Essential Composition : Visual Patterns

The human eye and brain are instinctively drawn to visual patterns. After all, we are a pattern-seeking species. So we are always looking for patterns in random data to help us extract order from the chaos of the world around us. Generally speaking, we like patterns so much that we have a particular tendency to create them even where there are none. The old axiom “bad news comes in threes” is an example that
immediately comes to mind. There is even a word for this curious human tendency to create phantom patterns: apophenia.

So it’s not surprising that we look for visual patterns and repetitions in the observable space around us, just as we look for patterns in all other areas. This is great news for us photographers and artists, because we know that our audience is already biologically predisposed to like our images if we use them. Visual patterns can be natural or man-made, regular or irregular, the main subject or a complementary
element of a larger image concept.

Visual Patterns
Patterns are combinations of elements or shapes repeated in a regular and recurring manner. “A noticeable regularity” is how Wikipedia succinctly describes patterns. Shapes, lines and areas of contrast have a of contrast have a powerful visual impact when they are arranged repeatedly or correspondingly, in a regular or irregular manner. Repetition is a good example of regular patterns and they tend to be manmade. The veins in a leaf or a spider’s web are examples of irregular patterns, of which there are many in nature

What exactly constitutes a “good” or “bad” visual pattern is purely subjective. From an aesthetic point of view, it is an indeterminate entity. A forest of tall trees, dead leaves scattered on the ground, a group of flowers, a row of buildings, stacked mountain ridges, ocean waves and flocks of birds are just a few examples of literal objects that can be defined as patterns. These are subjects you can encounter every day without having to go very far to find them. Look no further than your home or garden if you wish.

Repetition refers to objects, shapes, figures or lines repeated at regular and consistent intervals. It is the visual equivalent of the rhythm of music. Gestalt theory suggests that the repetition of visual forms in a composition is pleasing to the eye, in the same way
that rhythm is pleasing to the ear in music. In addition, the eye tends to follow successive repetitions, creating visual movement within the

Tips for finding visual patterns and repeats.

  • Look around you! Patterns are everywhere. They can easily be found inside or outside your home if you don’t feel like traveling very
    far. Look for strong graphic elements, shapes, lines, areas of contrast or color. Remember, you are biologically pre-programmed to be excellent pattern hunters !
  • One of the most effective strategies is to fill the frame of the image with repeating elements or patterns for maximum visual impact, from corner to corner and edge to edge. If the pattern or repeating visual elements are dominated by lines, try rotating the camera and viewfinder so that the lines create diagonals instead of a vertical or horizontal orientation.
  • Break it up ! Often a pattern or repetition may actually represent the order you’re looking for in visual chaos, but it’s too monotonous or boring. How about a break in the order ? A visual anomaly within the pattern can create a powerful focal point.
  • Perspective Progression When composing wide-angle landscape images, a repeating pattern or set of objects or shapes can provide
    an appealing foreground that helps move the viewer’s eye up and through the image dynamically. I call this compositional tool “perspective progression” and it can be just as effective as leading lines or powerful shapes in creating visual movement.


When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back.Steve Jobs