Photo tip of the week: Five ways to incorporate patterns in your photography
Featuring patterns in photography is a great way to create visually appealing images that will capture and hold the attention of the viewer. I enjoy the challenge of discovering patterns that will then become the prominent feature of my photo.
Sometimes I find a pattern already in the scene, and other times I ask the subject to assume a particular formation to create an image that I envision. Here are five approaches to thinking about and using patterns in your photography.
1. Bird’s eye view patterns
It’s always good to think about alternate angles on a scene, such as an extreme high or low angle, where possible. A high angle photo looking straight down onto a subject can provide interesting shapes and patterns, and is a good idea to keep in your mind as you’re deciding how to photograph a particle scene. I don’t own a drone, but I can still get aerial photos that present a scene with a unique high angle perspective.
I have made use of bridges to look down onto subjects many times, over both land and water. Sometimes the photo from above can be at an angle, such as in the case of this Thai floating market photo which was taken on a bridge over the water.
At other times, it can be more effective for the camera to shoot completely ‘bird’s eye view’ style, which implies more of an immediate downward angle, like a drone camera shooting directly below.
To do this is more difficult as it requires either holding the camera far out from your body, angling it straight down and shooting blindly, or to lean over the edge of the balcony and using the live view function to still be able to see the composition in the display. This is tricky as the camera must be held out far enough to clear the structure you’re standing on.
In this technique, the patterns can really become the focal point and it will certainly be a different photo than if shot from ground level.
If you don’t have the luxury of a bridge or balcony to shoot from, and your subject doesn’t take up a large area on the ground, it’s possible to stand tall over the subject, or even get a chair or table or something to elevate yourself enough to get that high angle, clear of any obstructions while looking down. Look around the space for what’s available. Be creative and innovative – after all that’s what art and photography is all about!
Featuring patterns in your photography is a great way to take your image making to the next level, especially if you are interested in having an element of the ‘fine art’ style in your work. Whether you’re filling the frame with a repeated subject, or positioning it throughout the photo strategically, there will be a new level of aesthetic harmony obtained in your photos and they will be much stronger for it.
The other compositional ideas of shooting symmetrically, from above, or with your subject in front of a pattern-filled background that fills the frame are always worth keeping in your mind as you are out shooting. Having remembered these ideas to then reference at any time will help to keep you inspired and creating stronger and more artistic images that will stand out and visually engage an audience.
2. Shooting a subject against a repeating pattern
Sometimes you might happen upon interesting patterns that are not strong enough to make a great stand-alone photo, but could work well to serve as a background for another subject.
In my people photography, I very often look for the background first, and then position a subject in front of it. For me, the idea for the overall shot usually comes after finding the right background.
It’s very important that the person, animal or whatever the subject matter has a background that is non-distracting and complimentary, and I think this is key to creating better photos and is often overlooked.
Another technique is to find the background and then wait for a subject to move in front of it, such as an interesting building facade or textured wall in a public place. This is a great approach for street photography, where people and vehicles are always moving about and if you’re patient you can position yourself in one place and wait for the photo to come together.
I have found patterns to use as backgrounds in my work from rice terraces, fishing nets, waterfalls, leaves, and even painted art on walls.
3. The Art of Symmetry and Balance
I am drawn to symmetrical scenes in visual art, and I try to incorporate symmetry into my photos as much as possible. Being someone with a calm and non-confrontational personality, I am drawn to balance, harmony and a sense of order and perfection.
I also love the natural world, which is where we find symmetry occurring everywhere. The radial symmetry of a starfish or a flower in bloom, the spread wings of butterflies or birds, the faces of almost all animals in the animal kingdom.
If I’m shooting a scene without people such as a landscape, it’s once again a matter of looking carefully at the wider scene and trying to isolate a smaller scene within it that will balance and have objects fairly evenly located, and then framing the photo carefully.
If I’m going to have a person in the scene, I will first look for the background, and try to find an area or structure that is balanced and symmetrical. Examples include between a doorway, window, pillars or trees, and sometimes if I’m shooting two people, I will position them to be facing each other or evenly on the opposite sides of the frame.
The human face is symmetrical, or at least usually very close to being so, and if photographed from straight on, with an appropriate background to balance, this is a straightforward way to shoot a symmetrical scene. It’s important that the person is not angled towards the camera.
It’s up to the photographer to help position the subject so they are front on and directly facing the lens, unless there is opportunity for the photographer to move without losing the background. If the person is at any angle, it’s crucial to take the time to gently direct or position them to how you need them.
4. Filling the frame with repetition
In photography, the most powerful photos usually have a singular, clear and obvious focal point within the frame for the eye to immediately fix on, sometimes with a secondary focal point to then discover within the frame.
There is another approach however, which is to employ the technique of completely filling the frame with the same subject matter, edge to edge. This turns the composition into a canvas of repeating shapes and patterns, somewhat reminiscent of an abstract painting.
Examples include people in crowds, objects being sold in a market, flocks of birds and scenes of nature such as pebbles or shells on the beach. It’s not so hard to execute, but you have to critically examine the scene and try to see the picture you want to create in your mind’s eye. When you see a subject you want to photograph, think about where you could isolate a specific area of that the subject or scene that could then become the photo.
Look for interesting shapes and textures that still convey the subject without showing the entire periphery. Then move in close or zoom in to make sure nothing except the same pattern is included within the frame and shoot various angles and variations of the scene.
This style of shooting requires you to look at the world quite differently to how we might normally do so, seeing within the boundaries of a particular focused area, which is ultimately the rectangular frame of your photo.
5. Repeating subjects to form a pattern
I often like to form patterns with my subjects and doing this provides an artistic and visually engaging solution to photographing multiple people, animals or objects. The careful positioning of subject matter within the frame is very important and is the difference between creating artistic rather than snapshot style photographs.
I like to frame multiple subjects with an exact spacing between them to create a line of even, repeating shapes, and it’s a simple yet powerful technique to create patterns in your work. Imagine five people walking in a straight line in the same direction, or three people standing still and facing the camera, all with an equal spacing apart.
If you can envision such ideas and make them happen, or find and capture patterns that are occurring naturally like this, you will create photos that are striking and grab the viewer’s attention. This idea can be achieved not only with people, but with still life subjects and animals.
The pattern could also be a non-linear or uneven one, with positioning taking place all around the frame to create various formations and shapes. Often it’s the even spacing between the subjects that helps create the sense of a pleasing pattern.
Again there are two approaches here, either setting up the shot to look how you imagined or waiting for subject to move into particular spaces within the frame and firing the camera to capture what you’ve anticipated.
Both are perfectly valid and equally challenging in different ways. Working with and directing people subjects is not something that comes naturally to everyone and generally requires practice. To find a naturally occurring pattern is also a challenge and requires time, patience and foresight. ❂
About the author: David Lazar is a travel photographer and musician from Brisbane who loves to capture moments of life, beauty and culture through his photography. See more of his work on Facebook, Instagram and his website.
Get more stories like this delivered
to your inbox each week. Sign up here.