Using Repetition and Patterns in Photography

Using Repetition and Patterns in Photography

While repetition in the humdrum of daily life can at times be a little boring – capturing it in your photography can create an image with real impact.

Life is filled with patterns – many of which we overlook due to the business of our days – however once you get an eye for spotting them (and it takes being intentional and some practice) you’ll be amazed by what you see and you’ll wonder why you didn’t incorporate them into your photography before.

When it comes to capturing repetition in photography a couple of techniques come to mind – you can either emphasize it or break it. Let me explain with a few examples:

Emphasize the Patterns

Filling your frame with a repetitive pattern can give the impression of size and large numbers. The key to this is to attempt to zoom in close enough to the pattern that it fills the frame and makes the repetition seem as though it’s bursting out (even if the repetition stops just outside of your framing).

Some examples of this technique might include faces in a crowd, bricks on a wall, a line of bicycle wheels all on the same angle etc. Almost any repeated appearance of objects could work.

The picture of bottles (left) gives the sense that there could be hundreds or thousands of them – even though there could be as few as 20-30.

Breaking Patterns

The other common use of repetition in photography is to capture the interruption of the flow of a pattern. For example you might photograph hundreds of red M&Ms with one blue one.

Sometimes you’ll find these broken patterns naturally appearing around you and on other occasions you might need to manipulate the situation a little and interrupt a pattern yourself.

Broken repetition might include adding a contrasting object (color, shape, texture) or removing one of the repeating objects.

Pay particular attention to where in your frame to place the break in the pattern. It might be that the rule of thirds comes in to play here (the example to left might be improved simply by placing the red bead slightly higher or lower in the frame).

Also consider your focal point in these shots – the broken pattern might be a logical spot to have everything focussed sharply.

This week I’m setting myself a little assignment to get out and take some shots that emphasize patterns and repetition. Like I said above – it can take a little practice and intentionality to see them. I hope you’ll share some of your own pattern photography in the forums.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Mike Newton May 6, 2012 03:28 am

    Great post, I've always loved different photographs that include geometric pattens or shapes to create visual interest. Its funny how often we all miss these types of patterns in day to day life until we have a camera in hand.

    I gave a shoutout to 11 photographers who used geometric patterns and shapes to create cool photos on this blog post:

    Thanks again for the great post!

  • Christophe Delas February 12, 2012 09:36 pm

    Great informations

  • Patti August 1, 2011 10:30 pm

    your lessons are great, I learn from you a lot. Thank you ! .

  • Denise July 20, 2010 03:00 am

    This is great! I needed to learn more on what to look for and the best way to photograph a pattern. thank you so much for all the you teach and all I have learned :)

  • Ernesto Lopez May 16, 2009 04:22 am

    hoho i love patterns too i was sitting in the WC and a i took a photo of my carpet in the floor haha
    i also have this other one, better i think haha

  • Kenneth Hyam May 15, 2009 06:40 pm

    Vry thought provoking. The opportinity for repeating patterns is very to the fore in cities. People also make incredible patterns if taken from a distance, although this can be more random and less repetition.

  • golfzilla May 15, 2009 04:01 am

    Patterns are a disease that affect many photographers. I am no exception.

    Here is one I found in New Orleans, LA, USA:

  • Bridget Casas May 14, 2009 05:24 am

    Hans, thank you for looking! Do you think I should have cropped off the grass?

  • Hans May 13, 2009 08:55 pm

    Hi bridget, I like the shot but maybe a little crop at the bottom?
    Great wall, anyway.

  • Bridget Casas May 13, 2009 06:50 am

    Well, I went out yesterday and got this great photo of some beautiful patterns and colors after the inspiration given me by your post. I like it and I have another pattern photo to post today.

  • jackie May 12, 2009 01:17 pm

    Darren Rowse,
    I'm doing year 12 art and for my student choice topic have decided to explore the question- The Artistic Element in Photography: What Creates It?

    In your professional opinion, do you have any advice?

    Nobody will answer my interviews so it would really help me out if you could give some key ideas!

  • Bridget Casas May 12, 2009 03:03 am

    This gives me some great ideas! I am going out today and looking for hidden patterns to photograph!
    Again, you are great! Thanks!

  • Peter May 12, 2009 03:02 am

    To those of you that posted some examples of this lesson... thank you very much... it is very encouraging to know that there are helpful people such as yourselves that are avaialble to help people like me continue to progress as photographers... thanks again!

    i will be going thru your flick shots and others later today... = )

  • Hans May 12, 2009 12:32 am

  • Hans May 12, 2009 12:31 am

    I shot this one this weekend while working..
    It's a nice example

  • Salvacion (Saanva in the forum) May 11, 2009 10:21 pm

    This is great! Imagine that, I just posted some photos about patterns in my multiply site and I also posted for several days last April some patterns in my photoblog.

  • Florian Knorn May 11, 2009 06:43 pm

    Wow, that's funny – I had a contribution like this exactly one year ago to the "Circles" assignments:

    Check it out!

  • MeiTeng May 11, 2009 04:48 pm

    The 2nd photo really illustrates the idea very well.

  • Ilan May 11, 2009 02:35 pm

    One of my favorite topics to shoot :)
    It might looks and sound as if it's easy to find good pattern but it's not!

    My favorite photo of this kind was a scene I noticed on my last trip to NY - The windows of the big metropolis created a great pattern, here is the result -

  • Peter May 11, 2009 12:25 pm


    As always, great article. Do you have more examples of repetion/patterns that i/we can look at and study? Quite honestly, I do not know what the first picture at the top is, but I can see the practical application of in the other photographs. I understand the information, but I just need a few more examples... thanks...