Photographing natural patterns is a fantastic project to work on as a outdoor photographer. The process of exploring patterns not only gives a wealth of photographic opportunities, but also provides a perfect opportunity to concentrate your mind on composition, shape, line and form aiding your development as an all-round photographer.
One of the best things about photographing patterns in nature is that it doesn’t require any specialist equipment to get started. Any camera from a smartphone to a top-of-the-line DSLR will give you options for capturing wonderful images of natural patterns.
Standard DLSR lenses such as an 18-55mm often have a decent close-up facility to help you fill the frame with larger patterns. While the macro feature on a compact camera can be a great benefit for those wanting to travel light in their photographic pursuits.
To take things a step further, however, investing in a macro lens is a great way to explore some of the smaller and more obscure natural designs. That will allow you to focus in close on small bark, leaves, and shell designs to explore the natural work in miniature.
Often it’s recommended to pick up a macro lens with a focal length of 100mm or above in order to allow a greater working distance. That will help you to stay out of your lighting as well as give you room to compose. If you are on a tighter budget, shorter length options can still be a great alternative such as a 40mm or 60mm macro.
Alternatively, you can even look into purchasing extension tubes to reduce the close focusing distance of your current lenses. These are affordable ways to get into macro and close-up photography.
Outside of macro, long lenses can also be put to great use to pick out patterns within a landscape. Working with a long telephoto such as a 70-200mm can help you pinpoint and explore repeating elements within a larger frame. This will help you to extract patterns and textures from wider landscapes, something that can be highly effective for making creative images.
Aside from the camera and lens, tripods are especially handy for slow shutter speed work as well as ensuring maximum sharpness when working with higher magnifications. Alternatively, working with flash can be liberating, allowing you to be more flexible in your approach and light subjects as you see fit for added impact and interest.
Subjects with patterns
When out in the field look for subjects that have repeating shapes or tones. Obvious choices are tree bark, leaves or rocks as they often contain repeating forms and shapes, as well as strong lines to aid composition. Extending from this, look at the wider field of view, repeating trees, sand, and reeds also make for great images.
When looking into your chosen subject, stare at it for a decent amount of time and don’t rush to bring your camera to your eye. What areas strike you as interesting, are there any lines you catch yourself following? These are all important characteristics that make a great pattern picture.
Picking your area of focus, working with standard composition rules can be highly effective. A line or break in the rule of thirds, or a repeating design with a contrast or stop point on one of the intersecting locations can make a simple and highly pleasing image.
One of the great things about photographing patterns is often the subjects don’t move hastily, so feel free to really spend some time fine-tuning your composition for utter perfection.
Within subjects, also look for other pictorial qualities that can manifest as patterns. Pay careful attention to the light and shadows. Often the contrast of harsh shadows can make less interesting subjects take on a whole new form, making unique patterns for intriguing images.
Reflections can also offer good opportunities for pattern shots. Ripples in the water reflecting light and color for some pleasing effects can make some stunning abstract compositions.
In terms of shooting technique, often you’ll want to maximize your depth of field to ensure the greatest level of detail within your images. This can be done in a number of ways depending on your subject.
Getting sharp images
The simplest method of gaining a large depth of field is to use a small aperture. Shooting above f/8 to ensure a large amount of your frame is kept in focus will help bring out the details of your chosen subjects. If you are working handheld, you might need to use flash or increase your ISO so as to not fall into slow shutter speeds that will see you encounter sharpness issues.
If you are working at an even closer scale, often stopping down won’t be enough to get the depth of field needed to showcase an entire pattern (especially with macro photography). So another method that can be deployed is focus stacking.
This is the process of shooting multiple images, each one in the sequence focused incrementally apart, then brought together in software to maximize the depth of field. This is a more advanced technique, that due to its precision requires a tripod to ensure critical sharpness. If the ultra-close perspective is something you find intriguing, focus stacking is certainly worth exploring.
Finally, sharpness isn’t always a necessity for photographing patterns in nature. Using slower shutter speeds offers fantastic ways to explore shapes and form, rendering obvious structures into abstraction for intriguing images.
One classic example is panning with trees to create a smooth line effect. Simply working with a slower shutter speed of a 1/2 a second and then by panning up and down the tree trunks you can render them into strong and simple abstract line compositions that can be fascinating.
Additionally, anything that moves in the wind can also be worked with slower shutter speeds. The effects of the elements have a marvelous impact for creating stunning patterns in nature pictures.
Photographing natural patterns is great fun. Once you’ve started to train your brain to see the variety of striking repeating and abstract patterns in nature, they will soon become visible everywhere.
Exploring them can make the basis of a photographic project or a great way to create images when things just aren’t going to plan with your other subjects. It’s a great way to make the most of any day out with the camera and return home with some striking and interesting frames to boot.