Using patterns in Photography

Just as with symmetry, patterns have a visually pleasing impact in photographic compositions. There are patterns everywhere in nature as well as in man-made structures and they make for interesting photographic subjects. Patterns are visually aesthetic, but they can also serve as the point of focus rather well, especially when they are broken and tension is introduced in a composition.

Let’s discuss establishment of patterns in photography. Patterns form because elements in a picture are repetitive whether intentional or natural. These elements need not be identical objects such as sunflowers or safety pins or windows. Even colors or items which appear similar can also form patterns.

Let’s say a photographer captures a top shot of a street cafeteria. The chairs laid out are all red. It forms a classic example of how patterns can be used in photography. In another example a sunflower in bloom is captured by a photographer. The petals are arranged in one what can be said a perfect example of how patterns appear in nature.

In order to use pattern in your imagery you need not to look for something very exclusive. Simple things like a brick wall, or windows on the side of a building or even a line of trees are just as useful. The above image simply shows the balconies neatly arranged on the front facade of a building. The curves form an interesting pattern.
When using patterns in your compositions make it a point to fill the frame with it. Having patterns in a larger composition and not using it as the main subject is not advisable. Instead, make the pattern the primary aspect of the image.

Compositional Balance

Some say patterns are boring; and rightly so. Using obvious patterns can sometimes backfire and leave you with and image that’s just too bland. Instead of sticking with simple patterns try and incorporate other elements like contrasts or balancing measures, so that your composition has a bit more life in it. Please note that patterns are useful just like the rule of thirds or any other techniques in photography only when it is used in a way that makes sense.

Breaking Patterns – Using The Rule Of Thirds

In one of the above paragraphs we looked at the example of chairs laid out in a pattern. Let’s say that one of the chair were blue. You can bet your bottom dollar that almost all of the viewers will have their eyes fixed on the blue chair. It would be a near perfect composition if the blue chair can be positioned maintaining the rule of thirds. The above image would have passed off as a simple composition that displays the scales on a rattlesnake, until you notice those gleaming eyes. At that point the image takes a completely different perspective. In the image of the curved balconies above, the pattern would have been broken if a man were to be standing in one of those.
It is a good idea if the break in the pattern is obvious at the first glance. If it is too subtle one might just miss it. The difference is clear in the following examples. Which of the following images stands out more to you?

Induce Visual Tension

Another reason photographers are encouraged to break a pattern in composition is to induce visual tension. This is yet another way to attract attention of the viewer. The way our eyes are naturally tuned is we always tend to look for symmetry and pattern in an image, and when that pattern is broken our attention is transfixed on that point.

Use Different Perspectives

Simply breaking the pattern will not do. You will also need to change the camera angle and show the subject of the image from a completely fresh perspective. This point is equally valid even if you don’t break the pattern.

Point Of Focus

Additionally, you will need to make the point where the pattern is broken to be absolutely tack sharp. For static subjects use AF-S (auto focus single-servo) and single point of focus. Overlap the point of focus with the point where the pattern is broken.