Patterns are everywhere in the world around us. Our eyes and our brains are optimized for seeing and recognizing patterns, but turning them into photographs takes a little thought. We can find interesting visual patterns both in the natural world and in the built environment.
Patterns can be abstract or geometric, repetitive or unique. They may be revealed through color, texture, line, or brightness. We can find patterns at any scale from the microscopic to the vastness of interstellar space. With the right tools you can photograph them all.
I think photographing patterns comes down to finding the essence of the pattern. What is it about the subject that makes it a pattern? Frame that essence and crop everything else out.
Here are a few examples, with my thoughts about why these images work as patterns.
These hazy blue mountain ridges step across the landscape toward the soft orange of the sunrise sky. The ridges aren’t identical, but the repetition of their horizontal lines creates both a restful pattern and a sense of near-infinite depth. I made this image from Dolly Sods, West Virginia, looking east over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.
Here the pattern is radial, as the rose petals seemingly rotate around the center. I’ve cropped away everything that might distract from the pattern of the petals.
I think you could imagine these strawberries going on forever. It’s a random arrangement of berries, but the shape of the individual berries repeats to form the pattern.
Vine Maple Leaves
Like the strawberries, the arrangement of leaves is random but the individual leaves all have the same shape. The trick here is to decide how many leaves to include in the photo to give the feeling of repetition and pattern while keeping them large enough to appreciate their details.
Wallich’s Wood Fern
Here the linear pattern of individual fern fronds repeats in a radial pattern. I can almost see them starting to rotate around the axis.
Waves washing up on a beach create a repeating pattern in time. As the tide recedes the sand sometimes captures this wave action in miniature. Add a little late afternoon sun skimming low across the beach and the pattern is revealed.
When conditions are right, ice creates fantastic patterns as it forms on the surface of quiet pools in a stream or puddle. I photographed this ice pattern by shooting straight down on the ice, keeping it parallel to the camera for maximum sharpness throughout. Soft skylight highlights edges of the frozen bubbles.
There are at least three separate patterns going on in this photograph: the repeating lines of the joints between the bricks, the diagonal shadows on the wall, and the surface texture of the bricks themselves.
This is just a detail of light interacting with the wavy texture of a glass brick. I found it while awaiting a flight in the Las Vegas airport. Very small changes in camera position made a huge difference in how the light patterns appeared in the glass.
Pattern photos can be as abstract or realistic as you want. You can find patterns in nearly any subject you choose. It’s just a matter of observing and then thinking about what you’re seeing as you optimize what’s in your viewfinder to isolate the pattern from everything around it. Have fun finding and creating your own images of the patterns in your world.