Using Pattern and Symmetry

Patterns Are Everywhere

As Olic discovered, patterns and symmetry appear everywhere, and are an awesome opportunity for a striking image. The side of a brick building, the fallen leaves in a pile in your yard, or the repeating lines of a wrought-iron gate — pattern is everywhere, you just have to look for it. Be intentional with what you’re trying to focus on in your photography and experiment with framing and composition that really capture the repeating nature of your subject.


One easy way to emphasize pattern is to fill your entire frame with repetition. This gives the viewer a sense of size and large numbers, even if what you are photographing is actually very small or ends just outside the frame. By emphasizing pattern, you are generating a larger repetition, and impact, in the mind’s eye.


Nothing emphasizes size or shape like a clever juxtaposition. When you compare the pattern of a flower petal or row of windows to another image, think about the ways in which that comparison allows symmetry and pattern to stand out. And be playful! Comparing two things allows you to have a sense of humor: something very small next to something very large. A bright burst of color, next to a black and gray facade. Take the featured image of this post, for example. By juxtaposing the sunny side of the building it enhances the sliver of color and the small shape of the angle of those windows in comparison to the shadows and flat light of the windows facing us. The result is playful, but somber. The light feels fleeting and special, and our eyes are able to see the repeating squares of the windows while embracing the moody atmosphere of a picture that might suggest a lack of sunlight or nature in an increasing concrete jungle.

Break It Up

Related to juxtaposition, is the idea of breaking up the pattern in your picture. Interrupting a flow or pattern immediately brings the eye to that moment in a photograph — it’s extremely effective — allowing the photographer control over where the strongest focus will be. Aligning this break with the rule of thirds, or another clever compositional element, is also very effective. Contrasting colors, or removing a repeating shape, is another way to draw attention to the pattern and symmetry you were so excited to capture.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out our gallery of pattern and symmetry photos.



Photography Terms For Beginners

F Stop

Another technical term that is important to know because you’ll see an “F” on almost every camera, which indicates the f-stop, and is a measure of aperture (see above). Common f numbers are: f/1.8, f/3.5, f/8, f/16, and so on. Think of the f-stop as a fraction. Therefore f/1.8 is much bigger than f/16. If someone tells you they want a large aperture (to let in a lot of light) your f-stop will be numbers like f/1.8. If they want a small aperture, your f-stop will be f/8 or f/10, for example. The “F” stands for focal length.


Keeping it technical. ISO is an indicator of how sensitive your camera is to light. A camera with an ISO of 3200 is very sensitive to light and allows you to get shots in lower light, for example. The trade off with high ISO’s, however, are shots that can appear grainy.

Depth of Field

Most pictures have a foreground and background. Depth of field refers to how much of your photo is in focus. Landscapes, for example, need to reflect a lot of detail and have a large depth of field, meaning a lot of the photo is in focus. Portraits on the other hand are notorious for shallow depth of fields, meaning the person’s face is in focus, but the background is likely creamy or blurry and intentionally out of focus.


Exposure is a qualifying term meant to describe how light or dark a photo is. Dark photos are considered underexposed, and light, or washed out photos, are considered overexposed. It can be subjective to the photographer how much exposure a photograph needs, and is often a qualifier that is applied during post-production of a photo, though exposure is also controlled by aperture during the shoot as well.

Long Exposure

You know long exposure shots. They’re the ones of the night sky where stars create streaks overhead or the beams of cars seem to track through the photo. A long exposure means the shutter speed was slow and generally taken in lowlight. The photograph was exposed over a long period of time.


When a photographer chooses manual mode, she is selecting values of the photograph like aperture and shutter speed herself, rather than letting the camera do it automatically. This is usually done when the camera’s automatic choices are too rigid for the purposes of the session or the photographer wants to experiment with an out-of-the-box, or atypical exposure.


The noise in a photo tends to refer to the grain or pixilation that a camera catches in the details of the photograph. Images taken at high ISOs tend to have more noise.

White Balance

White balance refers to how accurately a photo is reflecting color. Our eyes do this automatically, but a picture with poor white balance can sometimes look too blue or too yellow. There is a setting to readjust white balance on a camera, but it doesn’t always work. There are a number of ways to adjust this, but if you’re asking how strong your white balance is in a photo, a good test is to hold up the picture to a white piece of paper to see the “temperature” of the photo. Is it cool or warm? If so, you need to adjust. Here is an awesome (and short) tutorial about white balance.


Photographing The Non-Human Subject


Man’s best friend is a favorite subject among professional and amateur photographers, and our phones and photo libraries are cluttered with images of our furry loved ones. To really maximize your animal photography, remember to focus on the animal’s eyes. Focusing on eyes brings an expressiveness and center to a photograph that can otherwise be vacant or lack power. The spirit of your dog, cat, or the lion on safari, can be difficult to capture. Making sure the eyes are in focus is one way to do so. (Another helpful animal-photography tip: give value to their character. Wait for a scenario or situation — it may be the frame of a window or a bird about to land in its nest — that helps capture what makes animals truly photographable. They’re such a special subject. Show us why!)


Shape + color. Photographing food is a chance to get creative. Food is such a familiar subject, so when photographing it, focus on shapes and colors to give the picture its special quality. Whether it’s pairing the browns in a chocolate chip cookie with a burst of blue berries or placing them on top of a colorful table cloth, showcasing food with colorful or pattern-filled contrasts helps our eye see it in a different way. A melon cut open in elegant half-moons or the pattern of a well-set table; think about shape and color when photographing food to elevate a familiar subject into something new.

Still Life

Capturing the beauty of still life is a cornerstone of fine art as well as photography, and is a great way to practice your technical skills. Lighting, background, angle, and post-production, are all important aspects of a stunning still life shot, but today our tip for still life photography focuses on composition. Working with still life is the art of control: generally speaking you have full control over your subject matter because it is an inanimate object. In this way, you also have control over your composition, which means there are no excuses for a poor set up. Remember the basics: the rule of thirds, effective and non-distracting backgrounds, where you are leading the eye, framing, and the use of your negative space. It’s an awesome time to experiment and see what works. It will improve your eye for composition on other subjects as well.


You can spend an entire lifetime perfecting the skills for good landscape photography, but a tip that is often forgotten when choosing to photograph the outdoors is to think about movement. Landscapes are still because we are so often trying to capture long distances. But, if you’re finding a photograph seems stale or lacks interest, consider looking for ways to include movement in the picture: a rushing river, a burst of wind, or a flock of birds for example. Movement brings energy to an image, so the next time you’re photographing a picturesque hillside or town, think about elements of movement and watch your photos become more dynamic.


Photo Critique

Focus and color quality are correct, though it might be nice to see the chair in less of a profile and more of a three-quarter point of view. Still, it’s likely this photographer set up the photo this way, so I’ll trust this was the best of his series.

Areas this picture could improve are in the distractions the middle and background of this piece. There is an unknown object in the upper right hand corner of this photo that should be removed if possible and the boat in the background creates a strong visual distraction for our eyes, especially because of its linear quality and that it follows the basic sightline of the rock. While this is a fun piece with a great sense of humor and a specific style, its strengths would be elevated with some careful considerations about distractions and composition.