Photographing the same thing three times sounds tedious. But could it be artistic? Pattern in photography can draw the eye, make us think and turn the simplest objects into artwork.
Most photography tip lists encourage budding photographers to try something new. This is not that kind of list — because I’m going to encourage you to try more of the same thing, all in a single photo.
Here’s why regular patterns in photography work. And a few tips to make repetition anything but boring.
The Role of Pattern in Photography
People are creatures of habit. I get my favourite caffeinated beverage from the same place. I take the same route to the grocery store. I go to the same grocery store every week.
Habits show a preference for patterns.
The idea of repeating something can seem boring. But the human brain actually likes patterns. They are great focal points for viewers.
Patterns in photography create attention. Think of something easy to overlook. When framed to highlight the pattern, it becomes intriguing.
You might pass by the same row of houses on your way to work. But what if you align the roofs in the right way? Then that familiar view looks different and artistic.
Recognizing patterns is a composition technique that creates a stronger image. Shapes and lines are composition techniques as well.
Patterns take them to a new level by repeating those shapes and lines. They can also give way to texture. This is when tiny repeating patterns create a familiar, touchable surface.
You can use patterns in photography in every genre in both obvious and subtle ways. You only have to learn how to recognise those patterns.
This starts with finding repetition, then re-framing that in a way that draws the eye.
Recognizing patterns takes practice and an understanding of how they work. Here are a few tips and techniques for using patterns in photography to guide the way.
Tips for Finding Pattern in Photography
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
Patterns are repetition. As you explore with your camera, start looking for objects or shapes that repeat.
You’ll start noticing when shapes in the scene occur more than once. And you’ll be able to spot patterns that might work well in a photograph.
Patterns can be both expected and normal, or unusual. The first step is learning how to recognize them. Then you can use patterns as a composition tool.
Pattern photography is a very easy idea to create using repetition. Man-made patterns replicate how nature works. And repetition in photography is about capturing these occurrences.
Patterns Aren’t Always Perfect
A pattern in photography isn’t the same thing as a pattern in geometry class. Composition patterns don’t need to follow the same rigid rules as patterns in math.
Sure, you can space out that repeating object in a perfect way. But it can also be less rigid.
Sometimes, a pattern in photography isn’t even about space at all, but about a repeating color.
Don’t put the camera down because a pattern isn’t quite perfect. Sometimes the imperfections create as much pull.
Three Is the Magic Number
Patterns can have an infinite number of repeating objects — except for one and two. While two may be repetition, it’s not quite a pattern yet.
Three is often a favourite in both artwork and photography. This could be repetition photos or pattern photography.
De La Soul may have been on to something with that Three is a Magic Number song.
Any number three or more can create a pattern. But there’s something about threes that works in art. They appear unbalanced, yet stable.
Think of the Rule of Thirds — three works well. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end, a simple pattern that leads the eye. Irregular patterns are as important as any other compositional technique.
Yes, sometimes, more pattern is better. But spotting a trio of anything should perk up your pattern photography radar.
How to Use Composition and Angles for Better Pattern Photography
Recognizing the pattern is only the first step. To use that pattern in photography, you have to adjust the composition to maximize it. Start by finding the angle that makes the pattern the most obvious.
Is the pattern more striking when viewed straight on? From the side, or even from above with a drone or a ladder? Adjusting the angle can help you spot patterns that at first escaped you.
Once you’ve found the right angle, continue to use the pattern to guide the composition. Take as many repetition photos as possible
If the pattern is even, try highlighting that perfection. Leave the same amount of space between the pattern and the edge of the photograph.
Symmetrical patterns are often a good reason to ditch the Rule of Thirds. Centering perfect symmetry makes that likeness more obvious.
Shoot from different angles and perspectives. Get in and capture close-up digital photography.
Why You Should Get Rid of Distractions
What you put in the photo is as important as what you don’t include. To draw the most attention to the pattern, remove any distractions.
Filling the frame with a pattern is a great way to draw attention to that repetition. This happens while cropping out the distractions, focusing only on the pattern photography.
Watch the angle for ways to get rid of distractions from the image.
Try a different lens to get in closer. Adjust your position or use the patterned objects themselves. These can block out the distractions in the background.
There’s no right or wrong way to avoid those distractions. But it will save you time in Photoshop later.
Why You Should Sometimes Break the Pattern
So you’ve found the perfect pattern. Now break it. Go in complete contradiction to the pattern photography idea.
When the pattern is not perfect, our eye goes to the piece that’s out of place or even missing.
Whole, complete patterns create a feeling of calm. Break that pattern and throw the image’s emotion into upheaval.
If the emotional goal of the image is calm, create a pattern as perfect as possible. Use the repetition in your photography to create something unique.
But what if the emotional goal of the image is to get the viewer to stop and think? Or even to make them feel a bit uncomfortable? Then break the pattern.
You can break patterns in any number of ways. A broken pattern is that missing canoe. Or the yellow bird in a line of Blue Jays. Or the dandelion seed that’s falling from the stem.
Another similar option is to not break the pattern. But to use the empty space to actually show where the pattern ends. The repetition photography has to stop somewhere.
Where Can You Find Patterns
Once you start looking for patterns, you’ll start seeing them everywhere in your daily life. Patterns in photography aren’t limited to landscape artists.
Many of the best street photographers are adept at recognizing patterns. And often breaking them. Getting up close to an object is one way to find them. This can reveal patterns you’ve never noticed before in macro photography.
Shapes and forms can be both man-made patterns or natural. Architectural photography is an excellent genre for finding geometric patterns.
But you can find patterns in the ripple of the sand on the shore, the reflection off a lake, or the curl of flower petals.
Patterns don’t have to actually look like an object either. Pattern is an excellent method for creating an abstract image.
In abstract photography, what you are looking at isn’t always clear. But the art is always clear in the way the pattern draws the eye.
Shooting a macro image of a small pattern can create a strong abstract image. Through repetition in photography, you show your creativity.
Don’t Forget About Light Pattern in Photography
Patterns don’t need to be things. Light can also create (or disrupt) a pattern in photography. The slits of light coming in from window blinds is an excellent example of light that creates a pattern.
Try photographing the shadows rather than the repeating objects themselves. This is another way to use light to create a pattern. Light can also disrupt a pattern.
You might have a row of perfectly-spaced trees. But because of the clouds (or whatever is blocking the light), the light only hits one of those trees.
Photograph Both Obvious and Subtle Patterns
Some patterns stand out — while others are more subtle. Both types can work in photography.
A perfect row of flowers may be a more obvious pattern. But often the flower itself will have a pattern in the way the petals unfurl.
Look for both the striking, obvious patterns and the subtle way nature repeats itself.
Pattern in photography is a manifestation of the human preference for order. This is why repetition appears so striking.
A pattern can create a sense of calm, while a broken pattern can create a sense of unrest.
Learning how to spot a pattern in a scene can serve as a composition tool for powerful visual images.
Spotting a pattern is the start. Highlight that pattern with the right angle and no distractions. Then repetition becomes artwork.
Showing patterns in photography can be a challenge, but a worthy one.
Interested in finding some more great photography project ideas? Check our article on how to transfer a photo to wood for more photography inspiration!