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Patterns in Photography: A Complete Guide

9 min read

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patterns in photography.

It is vital to integrate photography patterns into your images. This will catch the audience’s eye and ultimately build a unique, refined aesthetic.

In this article, we will be learning how to craft patterns in photography, alongside expanding our knowledge on the general definitions and principles of this topic.

From event to landscape photography, utilizing and deeply understanding these patterns will increase visual appeal and overall advance your composition amongst fellow photographers.

A Brief on Pattern Photography

Repetitive patterns in photography add an intriguing new element to your images, as stated above.

Pattern photography aids us when a strong graphic element is needed in our images, all without directly taking away from our main subject. It is artful and intuitive.

Below we will identify different patterns, create them, and further provide some general tips on how to integrate these photo patterns into your everyday photoshoots.

A hexagon building pattern.
The exterior shown above is a prime example of geometric photography. This is through repetitive hexagonal shapes and sleek silver and blue tones.

Types of Patterns in Photography

Pattern photography provides our audiences with a different perspective and overall adds to stunning image composition.

Pattern photography simply refers to the repetition of similar shapes and objects within the photo. The overall image will show texture, a unique color, and or different angles.

Irregular patterns in photography are a bonus, as they typically grab more attention through their intriguing, repetitive nature. Consequentially, the viewer begins to decipher what he or she may be looking at, holding his or her attention longer.

Vibrant orange moss pattern.
The lichen moss above provides us with a prime example of irregularly patterned photography.

One may argue that patterns add a distracting element to the frame; however, familiarity and similarity through recognition of shapes will mentally stimulate the audience and appeal to one of their five senses.

The senses being addressed today are sight, hearing, touch, and smell. The fifth, though relevant, is not as common in practice with pattern photography.

How do we provoke (or even understand, for that matter) a sense of similarity within our audience? Why would we even care to control their senses?

Scale fish photography.
The emerald scales give little context clues to the scene, yet the image is easily identifiable due to its pattern. Color and texture aid with this, as they are two key principles of pattern photography.

It all boils down to this concept of familiarity. Placing shapes and patterns that the viewer recognizes can add perception to the already pre-existing photograph.

Geometric patterns, obvious patterns, and organic patterns are all prime examples of correctly utilizing this technique. We will dive deeper into those concepts below.

One of the many wonders of photography is the ability to warp our audiences into an image.

The ultimate goal is to fully immerse our viewers into the scene, allowing deep interpretation and interpersonal connection to the photograph.

Once we picture ourselves within the image, empathy and allure are provoked.

Geometric Patterns

pattern of tone and shape.
This photo of an exhibition within the Denver Art Museum demonstrates geometric patterns in photography through its tone and shape. It provokes one of the five senses: sight – © Brianna Rae Photography.

I took this image at the Denver Art Museum’s religious and renaissance exhibition in late 2019. The positioning of my camera and attention to the repetitive geometric shapes truly drove the image.

There is a major stress on the repetition of shape and color. Notice how the golden half-cylinders and framed rectangles add to the image, alongside their leading lines that guide the eye horizontally across.

How to Photograph Geometric Patterns

Placing myself as close as possible to the wall, I used a macro lens to capture this image. I moved throughout the exhibition to determine the best angle, comparing artful, warped ones to the generic frontal shots.

A macro lens, as noted, increases depth perception and pattern recognition. It is unique in its ability to get fine, up-close, and personal details of the subject.

Macro lenses are quite common and range drastically in price. Generally, the fluctuating price range is due to the photographer’s preferred make and model. This allows access for both intermediate and beginning photographers to access the equipment, adhering to most budgets.

In learning geometric photography patterns, it is important to note that the setting of our artwork above is easily identifiable.

The geometrically patterned image above of our museum gallery immediately prompts the viewer into context clues such as location, regardless of the lack of written text.

A lighting fixture.
The main subject of this image, the light fixture, uses geometric patterning to accomplish a sophisticated and familiar look.

Familiarity, as we stated, is a staple in image processing and comprehension.

Without conveying that the first image is a museum, our viewers will use their sense of sight to piece together the setting within milliseconds.

It is a familiar scene and shape, as we can assume our viewers have seen a gallery within their lifetime. Patterns allow a faster processing time.

The integration and amount of identical, geometric shapes are pleasing to the eye.

Identical symmetry does not crowd the image or appear claustrophobic. This technique is for you if you are striving for a structured yet captivating look.

Irregular Patterns

black and white pattern.
Heavy with action, this image of a drum set staggers irregular patterns and demonstrates the gritty scene without any coloration or auditory context clues – © Brianna Rae Photography.

An Indie alternative band based in New York called Magic Finger allowed me to tag along on their Friday rehearsal in order to get some promotional pictures.

I could’ve taken a candid photo of the drummer smiling with his set, though a close-up and pattern-conscious image gave an artful and unique touch that sets the band apart from its competition.

The staggering of cymbals and drums prompts one of the five senses: hearing.

We obviously can’t convey sound through a still image, hence why patterned photography is so important for the senses and to add depth.

Visually, the slight motion blur of the drummer’s hands and drumsticks elicits a crisp sound, while the cylinder engravings show clearly what the instrument is.

The photo above does not have leading lines that guide the eye like geometric, it has repeated cylinders that allow quicker identification instead.

Patterned light bulbs.
We see an abundance of irregular patterns within this image. The golden color and repetitive nature scatter similar shapes and vibrancy throughout.

How to Photograph Irregular Patterns

To achieve this look, a macro lens (as exemplified through the highly detailed yet out-of-focus cymbal at the forefront of this image) is placed directly above the instrument at a downward angle.

This choice was made after identifying the most prominent shape: circles. From there, the process began by including as many as possible without distracting from the main subject.

The expression of the drummer isn’t relevant, as we are focusing purely on patterned sound.

When shooting events or promotional pictures in photography- primarily for bands- these fine details of their equipment will make your photographs pop.

A man photographing a building.
Identifying patterns through basic recognition and understanding helps integrate this technique into everyday photoshoots.

As one can infer, this process of identifying patterns is highly reliant on body position and scene recognition.

To achieve this technique, utilize multiple angles within your shoot in a small period of time. It’s okay to discard many until they look just right, practice makes perfect.

Organic Patterns

organic pattern made from hands in the snow.
The image above appropriately demonstrates organic patterns. Weather is a prime example of utilizing this technique, as it is a natural tool to aid understanding and clearly illustrates our images – © Brianna Rae Photography.

I captured this organic pattern on a cold Colorado night in the winter of 2020. Whilst walking home with a friend, we found ourselves captivated by the tranquillity of snow. The white dusted gently and beautifully upon every last lamppost or mailbox.

The streets were spine-chillingly cold; yet, the layers of snow just past midnight provoked feelings of softness and child-like comfort. The snow remained untouched, and the world felt quiet– this was the decisive moment of pulling out the camera.

Instead of taking a landscape shot of the snow, we instead interrupted the naturally-occurring scene with blunt patterns and textures.

This is a prime example of appealing to one of the five senses we spoke of: touch.

As a viewer, the tonality and weather are nearly crisp enough to touch.

The organic pattern presents itself within the grain of the snow, alongside adding an obvious pattern of the handprints. The handprint shows a blunt, natural action. The snow specifically is an organic pattern due to its occurrence without any prior setup, alongside its existence in nature.

The image is purely organic and well-recognizable. The viewer does not have to see the snow-lined streets to identify essential context clues such as weather.

We do not see multiple, crowded patterns scattered throughout this image as one would expect.

The audience can nearly feel the cold prickling up their fingertips. Transporting them back to the winter months allows interpretation and personalization. Such triggers a deep sense of familiarity.

natural and organic pattern of flowers.

How to Photograph Organic Patterns

As we’ve learned, organic photography patterns can be easily found in nature. You don’t need deep hazy woods or large vibrant cities to accomplish this technique. A few steps outside will do. Pay attention to what grabs your senses and capture it immediately.

View your image instantly. Count the patterns and try to recognize similarities within the image. If none are found, carefully monitor your setting and try again.

Eventually, after diligent practice, these patterns will be easier to identify and create.

If you are on a non-LCD screen where digital galleries are unavailable, such as 35mm film, eye the scene again and fill the roll with a multitude of differing scenes.

Abstract Patterns

abstract image of flowers.
Two key abstract patterns are found in this image of desaturated flowers. The abstract patterns allow for a different perspective and multiple forms of interpretation – © Brianna Rae Photography.

When mastering patterns in photography, the abstract method is essential. It not only fulfills the artist in a creative sense but continues to soothe the need for structure and appeal.

Abstract patterns do not need to be perfect by any means. This is their charm. They are the most contemporary option.

This method builds on mess and artfulness, not polished and perfectly placed geometric elements.

The image above, taken on film, frames the foreground through leading lines and a uniquely blurred aperture.

There is a consistency of color and texture despite the gradual blur, prompting our viewers to smell the carnations and feel the nighttime air.

Despite their differences in shape, this photo intentionally highlights and embraces their irregularity.

How to Photograph Abstract Patterns

To achieve this abstract patterned technique, I personally utilized an external flash late at night to ensure detail and an artsy color scheme. This prompted a contemporary, edgy look.

My body was positioned flat against the ground to highlight our main subject, the frontal flower that cascades backward.

When practicing abstract pattern photography yourself, look for the unusual yet undeniably interesting sequences around you.

Honey granite photographed up close.
Granite was photographed within this image, focusing on the similarities in color and abstract shape. Though there is no geometric structure, the displacement of it all makes the image pop.

For an everyday example, this could be the ruffling of a pile of clothes to create repetitive shapes or even what we see above as a simple macro shot of a surface.

The subject in the darker flower image above directly aligns with the lower third of my frame. This ensures that the main focus is still consistent in coloring and leading lines. When creating this technique, leading lines absolutely help control the chaos.

It is important to note again that the texture is the main seller of our image, as each flower is evidently unique. Despite the differences, the following patterns are still aesthetically pleasing and easily identifiable.

Closing Thoughts

colorful cacti plants.
We can identify multiple forms of patterns within this image. The colorful cacti are geometric, abstract, and organic. Similar shapes, intriguing patterns, and the occurrence in nature are its identifiers – © Brianna Rae Photography.

Within this article, we have not only stressed the importance of patterns in photography but demonstrated the multiple ways to achieve them.

As strong graphic elements repeat, common photography patterns will become easier with time, and be sure to guide the viewer’s eye.

As your own examples of pattern photography build, your regular patterns will advance.

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