Facebook Pixel How to Use Pattern and Repetition in Photography Effectively

How to Use Pattern and Repetition in Photography Effectively

How to use pattern and repetition in photography feature image

One of the many ways we can make images more creative is to utilize pattern and repetition in photography. To beginners in photography, this may sound a little daunting, but trust me, it’s not.

All it takes is to train your eye to look for them in everyday objects and situations. They are everywhere around us if we only take the time to slow down, stop, and look a little closer.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – Black and white image of dew drops on string
Nikkor 105mm f/8 SS 1/250 ISO 400

But first, let’s talk about what pattern and repetition contribute to our images other than an injection of creativity. Even the slightest hint of pattern and repetition in photography adds a sense of dynamics to the image. You can see many images of detailed pattern and repetition in photography that I have written within the context of developing an eye for detail, here.

What do pattern and repetition contribute to an image?

Photo by Lily Sawyer – A picture of a field taken through a wire fence.
f/8 SS 1/250 ISO 200

1. Heightened interest

DPS photo by Lily Sawyer – Sun Rays shing through dark clouds over the water
f/8 SS 1/200 ISO 800

Pattern and repetition no doubt raise the level of interest in photographs with the space they occupy in the frame and the dynamic and rhythm they bring into that space. With pattern and repetition, what would have been a flat image with little going on, becomes a space of visual activity.

In the photo above, the cloud pattern is rather abstract, dense, and fills the frame. But pair this with the repetitive pattern of the sun’s rays, and your eye immediately stops and is invited to linger and look closely.

2. Hold attention

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – checkered pattern and staircase
Left: f/8 SS 1/200 ISO 400 Right: f/5.6 SS 1/160 ISO 200

Pattern and repetition in photography hold the viewer’s attention by using strong repetitive elements. The patterns can keep the eye anchored or move it around an image using line.

The centered composition of the image above-left anchors the eye straight away whilst also making it look further towards the horizon.

The checkered black and white pattern brings the eye back to this foreground space to explore more.

3. Direct gaze

photography by Lily Sawyer
Left: f/11 SS 1/250 ISO 100 Right: f/8 SS 1/125 ISO 100

Once the image holds that attention, you want the attention to stay, linger for a while and live the space. This is precisely what pattern and repetition do. Effective use of both, invite the eye to move around the frame and scrutinize the parts that made the image great. Or in the very least, takes the viewer on a visual journey.

In the photo above, the angle I shot this photo from provides a leading line. It makes the eye stop at the strong vertical block on the right and look towards the left.

Where to find pattern and repetition

We live in a world saturated with them! From natural objects and phenomena to man-made structures, we are surrounded by pattern and repetition.

1. Nature

Photography by Lily Sawyer – water ripples
f/4 SS 1/80 ISO 2000

Pattern and repetition are around in great abundance. Take nature, for instance, it is brimming with activity at all times. When we care to stop and look, we see innumerable patterns and countless repetitions.

This could be obvious pattern and repetition, for example, the wake patterns created by waves from a sailboat, various types of cloud formations, raindrops on a washing line, mussels on the beach, birds flying in formation, sand dunes, surfing waves, or trees in a forest. It could be symmetrical and asymmetrical designs in nature like shells and fossils, florals, veins on leaves, snowflakes… the list is endless.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – Dewdrops on a string and seashells on a beach
Left: Nikkor 105mm f/8 SS 1/250 ISO 400 Right: f/11 SS 1/800 ISO 100

To add to that list, there are subtle forms of pattern and repetition in nature too – like grass growing in a field, the night sky, close-up corals, converging gentle ripples, the effect of the wind, smoke, and haze just to name a few.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – grass tussels with beach in the background
f/4 SS 1/500 ISO 100

2. Human-Made

Similar to a wake of waves from a boat, you can see contrails or vapour trails from aeroplanes. They may look like clouds but they are actually condensation trails resulting from the changes in air pressure in the sky and, therefore, can be arguably nature and human-made.

More easily recognizable patterns and repetition made by people include architectural forms and structures, sculptures and installations, floors and wall tiles, mosaics, shadows, light beams and lasers, and many other objects.

DPS Photography by Lily Sawyer –  interior building archway
f/5.6 SS 1/60 ISO 1000

3. Create it yourself

The search for pattern and repetition in photography doesn’t have to stop there! As a matter of fact, we can create it ourselves. This shot below has been created using a very slow shutter speed while popping the flash several times as the subjects moved.

Read this article on how I achieved this double exposure in camera.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – multi-exposure of people in black and white
Experiment between f/8 – f/16, ISO 100 – 400, Shutter 2 seconds to bulb

I created the photo below using an iPhone lit up in the dark and shot it with a very slow shutter speed. This is also called dragging the shutter but without the use of flash and is a way of painting with light too.

DPS Photography by Lily Sawyer – light painting with an iphone
Shutter set on bulb for about 10 seconds or so, f/11, ISO 400

Now that we have some ideas on where to look for pattern and repetition, let’s look at how to use them effectively to strengthen our images.

How to use pattern and repetition in photography to add strength

1. Composition

The key to any image is its composition. Perhaps it’s using the rule of thirds or a centered composition. It may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. There are many factors in composition and you can read more about mastering it here.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – Patterned windows
Left: f/2.8 SS 1/160 ISO 400 Right: f/5.6 SS 1/200 ISO 100

2. Use color and contrast

By placing the colors in specific areas of the frame, you can strengthen your image immensely. On the image below-left, by positioning the strongest color red and it’s shadowed contrast and light contrast off-center to the left (and again off center diagonally downwards), the image takes on a dynamic look.

Compare this to the image below-right, which although has 3 strong colors of the same tonal values, lacks the light and shadow contrast. The red image has a much stronger impact.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – Light shining through large windows creating a pattern
Left: f/5.6 SS 1/160 ISO 400 Right: f/5.6 SS 1/160 ISO 800

3. Use forms and shapes

To create pattern and repetition in photography, use dynamic forms and shapes like spirals, curves, triangles, cubes, and other angular shapes, are key to emphasizing the dynamics in a space and heightening its interest level.

In the image below-left, although there are many things going on in terms of repetitive lines, there are not as many acute angles of these lines and shapes compared to the image on the right. The image on the left is a three-dimensional space and the image on the right is a flat floor, yet it is much more dynamic.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – patterned floor and interior
Left: f/4 SS 1/200 ISO 400 Right: f/4 SS 1/125 ISO 2000

4. Use leading lines

Concentric lines, spirals, zigzags, waves, and diagonals are easy to use lines that lead the eye to various places in the frame. In the image below, which has no other subject but the lines themselves, there is still a sense of movement and interest despite the lack of additional colors and strong contrast. You can read more on leading lines here.

DPS photography by Lily Sawyer – circles repeated in wood
f/4 SS 1/125 ISO 2000

5. Use perspective

Photographing from an angle as opposed to a straight-ahead, same-level shot also accentuates pattern and repetition. The images below are high up and full of lines. The addition of the love angle adds more depth to the image. Changing your perspective makes you see things from a new angle and in a new light.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – patterned interior roofs
Left: f/5.6 SS 1/125 ISO 1200 Right: f/4 SS 1/100 ISO 3200

Conclusion

In this article, we have seen how using pattern and repetition in photography is an easy way to improve our images. All it takes is to look more carefully at the world around us and incorporate these elements into our images using some basic photography principles.

DPS How to use pattern and repetition in photography by Lily Sawyer – dewdrops on lines in balck and white
Nikkor 105mm f/8 SS250 ISO 400

What’s more exciting, is that you can also create your own images using pattern and repetition!

Now it’s time to get those creative juices flowing, and go and make your own!

DPS Photography by Lily Sawyer – multi exposure of people against a patterned backdrop
Experiment between f/8 – f/16, ISO 100 – 400, Shutter 2 seconds to bulb

Do you have any other tips for using pattern and repetition in photography?

Also, we’d love to see your images of pattern and repetition, so please share them with us in the comments section.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Lily Sawyer
Lily Sawyer

is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on “mummy” dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.