Effectively Using Repeating Patterns in Your Photographs :: Digital Photo Secrets

Effectively Using Repeating Patterns in Your Photographs

by David Peterson 0 comments

Repetition in our mundane daily lives can be boring. Repeating patterns however, add life, zeal and impact to an image. Patterns are to photography, what rhythm is to music. Repeating patterns, if captured the right way, strengthen an image. Ten pillars on a porch, a hundred umbrellas on the beach, a thousand bricks on a wall and a million petals on a field... repetition takes a life of its own.

Emphasize or Break?

When you’re on the prowl for some "repetition photography", you basically have one of two choices when you compose the shot. You can either emphasize the repeating pattern, or break it.

For instance, you can fill your frame with a repetitive pattern. This creates an impression of large size and numbers. The idea is to make the repeating pattern ‘burst out’ from the edges…as if there’s more, much more, than what your lens was able to contain.

A little creative yet controlled zooming is required…nothing you can’t do with a little practice. Obviously, the subject of the repetitive pattern will also dictate difficulty level. Filling a frame with two dozen eggs is simple... capturing chickens that came from those eggs – not so much!

The other way to go is to break the pattern. Let’s use those eggs we talked about earlier as an example; think one brown egg amongst an array of dozens of white ones. Or perhaps a blue M&M in the middle of hundreds of red ones. Get the picture?

This technique of breaking the pattern is called creating a “Spot”. Breaking the repetition can also involve removing one of the repeating objects. Just make sure the removal is noticeable. No one will miss one M&M in a heap of hundred but an empty spot in an egg tray will do the job.

Pay special attention to where in your frame you break the pattern. Keep the other rules of composition in mind here.

Look the image above. You can instantly see why it’s a beautiful picture:

  • The frame is filled with the repetitive pattern. The trees on the edges are cut off vanish outside the frame…indicating there are many more. There may be just 5 trees on the street but the photographer did an excellent job convincing you otherwise!
  • Look at the breaking of the pattern – the missing tree. The visual ‘message’ is received loud and clear! And we really like it. Why? Because the gap provides a window into the background…the calming water in the middle, and the inviting scenic mountains at the other side.
  • The rule of thirds is applied beautifully here as the tree gap is placed carefully.

Be creative; for instance, a powerful way to break pattern is to focus on the break, and blur the rest (more tips follow). You may not need a change of object or color - the focus, and lack of it, can be the differentiating factor.

Repeating Shapes, Colors and Lines

By repeating patterns, you make your composition more powerful. There are basically three ‘things’ that can be repeated to strengthen an image:

  • Shapes. Shapes are everywhere…circles, triangles, squares and tens of other geometric shapes all found in one form or the other around us.
  • Colors. Even if the objects being repeated are not the same shape, the same color can unite them.
  • Lines. Repeating lines helps capture the viewer’s attention. Parallel lines are comforting to the eyes. Vertical lines signify calmness and balance while horizontal ones indicate motion and vibrancy.

The right combination of these three elements can help you create the perfect repetition in photography.

Don’t Forget the Other Principles

Repeating patterns in photography are a stimulating and exciting process. But it also requires patience and good judgment. Don’t get so caught up in your quest for repetition that you forget the other principles of photography. Such as:

  • Repetition
  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Movement
  • Proportion
  • Emphasis
  • Variety
  • Harmony
  • Unity

Let’s look at the principles of photography as reflected by the repeating pattern photograph above:

  • Repetition: Multiple trees, simple repetition…positioned in an attention-grabbing pattern.
  • Balance: The image was composed in a way that no side of the image feels heavier, and no one side of the image imposes over the other.
  • Contrast: The reddish leaf-covered ground contrasts the greenery above, so do the shadows to the sunlight piercing from the front…excellent graphic interest is added thanks to the contrast.
  • Movement: The directional lighting helps guide the viewer’s eye from the sunbeams to the ground, where the shadows lead the eyes back up the trees until the viewer fixates on the sun.
  • Proportion: The use of low camera angle helped create the ‘narrative’ of movement. It helped conceptualize that one of the trees, the one with the “Sun’s halo”, is somehow more important than the others. It’s a beautiful method of showing that size and color didn’t matter but another element, the Sun and its light, did.
  • Emphasis: The Sun has become a ‘cap’ for the tree in the middle…making it a center of interest. The shadow from this tree divides the photo till the bottom edge.
  • Variety: The yellow light of the sun is comforting to the eyes, and provides an attractive variation to the greenery in the scene. This is good because variety is more interesting than repeating the same element across an image.
  • Harmony: Besides the fact that the image depicts nature, you can see harmony because the picture has similar elements all across. The overall impact is uncomplicated and pleasant.
  • Unity: By effectively applying all the principles, the photographer was able to create a wholesome image.

Photography is a lot about balance, and I don’t just mean balancing that big lens in your hands! When you’re off chasing repeating patterns, keep the big picture in mind, the results will be phenomenal.

Obviously, don’t expect every shot to be a masterpiece, which is good advice no matter what kind of photography you’re doing.

Ten Tips

You can use some tips... here are 10 on effectively using repeating patterns in your photographs:

Voluminous Repetitions. All things that are repeated, technically create a pattern. You just have to observe these patterns around you…they are around you, almost everywhere. While you may daydream of an idyllic photo shoot surrounded by thousands of daffodils to capture their repeating pattern, you can start by focusing on the stairs leading down from your apartment!

Include Textures. The devil is in the details…so is beautiful photography. So the next time you have a repeating pattern of something, a heap of oranges or a line of scooters, try to flesh out the textures. Rough, smooth, soft, shiny, whatever textures you have, make them stand out. This adds depth, dimension and splendor to the image. Consider light as a major factor when depicting textures.

Maintain Symmetry. Symmetry is often the essence of patterns. It can make or break the composition of the repeating pattern image you are trying to create. By maintaining symmetry within your repeating pattern image, you add organization and balance to the scene. That’s a good thing.

Add Lines and Curves. Lines and curves help guide the viewer’s eye to your center of interest. Lines infuse an additional dimension to an otherwise flat image. When arranging lines in your shot, keep in mind that vertical lines emphasize depth and draw eyes upwards, while horizontal lines lead the viewer’s gaze into the image and to the center of focus.

Emphasize Patterns. As explained earlier, but worth repeating, try to fill up the frame with the pattern. The repetitive subjects should be ‘bursting’ out of the frame, indicating there are a lot more than captured on camera. For best results, use a telephoto lens.

Illustrate Varying Tones. Repetition is like a double-edged sword; it is simultaneously interesting and potentially monotonous at times. So play with color and light, depicting varying tones across your image. Capture both bright with soft, dark with light, red with green…this keeps your image from falling to the monotonous side and helps you bring about a mesmerizing effect.

Crop. No, not the crop in the fields... the other crop! Cropping helps you remove any distractions from the image. Holding the viewers’ attention becomes easier.

Focus One and Blur the Rest. Also mentioned earlier, but since we’re talking about repeating patterns…This is a creative way to break a pattern’s monotony. Instead of creating a gap or adding a contrasting color or object, use focus to highlight the subject.

Zoom-in. Capturing patterns will often have you zooming-in. So you may need to read up on macro photography. Repeating patterns that are captured in a zoomed-in frame force the viewer to take notice.

Keep a Creative Outlook. To capture the best repeating patterns in your photos, an open mind has to accompany the open eyes. Observe the patterns around you and notice the minute details of the subject.


Look at photos that have repeating patterns to inspire yourself. That’s the best way to learn. As with every skill in photography, or any art form for that matter, inspiration makes a world of a difference. Expose yourself to some quality photographs with repeating patterns. Take it all in. By filling your head with enough impressive pictures, you up your chances of catching some inspiring ones yourself.

So start repeating the ‘watching’ part first!

Every photographer wants to take that photograph that makes people look into the distance and go Ohhh…Looking at inspiring repeating patterns can help you take that photo.

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