Thursday, 9 January 2014

Using Patterns in Photography Composition

"Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern." - Alfred North Whitehead

patterns in photography
Photo by: Paul Bica

Pattern means the repetition of an element in a photograph. The element could be anything; natural or manmade. Interesting patterns occur when strong graphic elements like colors, tones, shapes, forms or lines repeat themselves.

Among the many different elements that make patterns the most powerful patterns are made by shapes. Triangles, Squares and Circles are the basic shapes commonly found in patterns. While triangles and squares produce a tension filled or dynamic effect in the picture, circles and curves produce more pleasing or soothing patterns.

composition in photography
Photo by: Tony Fischer

In situations where they are expected, repeating patterns give a very calming feel to the photograph.  The viewers’ feel at peace while looking at the picture. Why is it so is not clear; one school of thought goes like this: - seeing order in an otherwise chaotic world makes people feel comfortable. And I believe it to be true.

Finding Patterns

If we look closely patterns could be found all around us; on a grand scale  a row of trees, a field of flowers, in architectural designs etc. and if you look for patterns on a macro level you will discover a whole new world comprising of patterns within patterns within patterns……….a seemingly never ending series of patterns. The pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pinecone and the scales of a pineapple are all great examples.

What is Pattern Photography
Photo by: geir t√łnnessen

The secret to finding patterns is to explore potential subjects from a variety of angles. In some cases patterns can be hidden and you really need to have an eye for it to locate it. But with practice you will immediately start noticing them. Whenever you look at a subject / scene any repeating patterns will appear to pop up suggesting various ways to compose your picture.

Tips for Effectively Capturing Patterns in Photographs

In photography patterns could be used in two different ways; one method is to make the pattern the primary subject and the other is to use the patterns as a supporting element to enhance the composition. Pictures that are only comprised of patterns could appear monotonous so the common approach is to use them to strengthen the composition and add interest to the main subject.

Repetition and Patterns in Photography
Photo by: Ian Sane

Depending upon the final effect intended in a picture photographers can choose to emphasize or break the pattern to capture a great image.

Emphasizing the Pattern

Isolating the patterns by excluding everything else from the frame is the key to emphasizing patterns. This creates an illusion in the viewers’ minds that the repetition is infinite and extends well beyond the boundaries of the frame. Isolated patterns give a feel of infinite continuity which engages the viewer’s eyes. This technique is commonly used when photographing faces in the crowd in a gallery.

photographic elements
Photo by: Kevin Dooley

Breaking the Pattern

A different approach to avoid the monotony of repeating patterns is to purposefully break the pattern. Breaking the flow of the pattern disrupts its rhythm and can add drama to a photograph. The disruption could be natural or can be manipulated by the photographer by introducing an element in a contrasting color, of a different shape or texture etc. Even removing one of the elements that make up the pattern could work well to break it.

repetition photography
Photo by: Lali Masriera

When you purposefully break a pattern you should also set your focus on the break to emphasize it. Thus the point at which the pattern gets broken now becomes the point of interest and draws the viewers’ eyes to it.

Patterns and Depth of Field

Photographs of patterns work well when every element in the frame is reasonably sharp and in order to achieve this, the photographer should use a narrow aperture which provides enough depth of field to render all critical elements in the frame reasonably sharp.

composition of a photo
Photo by: Natesh Ramasamy

Also whenever possible try to shoot with the camera’s sensor held parallel to the plane of the pattern. This ensures maximum use of available depth of field; whenever this is not possible and the composition dictates the camera sensor to be oblique to the subject make sure you have selected a narrow aperture which will capture the pattern as sharp as possible.

Here are some great examples of patterns in photography composition

Using Repetition and Patterns in Photography
Photo by: Kevin Dooley

Patterns Photography Composition Rules
Photo by: Kevin Dooley

symmetry and patterns in photography composition
Photo by: josef.stuefer

pattern photography
Photo by: QQ Li

tips for photographing patterns
Photo by: Christian

photographing patterns in nature
Photo by: Tim

Also experiment with various combinations of patterns and symmetries in the same shot and do post the results in comments below.

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