanks for the great stuff.

  4. Mike Newton says:

    Great post, I’ve always loved different photographs that include geometric pattens or shapes to create visual interest. Its funny how often we all miss these types of patterns in day to day life until we have a camera in hand.

    I gave a shoutout to 11 photographers who used geometric patterns and shapes to create cool photos on this blog post:

    Thanks again for the great post!

    -Mike Newton

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