Using Repetition and Patterns to Improve Composition

This is the ninth and last post of a series of publications in which — from different angles and perspectives — I’m addressing the topic of composition.

This series includes posts and videos that can be easily located by using the tag “learning-composition” either in the search box above or by directly clicking on the tag name at the bottom of this post.  Also, here is a link to the entire series so far.

One factor to keep an eye on it when shooting out there is repetition, in other words looking for patterns that in my opinion you can find in multiple everyday situations, however we frequently overlook them given the rapid pace of our day-to-day routines.

There are two approaches to use repetition and make it part of your “arsenal” of tools to enhance your photography. The first approach to actually embrace repetition, the second as you could probably guess is to brake repetition, both approaches can work fine it’s just a matter of visualizing first what would be the most appropriate approach according to your artistic intent.

Before I continue explaining and exemplifying these two approaches, it’s important to mention that repetition in the context of composition can be found in several of the different elements of composition, for example repetition of shapes, repetition of lines, even repetition of color, or rarely used repetition of grey tones in black-and-white photography, usually the repetition of these types of elements build patterns that as I said in the previous paragraphs can be embraced or can be broke.

Figure 1. “Untitled”  © Enrique Peláez

So, let’s talk about the “Embracing Repetition” approach. In this case the idea is to emphasize the repetition of the element in a way that viewers have not reference to determine when and how the pattern will stop repeating, so from that perspective the pattern will seem to be repeating itself an infinite number of times though our common sense tell us that’s not the case. The image in figure 1 illustrates this approach, the viewer have no reference when and how the pattern in this case the seats will stop repeating itself.

Now, let’s discuss the “Breaking Repetition” approach. The idea is very simple, you have to find a way to break the pattern. Breaking the pattern can mean a different color in one of the element being repeated, could be an element of a different nature in the middle of the repeated objects well not in the middle exactly, I was talking hyperbolically,  so ideally you should place the different element in one of the points of interest according to the different rules to place subjects, like the rule of thirds, the golden rule, etc, that we reviewed in one the post of this series, here the link.

Building Houston HW59-PIC
Figure 2 “Repetition”  © Enrique Peláez

In my opinion, breaking the pattern in the way I described it in the previous paragraphs is becoming “commonplace”, what I mean is, how many photos can you remember with a red apple among a bunch of green apples? or a black pebble surrounded by white pebbles? In my case many. So, breaking the patterns can also be done by for example burning and dodging  a section of the image to create a visual effect that catches the viewer attention. For example, check the image in figure 2, the effect that changes the pattern toward the center of the image was achieved selectively burning and dodging that part of the image in conjunction with a subtle Photoshop distortion effect, so in my opinion the final result is more interesting than for example using say selective color in that particular area  there are many roads to get to Rome, tell me about yours in the comments section.

As I said, this is the last post for the “Learning Composition” series.  Soon, I’ll be publishing a new series regarding a different topic. Please stay tune.

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