Patterns create a sense of rhythm and balance in photography that, like the repeating notes in a song that capture the imagination. Learning how to find patterns will improve your photographic skills and help you to find correlations between shapes, forms and colors in all areas of your work.
Common geometric shapes are all around us, sometimes well-defined, other times subtle, but they always add a sense of intensity to a composition. If you are looking to spice up your compositions, use the following tips to learn how to photograph textures and patterns.
Given that all objects have a texture, there is never a lack of photographic material from every end of the spectrum. Initially, you will find it difficult, but as you train the eye, you’ll begin to see patterns everywhere.
A pattern is nothing less than a visual element such as a geometric shape, line and color, but because we are so familiar with what’s around us, sometimes it’s hard to focus on each element that makes up a scene. Repetitions create a graceful and silent speech and to find them, all you need is to clear your mind and explore the details of the world around you.
The secret lies in your position in relation to the scene. If you’re shooting on a low scale, come close to your subject and observe all the details, while other times you’ll find larger patterns that are most successfully captured through a bird’s eye perspective!
• Irregular patterns
Most people falsely assume that a pattern must have regular shapes or lines to even be a pattern, but in nature repetitions usually occur in irregular shapes, which give you the opportunity to form patterns from a group of irregular elements.
Notice the leaves, flowers, feathers, rock formations, driftwood, reflections, clouds before the storm, and the trees, from the bark to the leaf veins. See how the leaves create their own careless heap of grace and observe the symmetry of the line of the trees in a in a forest. Far in the background, the mountains bounce their voices against the green hills below as the sharp peaks counter-weight the pattern of the grassy knolls rolling at their feet.
Water does not always seem an obvious subject for photographing textures, but it really is a superb environment worth explored – surfaces that change color depending on the time of day and weather. When you watch the wind play upon the waters, you will see the patterns of the waves in the sea.
These are just some of the more obvious patterns you can find. There are also more subtle repetitions that can enhance photos – the beauty of a tree ring, a pile of smooth stones by the water or the flowers in your backyard can play upon your creativity as well.
• Regular patterns
Most patterns include shapes, lines or colors that appear in a precise formation. Filling a frame with straight lines or regular shapes creates an intense visual effect. You can find regular patterns along cityscapes, including the bold design of a row of windows, the curves within the architecture of a building or a gentle sweep of a stairwell.
Buildings in particular are full of possibilities, like the walls made of brick, wood or stone roofs, superb capitols, stained glass, door handles and much more. Lines of cars, farmers’ markets, gift shops and people, can all be excellent subjects for a pattern composition.
Try experimenting with shadows to emphasize patterns and create interesting visual cues. While the eye is naturally drawn to the bright areas, the connection between light and dark can create some amazing compositions.
The best times of the day occur early in the morning or late afternoon when the sun creates long shadows. You can “stage” the shadows to emerge toward the camera by photographing toward the sun, or expand from the camera by having the sun behind you. Shooting at an angle directed to the sun creates the best shadows, as they run across the whole image.
How to photograph patterns
The key is to explore your subjects from multiple angles. While you might not see the colorful design of umbrellas as you walk on a crammed sidewalk, it becomes evident from an upper-floor window. Observe people’s faces in a crowd, the symmetric rows of seats in a stadium, the bottles on an assembly line or the cracks in a mud flat.
You can also find patterns in color. Think of the repeating colors in a tulip field or the different colors of bricks found in the wall of a building. Other times, you can find patterns in living subjects, such as a bird’s feathers or a group of highway riders.
Once you find a pattern, compose the shot in such a way that it’s not just “stuff”, but a clear element standing on its own and claiming its visual grandeur. Fill the frame to give the feel of a powerful presence. When you capture the pattern a little off center, you can still trigger a strong emotional response, but with a hint of softness to it as you show that it is not the “whole world”.
Once you learn how to photograph regular and irregular patterns, try to break them up creatively. Basically, you’re still focused on a pattern, but now you’re including a disruptive element within your pattern to create a point of interest. Your goal is to pull the eye into the image and let it linger for a while, then break up the pattern by adding a different color, size or shape to add more flavor to your composition.
For example, add a white rose in a bunch of red roses, or turn one bike around in a row of bicycles, include a yellow umbrella in a sea of black or perhaps shoot an image where there are varying shades of gray in the shadows.
The disruptive object becomes the focal point of the image, so pay attention to the way you place that object in the shot. Using the Rule of Thirds, split the frame into nine squares with four intersecting lines and place your subject at one of these intersections. If you’re narrowing the depth of field, make sure your primary subject is the one that is in focus.
While you can use most any SLR camera to photograph patterns, there are certain equipment pieces that yield the best results:
1. Telephoto lens: Since the best way of enhancing your photos is to have the pattern take up the whole frame, get in close to your subject. A mid- range zoom lens (in the 70 – 400mm range) work best for capturing the details of nature and extracting patterns from their surroundings.
2. Macro lens: Likewise, if you are close to your subject, say for instance a flower, you may want to focus on certain details (e.g. the seeds in a sunflower). The secret is to fills the frame with a pattern and make the repetition seem as if it’s coming out of the frame.
3. Wide-angle lens. A wide lens will allow you to reveal the connection between the foreground and the background of an image, while a telephoto lens narrows the perspective and makes objects appear closer than they are.
4. Tripod. A tripod will allow you to steady your hand and get a good exposure.
When photographing patterns, depth of field often becomes a challenge, as you may be shooting at a sharp angle from the subject. Use small apertures (e.g. f/16, f/22 or smaller) to ensure sharp focus throughout the image plane.
Textures and patterns have great visual weight, and even though they may not be the first thing you see in a photo, they add a new layer of interest that will keep the eye hooked long after less complex compositions have revealed their secrets.
Once you start looking for patterns, you’ll see them everywhere. A line of cars, the shadows made by tree branches or a path fading into the distance will suddenly become key elements in your shots. Don’t be afraid to experiment and start looking at things from unusual angles.
Remember to search for new perspectives, shadows, breaking the repetition and if you’re feeling lucky, try combining patterns together in the same image.