Humans are hard wired to recognize patterns, so perhaps that’s why we’re so drawn to them. Patterns aren’t just visual. Mental and emotional patterns occur as well, which is why we so readily see them. And chances are that you’ve seen pattern photography recently, too.
In daily life, repetition can be boring. As the focal point of art, repetition and patterns become something altogether different. They are found almost everywhere, whether occurring naturally or manmade. Something as ordinary as the shelving at a grocery store becomes art in the eyes of a photographer. You may choose use patterns as the subject of your photos, or you can use them as a background for the subject.
Patterns create an interesting opportunity to create art. You can use the pattern itself, or you can break the pattern with a contrasting color, shape or texture. Or simply remove or break one of the repeating objects in the pattern.
If you decide to break the pattern, remember the rule of thirds and place the break at an intersection to make it a true focal point. Also all patterns may not be immediately visible; but if pay attention to the details, you may be surprised.
Check out these 31 examples of pattern photography:
Photo Credit: Rohit Mattoœ
Although the entire image is not made up of the pattern, the building in this image has a pattern of dots on it that makes it exciting and pushes the image into the category of pattern photography. Although most traditional photography rules state you need to utilize the rule of thirds, this image is 50 percent the building and 50 percent of the sky, giving it a unique look.
Designers should take note that the photographer violated the rule of thirds, but did so with an express purpose of showing the pattern of the building clearly, along with the curves of the building. The takeaway is that you can break a rule if you have a logical reason for breaking it.
Photo Credit: Lali Masriera
The blue tiles create a pattern, but there is a break in the pattern to the right with four missing tiles. Even within the recess, there is a pattern of sorts. Although the pattern is readily apparent, there is enough natural variation in the mortar and placement of tiles to hold the viewer’s attention.
Designers should take note of how the pattern fills the majority of the screen. Plus, the differentiation takes up only a small portion of the image.
Photo Credit: kris krüg
The abstract nature of this image at first seems to be an exact pattern. The perspective creates a model where the space is a bit wider between the top two elements, and then the gap grows narrower as the pattern repeats downward. As a designer, this type of image could be utilized as a background but needs fading, so elements layered on top are still visible.
Photo Credit: seier+seier
The above photo of the inside dome of a mosque takes a close-up look at the ceiling pattern by zooming in and allowing the image to fill the frame. A full frame creates a sense of the pattern going on and on — even if it ends just after what we see within the actual frame. Designers can create a sense of larger scale by merely zooming in on a pattern.
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk
The image above creates a strong feeling of structure with the repeated patterns of solid columns made up of layers of black and white. Imagine using a similar pattern on a page for a construction company to create a feeling of strength and permanence for the buildings the company produces.
Photo Credit: Brian Auer
Auer captures a beautiful radial symmetry with this photo of a plant. The pattern of the leaves repeats, but they are tighter together in the center and open up wide on the outside leaves. Here and there, some variation appears in the shading on the leaves or the dew on the plant. The colors are bright and vivid.
As a designer, you can study nature and the patterns all around us. If you’re designing for a site that offers natural products or ties into nature somehow, using the natural patterns that already occur in the outside world can have a powerful impact on site visitors.
Photo Credit: svenwerk
The pattern in this image is a bit more subtle and set off into the right third of the frame. The pattern of the spiral staircase repeats over and over again. This type of image works well as a background or a hero image, because of the more extensive negative space that allows for text or other elements layered on top of the image.
Photo Credit: Matt Hintsa
The patterns in this image are made up from the rows created on the farmland. Notice that while the colors vary, the rows are reasonably straight and horizontal. The straight lines create a visually pleasing pattern that is barely noticeable. This image would also work well as a hero image. When looking for ways to utilize patterns in your designs, don’t overlook the value of a simple photograph of something commonplace.
Photo Credit: Kosta
The image above is of pink umbrellas as street art in Bulgaria — dozens of pink umbrellas fill the frame. The photographer chose to take this image from a unique angle that isn’t directly overhead or underneath, but almost at eye level with the umbrellas. Shooting the image from underneath or overhead would have created a very different look.
Designers should try using images from different angles — sometimes, the most obvious aspect isn’t the best one for a particular project.
Photo Credit: Thilo M.
The light in this photo highlights the man-made pattern of the rectangles in this image. Note how the pattern repeats every third rectangle with a broken pattern near the bottom of the image. Designers can set a mood for a page by finding a pattern in the elements related to the industry. The picture above shows power and strength, for example.
Photo Credit: Darren Hester
The image above of a tree stump highlights nature’s patterns with rings and wood grain throughout. While the pattern isn’t perfect and varies a bit throughout, it is still similar enough that each area is immediately recognizable as the history of a tree’s growth. This type of pattern works particularly well as a background image because it doesn’t have any elements that break from the pattern or distract the eye.
Photo Credit: Joe Dunckley
The image above is a street in Lyme Regis, Dorset, where they paved with coade stone ammonite. The pattern repeats the same design over and over but varies in the direction the fossils face and the patterns on the fossils themselves. The pattern offers a sense of depth because some fossils appear close and others farther away.
Add depth to your designs by integrating objects that look both close and far away. A three-dimensional look adds visual interest.
Photo Credit: Didier Kobi
This abstract image offers a repeating pattern in the peaks and valleys, but sizes and depth vary. Note, too, how the shadow and light add to the sense of depth. For designers trying to create a sense of reality in their designs, such as with experiential graphics, adding shadow and light impacts the overall look of the image.
Photo Credit: Andrey Narchuk
The stunning pattern in this mosaic shows fingers shooting out, which gives a sense of motion to the image. The bright, vivid colors add to the feel of movement. Look for similar opportunities to add action to your designs without actually using animation.
Photo Credit: William Shevchuk
This macro perspective of a sunflower shows the intricate pattern of the plant from the center on out. In this particular image, the shapes and the colors both repeat. What designers can learn from this image is that a simple repetition of color patterns can create a stunning visual impact on the viewer.
Photo Credit: O Palsson
The waffle pattern of the exposed concrete under the Washington, D.C., train station creates a stunning visual pattern in this image. Note that not every hole in the waffle appears the same through the camera lens because of the arch in the ceiling. However, the viewer knows each space is the same measurement and depth from the information they have.
Think about your designers from different angles. Are they symmetrical from top to bottom and side to side?
Photo Credit: brewbooks
The pipes in this picture make up a sort of honeycomb look that is unique and visually appealing. If you want to capture the attention of your audience, utilize unique angles and images that show depth.
Photo Credit: Valerie Everett
There are dueling patterns in this beautiful image. First, the train tracks create straight and horizontal lines, with the rails creating a straight, vertical line and the ties creating horizontal lines that get smaller as they go into the distance. However, there is also the pattern of the bridge structure both down the sides and along the top of the frame. Similar to the railroad itself, the image grows smaller as it moves into the distance.
Create a feeling of space by using images that clearly show the perspective of distance through patterns.
Photo Credit: O Palsson
This photo is of balconies on an apartment building in New York City. The patios are triangular, giving the entire picture a geometric feel. Using geometric patterns in your designs adds a modern element.
Photo Credit: Lyza
This image has a lot of variation but still shows a pattern of rows, and then patterns within those rows as specific products are lined up on the shelves. The overall effect is a cluttered, busy background. As a designer, you should probably avoid using cluttered images such as this, but what you can learn from this particular pattern photography is what not to include in a design.
Photo Credit: Cynthia Lou
This closeup of a dandelion with dew on it shows the pattern of the plant’s seeds. However, the pattern is evident in the center of the image, which has a sharp focus, but then the focus softens toward the edge of the image. This type of technique works particularly well when you want the user’s focus on one element of a design.
Photo Credit: svenwerk
Here is another image showing the patterns of a building. Not only are the levels and windows a pattern, but the colors repeat from red to white to green, then back to white again. What designers should take from this pattern photography is the importance of repeating color elements and how using the same colors in the same order creates a sense of order to design.
Photo Credit: topherous
This particular image offers a birds-eye view of vehicles lined up bumper to bumper. Not only is there a pattern in the white vehicles, but there are also patterns to either side in the angular lines going away from the vehicles. The overall impact is stunning. This image should inspire designers toward simplicity. The simple lines and colors of this photo create a vivid image that catches the eye.
Photo Credit: IronRodArt
The natural pattern in this sand adds a lot of texture to the image. Although the lines vary slightly and the pattern is broken with curves, it still has an overall pattern that works well. Designers would use this type of pattern to create a sense of calm and zen in their designs. This particular image would work well as a background or hero image, for example. If the shadows interfere with typography, make the image slightly transparent.
Photo Credit: kh123456789?
Here is another image taken from a birds-eye view, but this time of patio tables. The tables are lined up perfectly into straight rows. The pattern is slightly broken with people in the photo and an element here or there out of place. The breaks in the pattern create emphasis on the people there. Think of ways to create emphasis in your designs by creating a pattern and then breaking it.
Photo Credit: shameerzrk
With the background blurred, the rusty iron grate becomes the focal point of this photo. The viewer’s eye hones in on the distinct pattern created by the lines. The rust adds to the design, appearing bolder in the middle and fading away around the edges.
The dark hues add an air of melancholy, reminding the viewer of a crisp fall day. You can almost make out the trees in the background, their leaves blurring together into a mass of green.
Photo Credit: Ahmet Asar
Though Asar shot this image a few years ago, it offers a gorgeous example of modern pattern photography. For this piece, the photographer took a macro shot of a dahlia flower. The small petals form tight rings in a light color and expand into ever-larger circles. The colors and shading, especially around the edges, offers a repetitive pattern that fades in color.
Photo Credit: AOMSIN
This public domain image highlights the patterns sunlight makes everywhere. A significant part of stunning photography is the right light. Note how the sunlight streams through the barn boards and creates a unique pattern. The photo feels warm and airy, a nice play to relax.
As a contrast, the subject offers a spot of darkness, a place where the eyes can drift. The black and white hues accentuate the patterns in the walls.
Photo Credit: Alicja Colon
This photo highlights paper recreations of Mac computers against a white background. Just a glance can stimulate visual interest. The colors and direction of the laptops vary, but the patterns are similar enough to create order in the composition. One interesting thing about the image is that they don’t make Mac computers in the colors depicted. The concept highlights how you can take something realistic and add fantastical elements.
Photo Credit: Markus Spiske
Sometimes you stand at a perfect angle and capture a new perspective. This shot of Olympic Stadium in Munich is the perfect example of how patterns look different depending on where you stand. You can also manipulate images with the way you hold the camera.
This photographer stands to the back and side of the seats and shoots downward at an angle. Where they stand highlights the layout and pattern of the chairs. The photographer took this photo on a Canon EO 300D with a 55 mm lens and at 1600 ISO.
Photo Credit: USGS Bee Inventory
Just look at this gorgeous inventory of a male bee’s wing up close. The pattern and the colors are dazzling. The only way to get a photograph like this is with a macro lens. The photographer used a Canon Mark II 5D with a 65 mm lens and a shutter speed of 200.
The image is a close up on the male Hylaeus pictipes bee. It was intentionally taken to highlight the pattern on the wing interference.
Experiment With Patterns
The images above show that there are many different types of patterns and patterns everywhere you look. Experiment with the images you use in your designs and try out some of the elements mentioned above. Depending upon what type of project you’re working on, different elements work to grab user attention. With an eye to detail, your designs will stand out from others. Good design drives the viewer to action and creates opportunities for engagement.
Looking for more inspiring photography examples? Check out these 25 Examples of Tilt-Shift Photography.