Pattern in Photography: Definition and Examples

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What is Pattern in Photography?

Pattern in photography is where elements that occur naturally or which you can create with your composition repeat throughout the frame.

They often consist of lines, shapes and colors. The patterns will form a design and the eye follows them, creating movement within the scene. Patterns can be found in nature (eg. trees), architecture (eg. tall buildings) and street photography (eg. sidewalk cracks). You can use patterns in photography to liven up a dull scene and provide a more interesting composition.

Take a look at the examples of pattern in photography below, showing their use in macro, nature and architectural photography.

pattern in photography

Types of Patterns in Photography

There are three types of patterns in photography:

  • Regular Patterns
  • Irregular Patterns
  • Breaking the Pattern Photography

Each of these types of repeating patterns in photography can be used to create a certain ‘feel’ for your images, and all can be aids in your composition.

See some examples from the work of famous pattern photographers to see how patterns are used in some of the most famous photographs.

Regular Patterns

Regular patterns are often symmetrical and can be found in parts of nature like flowers, architecture such as skyscrapers and in street photography with road markings. They are usually composed of lines, shapes and colors that repeat themselves, and it is this repetition that really defines a regular pattern and draws the eye of the viewer into the photo.

Regular patterns generally evoke feelings of calm and order.

Regular Patterns Examples

Regular Pattern Example
Regular Pattern Example
Regular pattern example

Irregular Patterns

Irregular patterns are not symmetrical and can be found in nature (e.g. mountains), architecture (e.g. Gothic cathedrals) and street photography (e.g. graffiti). They often contain chaotic lines, shapes and colors, which evoke feelings of disorder or chaos, but they can equally be a combination of regular patterns, with the arrangement itself being the irregular element.

Irregular Patterns Examples

Irregular Pattern Example
Irregular Patterns in photography
Irregular Pattern Example
Irregular Pattern Example

Breaking the Pattern Photography

Breaking the pattern in photography is when you deliberately disrupt the pattern or use a single element from the pattern to create a contrast within your composition. These are generally regular patterns but with one element out of place that attracts the eye.

Breaking the pattern can evoke feelings of surprise, chaos and even unease. It can also be used to create a sense of movement.

Breaking the Pattern Examples

breaking the pattern example
Breaking the Pattern Photography
Breaking the Pattern Photography
Breaking the Pattern Example

Pattern Photography Examples

You can probably see in the examples of pattern in photography above that there is not a clear line separating the types of pattern – photos can often contain all three within the one frame. So it’s useful to see some pattern photography examples from the real-world to get a sense of how to combine these patterns to create an interesting composition.

Patterns in Architecture

Here, a regular repeating pattern is found in the architecture of tall buildings.

Regular patterns are more often symmetrical and will give a static feel to your image. While symmetry can feel a little boring at times, if you use it well then it still has its place in photography. Symmetrical images can create order, balance and formal compositions.

Pattern in Architecture
Pattern in Architecture Example
Pattern in Architecture Example
Pattern in Architecture Example
Pattern in Architecture Example
Pattern in Architecture Example

With the image above, the static feel is broken with the movement created by the person walking along the street. The pattern in architecture has now become an irregular asymmetrical pattern because of the human element. This kind of approach will give your image more interest and make it dynamic.

Photos of Patterns in Nature

The below photos of patterns in nature show mainly regular and irregular patterns. Finding a ‘breaking the pattern’ style tends to be a bit harder with nature photography.

Pattern in Nature Example
Pattern in Nature
photo of pattern in nature
Photos of Patterns in Nature
Photos of Patterns in Nature

Pattern Photography at Home

By far the best way to learn about pattern photography is to try out some pattern photography ideas at home. You can use the below list for guidance, or just play around. Try to be intentional about your photos and think about composition, and you will be using pattern in photography in no time at all.

Ideas to try pattern photography at home include:

  • Change your perspective, looking directly down on objects or from underneath.
  • Arrange a pattern so that it forms the background to your subject.
  • Break the pattern with people walking across your frame.
  • Mix and match repeating elements to create regular and irregular patterns.
  • Get in close, filling your frame with your subject – this works well for flowers.
  • Search for repeating elements, as these are the building blocks of patterns.

The photo below is a closeup of a bamboo woven basket. Even simple objects in your home can be a good place to find patterns.

Pattern Photography at Home

Read More:

The Types of Balance in Photography

Famous Abstract Photographers

Black and White Photo Quotes

Positive and Negative Space in Photography

Follow Tim Daniels:

Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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