Rhythm is something found throughout the creative arts. We tap our toes and snap our fingers to the rhythm of the music. We find rhythm in poetry and stories. There’s even a rhythm to telling a joke.
And we have rhythm in photography too. There’s a visual rhythm that brings photographs to life. Rhythm photography is about visual storytelling and composition building. It’s the beating heart of the imagery.
What is Rhythm in Photography?
Much like rhythm in music, rhythm in photography brings structure and stability to the images. The rhythm can hold the viewers gaze to a steady beat. Or it can quicken the pace as your eyes move over the image.
Rhythm photography has elements that repeat or echo throughout the image. It could be a series of shapes that repeat to make a pattern. Or you could have multiple subjects that appear at different points in the frame.
Bringing rhythm into photography can help you make conscious decisions when it comes to your composition. You can think about how you want your photographs to flow. And you can add elements that punctuate your images, like a drummer adding a flourish of cymbal crashes.
I’ll take you through some of the rhythm photography beats and grooves so you can add rhythm to your photography.
With rhythm in photography, the easiest rhythm structure to identify is regular rhythm. A photograph with this kind of rhythm will feature many identical elements that repeat. They repeat at regular intervals, giving you a steady, standard rhythm.
The elements can be geometric shapes or concentric circles. Or they can be humans or animals situated in lines or rows.
The regulated elements bring structure to the composition. The lines and shapes created by the rhythmic elements lead the eye in a certain direction. And they can focus your attention on a specific area of the image.
In the architectural image below, the rhythm is created by the repeated shapes. They’re identical in shape and are equally distanced. This creates a steady visual rhythm.
The fact the shape repeats so many times sends the eye in different directions and gives the photo a fast rhythm.
A random rhythm in photography is less structured. We still have elements that repeat. But they appear at irregular intervals. They don’t lie in straight lines or conform to a rigid structure.
An image with randomly situated elements can still have a steady rhythm. Their position may not be uniform. But they can create a rhythm that takes the viewer through the image.
The picture of the cows above is an example of random rhythm. The cows stand irregularly in the field. There is no form to their position. But there is a repetition of shape that draws the eye towards the horizon.
In the photo below, we have a number of hot air balloons. Like the cows, they are spread randomly across the picture. We have similar shapes that echo through the fore and back of the image. Each balloon is a beat of a random rhythm.
Alternating rhythm in photography is where the image has two different rhythms. They can work together, providing structures that mirror one another. Or they can work against each other.
Alternating rhythms can bring harmony or discord to your images. The repetitive elements of one rhythm can direct our eyes in one direction. Then the second can intersect or redirect. Their beats can match. Or they can counter and clash.
The image below is a perfect example of clashing alternative rhythms. We have a series of circles that draw the eye inward, towards the center. But the shadows create a pattern of straight diagonal lines that cut across each circle. These lines force our eyes in a different direction.
A progressive rhythm in photography is above having patterns that progress into the photo. They’re repeated beats that form a progression in the photo.
These can be regular rhythms but with a change of perspective. The change of angle can help lead the viewer’s eye towards the subject. Or the progressive structure can be the subject.
A progressive rhythm in photography has a clear direction. The visual rhythm creates diagonal lines that cut across the image, drawing the eye.
We can see this in the scene below. We have a row of harvesters at work. They are all bent double, working in a row. The rhythm this creates draws our eye down the line. When we look at the closest person, our natural reaction is to continue down the progression.
Undulation is another visual rhythm we find in photography. This rhythm in photography is about soft shapes that roll through the images.
Undulating visual rhythm is common in landscape composition. We often see rolling hills that undulate from foreground to background. It’s a soft visual rhythm that makes images with a gentle and harmonious feeling.
In the landscape below, we see the undulating rhythm of the snowy hills. Each white mound leads us to another. There are no sharp breaks. We arrive gently at each beat of the rhythm.
When it comes to rhythm in photography, breaking a steady rhythm can have a big impact. The repetition of a pattern can lull us into a stupor. But when that rhythm is broken, it gives us a visual shock.
For photography composition, breaking a steady rhythm can add emphasis. And it can create points of interest in your images. Breaking a rhythm can even highlight the rhythm in the photograph.
The example below shows two tractors breaking the rhythm of the rows of wheat. We have two patterns on either side, each broken by the tractors. And, like drum fills, they add new shapes to the visual rhythm.
There are no strict rules within rhythm photography. It’s an aspect of photography that can strengthen your composition. It’s about looking for patterns that lead or finding shapes that echo.
Train your eye to look for repetition and progression. Find visual rhythms that beat and pulse across your frame. You can explore rhythm in street or landscape photography. You can even introduce rhythm into portraits.
We hope this article has inspired you to find visual rhythms in your photography.