How to Find and Photograph Interesting Patterns

Pattern Recognition: How to find and photograph interesting patterns
From the Fibonacci spiral of a seashell to the arrangement of windows on a building, patterns are all around you. The photographic possibilities of patterns are endless, largely because there are so many different ways to approach them. You could emphasize the abstract forms and colors, or use one different element to highlight the sameness of the others. You could focus on symmetry or asymmetry. Bring out one element with selective focus, or use a wide depth of field to make the pattern seem to go on forever.

kmg 300 patterns archesBefore you start to feel overwhelmed by the options, don't worry. We'll take a look at some of the best techniques for photographing patterns and give you a plethora of ideas to go out and try for yourself.

Learn to look for patterns
The most important step in photographing patterns is finding them in the first place. To do this, you have to train your eye to notice the patterns that exist around you. It's a tricky thing to do, almost like learning to see those3D autostereogram images, but once you've got the hang of it, you'll see patterns everywhere.  

Keep an eye out for repetition of forms -- a line of boats in a harbor, mountains stepping up to the horizon, the ripples that a wave leaves on the sand as it retreats. Parallel or converging lines frequently make for interesting pattern photographs, but don't just watch for obvious lines such as those on a road. Trees can create lines, as can the tops of hills or the sides of buildings. Random forms can also make good photos: pebbles on a riverbed, birds in flight, lichen on a rock, etc.

kmg 300 patterns sand flickr mikebairdEquipment and technique
You can use any camera equipment to photograph patterns, but good telephoto and macro lenses will prove very helpful. If you don't have a DSLR, don't despair -- any camera with a decent zoom that allows you to control the depth of field will work just fine! 

The one technique tip that most frequently applies to photographing patterns is to fill the frame with your subject. This is especially important if you want to emphasize the pattern itself, particularly if you want it to look even more abstract.

Find the symmetry
The most obvious form of pattern is symmetry, where parts of your image mirror other parts, either in shape, angle, line, color, or form. Simple symmetry is easy to find in straight lines such as roads or tunnels, but it can also be an interesting challenge to find symmetry in other places such as gardens. 
kmg 630 patterns symmetry flickr dodongflores
Photographing a perfectly symmetrical subject is one example of a time when it's perfectly acceptable -- sometimes even preferred -- to break the rule of thirdsand put your focal point in the very center of your frame. It can also be interesting, however, to change this up a bit. Play around with having the center of your subject's symmetry off center, which frequently serves to make the image even more abstract.

kmg 300 patterns bottles flickr kriscarilloPhotograph the sameness
Another classic way to photograph patterns is to shoot a group of things that are exactly the same and arranged in an even, symmetrical pattern. This is one type of pattern photography where zooming in tightly enough to fill the entire frame is essential. This emphasizes the abstract form of the objects rather than creating a static, boring image. Keep things interesting by playing around with angles, focus, and depth of field.

kmg 300 m&msFind the odd one out
As a contrast to the technique above, try to find the one thing that is different in a group of similar objects, shapes, or colors. Similarly, try to include something that breaks the symmetry or pattern in some way -- a single blue marble in a bowl full of yellow ones, or a tree leaning askew in a forest of upstanding trunks. This adds visual interest and a focal point to your image. This technique looks equally interesting with a wide depth of field, so that all of the items are in focus, or a very narrow one, so that only the odd one out gets the clear treatment.

kmg 300 patterns lines and curvesLines and curves
The repeating lines and curves of buildings and natural objects alike can make beautiful patterns. Try to find an arrangement where the lines create movement and lead the viewer's eye to the focal point of the image. In the image at right, the large, easy curves draw the viewer's eye to the focal point: the smaller curl above the windows. The smaller parallel lines also add visual interest and contrast to the sweeping curves.

Shadows and shades
Try playing with shadows and shades of color to emphasize pattern. The columns in the photograph below are very similar but have very different values of shadow. This serves to both add visual interest and emphasize the pattern and similarity between the columns. The same can be done with shades of color, such as a bouquet of similar flowers or the layers of countryside hills at dusk.
kmg 630 patterns shadows
Once you start looking for patterns in the world around you, you'll notice them everywhere. A row of cars, an empty stadium, or a road disappearing into the distance will suddenly become patterns to photograph. As always, don't be afraid to experiment! Practice will help you find the patterns and photograph them effectively.

[Writing Credit: Katherine Gray.  Image credits: K. GrayMike BairdDodong FloresKris Carillo]

Thanks to our friends over at Tecca for submitting this post.  Find more How-to tech articles & Gadget news at  And, as always, if you have an amazing, pattern-filled photo, post it up on Steve's Facebook Wall, or hit up the Steve's Forums to talk about this article, ask questions, or anything photography related.