When you pick up your camera to take a photograph, you’re confronted by countless options. You have to choose which type of film to use (or ISO setting for digital cameras), which lens to put on the camera, and what exposure control to set. You must also select what type of subject you want (wildlife, nature, or something else). If you’ve opted to shoot nature, some of the many subjects you can elect to work on during a given period of time are the patterns found in nature. In fact, you can work on them continually to build up interesting images for your library.
What can you do with a stack of images of patterns? If you present slide programs for groups, patterns make good material. The topics you’re able to show and talk about when you’re highlighting patterns can help every photographer. You can discuss macro techniques, proper exposure in working with tricky lighting or subject color, and the importance of using your eye to find interesting subjects.
Working patterns can also turn a slow shooting day into a productive one. For example, imagine you’re trying to photograph waterfowl, they suddenly decide to go to another lake or stream, and you can’t find them. Instead of standing around complaining to yourself that there’s nothing to shoot, start looking at all of the other possibilities in the area for the patterns you can find. They’re just about everywhere you look in almost everything. You can focus on the reeds or grasses in the water. When you look at the reeds through your viewfinder, you can view only the reeds themselves, or you can incorporate their reflections, as well.
When you’re trying to find images with patterns, you’re helping yourself more than you can imagine. As you search out interesting designs, you’re bringing some major aspects of photography into play. As you look at the world a little differently—photographically, you can see how the second part of it—the graphics–works itself into your art. Searching for patterns is a true study in graphics as you seek out lines, color, form, and texture. Your patterns can be very simple or extremely complex, but in using your eye to identify them, you’re developing your photographic eye for other subjects, as well. Of all of the elements in photography, composition is the one aspect over which you have total control.
If you want to do a study in patterns, whatever equipment you have will work. Earlier, I mentioned that if you can use a program based on patterns to illustrate a discussion on macro techniques. While you can move close to shoot, detailed pattern images aren’t dependent on close-up equipment. You can use any lens—to highlight repeating forms or shapes, for example.
If you happen to go to Arches National Park in Utah, you can find excellent examples of repetition. You can find several formations where the winds have caused a symmetry of lines, making one formation look like it was carved out of another before the copy was situated seventy-five yards away from the original. If you stand in the right position, you can line the formations up so there appears to be very little space between them, and they appear to be one again. In this instance, a larger lens is required to capture the image.
The same principles can hold true for when you’re looking at grasses in the water. Whatever lens you have with you will work, but the larger the lens the better, as you’ll be able to isolate the reeds better. The fact is, if you have close-up equipment, you’ll be able to do even more with patterns. Getting close and isolating a small portion of a subject brings out intricate detail in some patterns. One advantage to using macro equipment and working close to your subject is that (with most subjects) you can get on the same plane as the subject and not have to worry about stepping down for increased depth of field.
Some subjects require that you work with exposure when you’re photographing patterns—ice, for example. If you live in or visit an area where there is a place with just an inch or so of water, you can get some very interesting pattern images following a cold night. The water freezes into all sorts of bubbles and shards, creating an endless supply of subject material. My favorite technique in these situations is to hand hold the camera and move around until I find a composition I like and then set up my tripod and shoot straight down. I may have to work to get the same composition I originally found, but it’s easier than working from the tripod from the start.
Other great subjects to seek when you’re looking for patterns are herons or egrets. If one of them moves close enough to you, or if you use a longer lens, you can zoom in tight on the body. The patterns in their feathers provide really interesting images. Who says you have to have the entire bird to create a good image?
Also, isolating sections of plant leaves brings out the subtleties of the shapes, curves, and depth of them. If you’re able to get into position to backlight subjects like this, light brings out the detail even more. Another way to use light to help bring out patterns is to use shadows. If the plant you’re shooting has multiple large leaves, the repetition of light and shadow brings out the shapes and depth of the plant. More good subjects include the base of a group of trees, the texture in a close-up of different trees, the repetition of a close-up section of the boughs of a tree, or fence posts going off in the distance.
The main idea when shooting patterns is to look at the smaller picture rather than the grand view of the overall scene in front of you. Patterns can be found in the nuances of almost any subject. It’s just a matter of using your eye to pick out the shapes from their element. Patterns in nature can come in various forms, ranging from looking at lines as a strong element, to curves or even texture.
By using your eye, you can find pattern no matter what you’re shooting. And, the more you use your eye to try to find the smaller picture in the scene, the more often you’ll be able to go home with more that you originally anticipated.
By Andy Long