Photography Element of Composition: Patterns

Patterns are soothing when we see them in images, because our brains evolved to make sense of the world and to protect ourselves through pattern recognition. Learning to recognize and use patterns in photography will improve your photography.

What Exactly is a Pattern?

A pattern is a repeating element in your image. The element might be a shape (like a leaf), a color, a line, or even highlight and shadow. The element that is repeated is called a motif.

Patterns can be regular patterns, where the motif and the way it repeats is identical throughout the image, like below.

Or, patterns can be irregular, where motif varies unpredictably throughout the image, perhaps in size, direction, or in color. In the image below, the motif is the rocks in the wall. They vary in size, shape, and color.

irregular patterns

This is also an irregular pattern, even though the glass balls that are in focus are all the same size. But they vary in their placement within the image.


To learn more about patterns, click here.

Why are Patterns Useful in Photography?

Our world is filled with patterns, in nature and in the things we create or build.

Patterns can be very useful in photography.

1-Can draw attention to your subject, especially if your subject breaks the pattern. In the image below, the girl breaks the irregular pattern of the tree trunks.

breaking patterns

2-They are great for adding visual interest to your image. Whatever your subject, if you photograph it in a way to pick up some patterns you add visual interest. Consider the image below with two different crops. One uses pattern, and the other doesn’t.

3-Patterns are excellent as the subject of a photograph. Fill the frame. Change your point of view if necessary to fill your image with pattern — zoom in, get really close, or try worm’s eye or bird’s eye view. Changing your point of view can really change the appearance of a pattern, so experiment! If all else fails, you can crop it afterwards.

4-They create a mood of order, regularity, and/or harmony.

5-Patterns provide information about your subject. A fern from a distance might not be very striking, you might not even notice it. But if you get close to it and see the patterns, you see the fern in a new way and appreciate it more.

6-Patterns are really fun as abstract photographs. Not all patterns lend themselves to abstract shots, but it’s fun to try, especially with man-made items.

#MindfulPhotoChallenge: Pattern

The challenge today is to capture an image that uses pattern!

Share your images on Instagram with #mindfulphotochallenge and/or #RefocusPhotoChallenge, and tag me @ goodhartphotography.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like:

  • My full color 30-Day Photography Challenge Workbook here on Amazon.
  • My Photography Articles Listed and Sorted by Type here
  • My Mindful Photography Workshop here
  • My “A Gossamer Thread” Newsletter about photography/creativity, productivity, and joy here

Photo credits: Greg-Garnhart, Mike-Erskine, Teo-D, Fancy-Crave, JJ-Ying, Paul-Green.