Using Pattern and Symmetry

Using Pattern and Symmetry

Pattern and symmetry are effective anchors to a beautiful image. Ours eyes — and our imaginations — love to focus on repetition, balance, and consistency in art, as well as in nature. Using repetition or showcasing it in a photograph is an effective tool to capture something special about a moment or subject, especially a subject that may be easily overlooked. Such was the case with photographer Nikola Olic, who started recognizing patterns in buildings that generated abstract images when photographed. In a piece with WIRED Magazine, Olic describes an apartment building he spotted from the Brooklyn Bridge: “I was just staring at it, going ‘What do I do with that kind of building?’ ” The result was a series of photographs showcasing abstract art as the result of symmetry and pattern in everyday buildings. This idea of spotting beauty in objects you might otherwise overlook is a great example of how pattern and symmetry generate captivating images. Here are a few tips on how to make the most out of a dazzling pattern in your own photography.

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.