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.

Using patterns in photos

Photo by Sharafat Khan; ISO 100, f/4.0, 1/200-second exposure.

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.

the best ways to use patterns in photography

Photo by _namtaf_; ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/800-second exposure.

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.

photography pattern tips

Photo by Sven Hoffmann; ISO 800, f/8.0, 1/170-second exposure.

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.

beautiful pattern photography

Photo by Matthias Weinberger; f/9.0, 1/1000-second exposure.

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. Passionate about photography, radio and video, he is a Radio CCFm producer and presenter in Cape Town.

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