How to Earn Money from Photography

How to Earn Money from Photography

Creativity

How to Earn Money from Photography

Earn Money from Photography
Earn money from Photography: Taking a coffee break in Baja California, Mexico.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; If you want to make a career out of nature, wildlife, or travel photography, do it for love. Do it for love. Do it for love. Money is a dirty word, in this context anyway, that can only contaminate and foul this beautiful pursuit to which we have dedicated a sizable portion of our disposable time. If money is a byproduct of simply doing what you love, then you’ll be a happy photographer or artist and most likely a successful one too. If financial rewards become your master, however, you’ll most certainly fail and probably be an unhappy failure at that.

And now, with that bit of virtuous throat-clearing out of the way, I should say that you can indeed earn money from photography. Just remember to take the advice in the previous paragraph if you decide to do so. While an aspiring professional should create a realistic business plan with specific goals, timelines, and budgets, a hobbyist, on his or her own time, can earn a little extra money for that new lens or plane tickets to an exotic photography destination. Following are a few suggestions, in the name of love, of course.

Sell Prints

Selling photographic prints is the most traditional way to earn money from photography, and what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of photography monetization. You can sell directly off your website and print them yourself, or you use a third-party printer such as Mpix or Aspen Creek Photo. In the digital age, selling prints is easier than ever. But unless you have lots of time to devote toward procurement and shipping, this can be quite tedious. However, sites like Photoshelter allow you to choose a vendor and have the entire procurement, printing, and shipping handled for you.

In addition to the above, you can sell physical prints at art fairs and shows, in gallery spaces, and as consignment works in places of business. These are time-consuming options, but if you have the time, it can be fun and rewarding as well.

Stock Photography

There was a time when a photographer could make a decent living by selling stock photography through agencies. Sadly that’s not been the case for at least 15 years or so. By “selling stock,” you – the photographer – are essentially selling image rights. You own the original copyright to the photograph, but buyers could own specific rights for very particular uses. For example, a magazine editor could buy the publishing rights to an image for one issue and one exact size on a page. Based on the size of the image and the periodical’s circulation, the editor and agency agrees on a price for that specific use. The agency keeps a percentage of the fee and the photographer is paid the remainder. Stock sales can still amount to a modest passive income stream  for a photographer but not nearly what it used to be. Getty Images, Shutterstock, and Adobe Stock are just a few stock agency options.
Earn Money from Photography
“Simba” Young lioness in tree, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Be A Guru

If you have the knowledge and desire to teach, sharing what you know can be a fun and profitable way to earn money from photography. Online classes via Zoom, writing ebooks, or leading workshops to photo-worthy destinations are just a few different ways to share your passion. Teaching is a very particular skill, however, which is completely separate from your photography skills. Being a good photographer doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a good photography teacher. Be honest with yourself. Are you a good communicator? Are you a good listener? Are you genuinely passionate about teaching others? Are you compassionate? Are you naturally generous with your time and attention? Are you a leader? The answers to these questions should all be considered before asking others to invest their time and money in you.

NFTs

I’ve mentioned the prospect of NFTs as a potential income source for photographers both here on my blog and quite frequently on my Twitter feed. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are cryptographic tokens on a blockchain representing a real piece of artwork – like one of your photos! The photograph is minted or “tokenized” and certifies ownership on the blockchain.

The world of NFTs can be perplexing and confusing, but real opportunity does exist in this space. I would recommend an all-photography NFT platform to sell your work (without the digital art, cartoons, and gifs crowding your work out), such as Focus Market, to see how your work is accepted. This option isn’t for everyone, but it requires relatively little effort and time for the potential rewards.

Gone are the days when magazines would hire photographers for assignments and fly them all over the world for their photographic vision. So waiting by the phone for a call from a major media outlet for a photography assignment might be a futile exercise. As I mentioned earlier, this is advice for nature, wildlife, and travel photographers. Portrait and wedding photographers, for example, would have other opportunities in addition – or in place of – these listed above. But whatever you do, be sure make it fun and do it in love.

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Focus Market

Essential Composition: Balance

Essential Composition: Balance

Creativity

Essential Composition: Balance

Balance

The concept of balance in composition is one most people can easily understand, even those who don’t consider themselves artists or photographers. After all, the idea of balance can be a lifestyle goal; balanced time, a balanced diet, and just trying to stay balanced and upright to keep from falling over are things to which we can relate. Balance is a universal concept.

In gestalt theory, the Law of Symmetry states that the human mind will constantly seek balance in all visual information it receives from the eyes via the optic nerve. It says that if something appears unbalanced, the viewer will waste valuable time trying to resolve the problem instead of focusing on the scene’s contents. Concerning photography and composition, photographic balance refers to “visual weight” within the image frame and how it’s arranged. The placement, size, and brightness values of all the visual elements will determine if the image feels in equilibrium or not. Photographic balance is harmonious. When an image is out of balance, it can give the viewer a negative or uncomfortable feeling or sensation.

There are two types of compositional balance used in photography, art, and design: formal and informal balance. Symmetry is a type of formal balance where two sides of a photo are mirror images of each other. Symmetry can refer to vertical balance – where the top and bottom are essentially the same – or as horizontal balance – where the left and right sides of the image are equal.

Balance

A reflection is one of the few instances where bisecting the photo through the center of the image frame is effective compositionally. Symmetry works when the photographer wants to communicate or project equality, equivalence, uniformity, or even fairness. There is little visual tension with this arrangement, and all the visual elements are harmonious.

With informal or asymmetrical balance, visual equilibrium is achieved by counterpoising two or more elements at opposite ends of the image frame. The arrangement can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Image balance is achieved by strategically placing two or more of these strong visual elements and distributing them equally within the photograph. While formal balance creates symmetry, informal balance leads to an asymmetrical composition, yet it’s still balanced.

Balance
Balance
Balance

When positioning two powerful visual elements at opposite ends of the image frame, you give the image informal balance and trigger powerful visual tension and energy by moving the viewer’s eye back and forth between the two elements via a virtual diagonal line (see above). These elements could be two competing focal points with varying sizes and colors, as long as they are conspicuous. The result is an image that achieves photographic balance and harmony and is also dynamic. You can learn more about photographic balance and many other compositional concepts in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Focus Market

NFTs and Photography

NFTs and Photography

Creativity

NFTs and Photography

NFTs and Photography

NFTs and Photography

NFTs have been around a while – at least 5 or 6 years – but it wasn’t until 2021 did they really capture the attention of creators from every corner of the globe. NFTs didn’t even enter our collective consciousness until the artist known as Beeple sold a piece of digital artwork for a record 69 million dollars. A number like that can certainly get people’s attention, so suddenly, everyone was talking about NFTs. So can NFTs benefit photographers? Wait, what is an NFT anyway?

What Is an NFT?

An NFT is a unique cryptographic token on a blockchain that can represent a real piece of artwork, music file, or collectible. These items are minted or “tokenized,” which certifies ownership on the blockchain and allows these assets to be bought, sold, and traded. NFTs are also “non-fungible,” which means they are wholly immutable and not interchangeable with each other, unlike currency or commodities.

NFTs And Photography

When most people think of NFTs, what immediately comes to mind are highly pixelated digital art, cartoons, and GIFs. Some of this art is genuinely compelling work and deserves our respect. Others, however, are no more than non-fungible, tokenized gimmicks (an audio file of a fart was minted and sold on an NFT marketplace just recently). But photography, still in the NFT infancy stage for the most part, is on the rise. Several marketplaces have reported a marked increase in both photography NFTs minted and sold over the past few months. NFT platforms such as Focus Market are even connecting buyers and sellers of photography work exclusively.

If this trend continues, photographers will be able to significantly supplement their incomes with a minimal amount of invested time or effort. In fact, experts expect demand for some of the trendy digital art to wane as collectors seek out higher quality art, including photographic images.

Copyright Issues

When you sell an NFT to a buyer or collector, are you giving up all your I.P. rights? The answer is an emphatic no. You still retain the image copyright just as if you had sold a physical print to a client. The buyer could display the image digitally or re-sell the NFT to someone else. Each transaction is chiseled into the blockchain with complete transparency, so there is never any question about legitimate ownership.

The Environmental Impact?

When I first entered the NFT space a few months ago, its environmental impact was my biggest concern. I read that the BitCoin blockchain, to use one well-known example, consumed as much energy in a year as some entire countries! Ethereum, the blockchain used for most NFT tokenization, is also an energy hog. But green NFT blockchains now exist, and environmentally conscious photographers are flocking in that direction. Ethereum 2.0, perhaps only months away from being introduced, uses 99.5 percent less energy than Ethereum Classic. This means minting a photograph will consume about the same amount of energy as posting an image to Instagram. Well done!

The future of green NFTs is bright. Concerns for the environment and the carbon footprint associated with blockchains and minting NFTs are serious ones but are now mainly in the rearview.

Should You Give NFTs A Try?

If you’re a photographer, you need to do what’s best for yourself and your business. That might include choosing to sell NFTs or not. That’s entirely up to you. But don’t let the fact that NFTs are new and unfamiliar be the reason you decide to sit on the sidelines. During the course of my career, I have watched many photographers dismiss innovative technological trends for no other reason than they were new and required a different approach to the business. The transition from film to digital and embracing social media are two glaring examples. By the time the error was realized, the opportunity had passed and they spent years playing catch up.

Yes, NFTs might seem strange at first glance and perhaps even confusing. But without disclosing any specific numbers, I have made more income with NFTs in only 2 months than I did in print sales over the past 5 years. And I believe this could be only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Focus Market

5 Pro Tips For Wildlife Photography

5 Pro Tips For Wildlife Photography

General How-To

5 Pro Tips For Wildlife Photography

pro tips wildlife photography
Wildlife photography is booming with shooters of all skill levels as advances in digital technology and better lens design make capturing wild creatures easier and less expensive than ever before. And if you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you can practice your passion from the far-flung corners of the world or the comfort of your backyard with a bird feeder and some natural wooden perches.

And even though it takes a great deal of skill and patience to master most basic wildlife photography, it also requires some creativity and imagination to capture images that inspire and stir the soul. If you desire to elevate your images beyond the mere ordinary and uninteresting, these five pro wildlife photography tips will set you in the right direction. Not only will they help you create more professional-looking images, but more compelling ones too.

Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Shadow Bear” Alaskan coastal brown bear in dramatic back light. Lake Clark National Park, Alaska USA

Look Beyond Conventional Front Lighting

The most frequently used lighting choice when shooting wildlife is front lighting. “Point your shadow at the subject” has been the tired refrain of wildlife photographers for decades since it can be assured the bird or animal will be evenly illuminated. It’s easy. It also happens to be unimaginative and dull. You’ll miss out on other exciting and creative lighting possibilities by always opting for the sun at your back. Side lighting, directional sunlight from a 90-degree angle can reveal texture and add depth to your wildlife subject, creating the illusion of three-dimensions. Backlighting, which is essentially shooting directly into the sun, can give translucent materials such as fur and feathers a beautiful glowing rim light. This effect is much more dramatic than conventional front lighting. However, be aware of possible underexposure, autofocus difficulties, and sun flare when shooting backlit subjects.
Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Unbound” Zebras running acorss the Serengeti Plains, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. I panned my camera with their movement using a 1/5 second shutter speed.

Pan With Long Exposures

Add some dynamic movement to your images by introducing some long exposures into your wildlife portfolio. Animals on the move or birds in flight offer suburb opportunities to use slower shutter speeds with camera panning. Freezing the action with faster shutter speeds will nearly always be the initial impulse for most wildlife photographers, but sometimes it’s better to go with the flow! Start with 1/15 second for moving subjects and experiment from there: faster exposures for rapidly moving animals and longer exposures for slower. You want to express motion while preserving the integrity of the animal’s primary features so it’s recognizable, especially the eyes, if possible.
Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Desert Nomad” Oryx stopping for a rest in the Namib Desert, Sossusvlei, Namibia. The wider perspective pulled in the background lines and shadows, making this a far more compelling image than a mere close-up.

Go Wide

When shooting wildlife, the photographer’s first impulse is often to grab the biggest, longest lens in the bag and zoom in as tight on the subject as possible. This strategy is great if you want to start counting fur fibers and feathers, but it isn’t always the most compelling option. Every so often, try resisting this urge and explore a more expansive view instead. Not only can the surrounding environment give perspective to the moment and help tell a story about the creature’s life and habitat, but it can also help create a more compelling composition by bringing in complementary lines and visual elements. The next time you’re using a telephoto lens, pull your eye away from the viewfinder every so often and look around at the subject’s surrounding environment and ask yourself if it’s adding more to the whole story or not. You would be surprised how often the answer is yes.
Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Paulet” An Adélie penguin welcomes visitors to Paulet Island, located on the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. I was flat on the ground shooting upward with a wide-angle lens for this intimate portrait.

Get Low

With but a few exceptions, the absolute worst perspective when photographing wildlife is at a downward angle. Capturing the top of an animal’s or bird’s head isn’t going to move or inspire anyone. Psychologically, it’s condescending and authoritative. Aesthetically, you have the immediate ground as your background and little or no eye contact with your subject. Choosing a low, eye-level perspective, especially with the smaller animals, makes it much easier for the viewer of the image to relate and connect with the animal. The emotional implication is mutual respect, not dominance. Getting low also delivers far more interesting, out-of-focus backgrounds where the subject almost “pops” off the screen.
Compelling Wildlife Photography
“Polar Intrigue” Polar bears engaging in play fighting – a great example of both gesture and interaction, Barter Island, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA

Show Gesture and Interaction

The three most essential ingredients in a successful wildlife image are composition, light, and gesture. Everyone knows something about composition, and we talked a little about light earlier. Gesture is defined as the “movement of part of the body that expresses an idea or meaning.” We want our images to have meaning, so why not let our animal subjects help us express it? Don’t be satisfied with photos that only show a static animal or bird staring blankly into the camera. Show how these animals interact with one another, play, mate, or hunt for food. Unless you intend to photograph a documentary image for a field guide, don’t be satisfied with a simple stock wildlife portrait. Wait for something special to happen, and then be ready to act!

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Focus Market

How To Photograph Stunning Autumn Color

How To Photograph Stunning Autumn Color

General How-To

How To Photograph Stunning Autumn Color

Autumn Color

Five Essential Photography Tips for Autumn Color

Autumn color season is one of the most eagerly anticipated times of the year for restless nature photographers. The brilliant red, orange, and yellow foliage is like a jarring wake up call for all the creative energy atrophied by the listless and drab dog days of late summer (August through mid- September has always been my least favorite time of year). And since these photos aren’t going to just take themselves, here are 5 essential tips to help you make the most of the autumn color season.

Polarize

A polarizing filter removes glare from almost any non-metallic surface, which includes autumn leaves. Leaves have a waxy coating and they produce glare when viewed from certain angles. A polarizing filter makes fall color look more colorful and saturated but in reality, it’s only allowing you to see the color that’s already there. Wet leaves create even more glare so during rainy conditions, a polarizing filter is nearly essential.

When working near water, a polarizing filter will also remove glare and refections from the water’s surface and surounding west rocks. It will cut glare from water vapor and particulates in the air as well, making blue skies darker and richer in color. The direction of maximum polarization occurs at 90-degree angles from the sun, while no polarization occurs when shooting directly at or away from the sun. Therefore, no polarizer is necessary when photographing sunrises or sunsets.

Get a screw-in polarizing filter for your lens with the largest front element size, then step-up rings for those smaller lenses. Step-up rings are much more cost effective than a polarizer for each lens. Some recommended polarizing filters (links to Amazon).

B+W 77mm XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating ($$$)

Hoya 77mm HRT Circular PL Polarizer UV Multi-Coated Glass Filter ($$)

Lee Filters Circular Polarizer – Glass 100x100mm For Lee filter holder system.

autumn color

Use Backlight

The leaves of autumn foliage are translucent, which means sunlight is allowed to partially pass through them when viewed or photographed from the opposite side. The foliage seems to glow and radiate the boldest colors when this happens. Seek out as many of these lighting opportunities as possible for stunning, luminous color.

This will work anytime there is direct sunlight. Even when most photographers retire during the “idle light” of midday, you can always aim the lens skyward as the canopy of yellows and reds glow against the complementary crisp blue sky. Stop the lens down to f/22 for a sun star to add additional interest.

Keys to Using Backlighting

  • Aim the camera toward the sun (duh!)
  • Be aware of ghosting or flare when shooting into the sun. Your lens hood might help, although probably not if shooting directly into the sun, so consider using your hand, a hat, a book, anything that can block the sun’s rays from striking the front element of the lens.
  • Avoid underexposure. Your camera’s meter will probably want to underexpose the scene under most backlighting conditions. Consider adding a stop or two of exposure to keep the image from being too dark. Better yet, consult the histogram and “exposure to the right.”
  • Look to add a sunstar for additional interest and a strong focal point of the image – if it needs one. A sunstar is created by using lens diffraction when a small aperture is used. A small aperture is associated with large f-stop numbers so a setting of f/22 usually does the trick. Best results are when you partially obscure the sun behind a tree branch or mountain, leaving only some of the sun’s rays peeking through. Let diffraction do the rest.
  • Try to employ complementary colors by shooting skyward on a sunny, blue-sky day. The warm tones in the backlit foliage fully complement the blues in the sky.

Use Telephoto Lenses to Isolate

You should look to use a short telephoto lens (70-200mm or even 100-400mm) to isolate patterns of autumn color, interconnected shapes, and textures within the larger landscape. A forest of trees, colorful or not, can be a confusing maze of visual chaos. But by isolating smaller vignettes with a telephoto lens, you can help bring some order to that chaos.

Telephoto isolation in landscape photography is the fine art of exclusion, stripping away any extraneous visual elements to reveal only the most essential and important parts of the scene. This is particularly true when shooting autumn color.

In the example above with a focal length of 85mm, I reveal to the viewer only a small section of a larger waterfall and scene, splitting the image into three equal sections: the autumn color, the falling water, and the distinctive glacial blue of the river.

Some short telephoto lenses to consider (links to Amazon):

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

Autumn Color

Look Down

When exploring autumn color scenes in the trees and hillsides, don’t forget to look down at the ground at the “leaf litter” scattered along the forest floor, river rocks, trails, etc. This is particularly true in late autumn, my favorite part of the season when a lot of the leaves have already fallen, some of the trees are completely bare or still holding on to a few leaves, and there no longer is any green hanging around.

There are often many tiny scenes within the autumn leaves themselves found in the patterns of veins and variations in color found in a single fallen autumn leaf. A versatile macro lens of about 100mm is a useful tool for these types of images, like this image shown above. Links below to Amazon.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Vibration Reduction Fixed Lens
Sony SEL90M28G FE 90mm f/2.8-22 Macro G OSS Standard-Prime Lens

Autumn Color

Look For Reflections

On any sunny autumn day, find a body of water that is in the shade but also near some brightly illuminated autumn color, such as a grove of colorful trees or hillside. Here is where you will find a great opportunity to photograph fall reflections. If the water is still enough, you can capture some literal refections that create a mirror image of the primary subject. If the water is choppy from the wind or is moving, like you would find in a river or stream, you can make abstract reflections or colored water with longer exposures. The above image is an example of the latter, with a 10-second exposure being used to smooth out the water’s surface.

These type of refection images almost always need some help in the form of one or more visual anchors in addition to reflection. A rock or rocks, a log, or a duck are just some examples to look for when making autumn color photos of reflections. In order to get exposures of 10 seconds of longer during the middle of the day, you will need a strong neutral density filter of 6 to 10 stops in filter strength. I use the Lee Big Stopper (10 stops) and Little Stopper (6 stops) for these situations. Links to these and some other options below on Amazon.

Lee Filters 100 x 100mm Big Stopper 3.0 Neutral Density Filter, 10-Stop
Lee Filters 77mm Big Stopper Kit – Lee Filters 4×4 Big Stopper (10-stop ND Filter), Lee Filters Foundation Kit and 77mm Wide Angle Ring with 2filter cleaning kit
Lee Filters 100 x 100mm Little Stopper 1.8 Neutral Density Filter, 6-Stop
Tiffen 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

A Last Piece of Advice

Bookmark this page for next year.

Essential Autumn Color Links

U.S. Fall Color Map by Weather.com https://weather.com/maps/fall-foliage
Fall Foliage Prediction Map for the U.S https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/
Peak Fall Foliage Map by Stormfax http://www.stormfax.com/foliagemap.htm
Peak Fall Foliage Map for New England https://newengland.com/seasons/fall/foliage/peak-fall-foliage-map/
Your Ultimate Guide to the Smoky Mountains Fall Colors http://www.visitmysmokies.com/blog/gatlinburg/attractions-gatlinburg/ultimate-guide-smoky-mountains-fall-colors/
15 National Parks for Fall Color (Wilderness.org) http://wilderness.org/15-national-parks-fall-color
The 10 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Canada https://www.tripsavvy.com/places-to-see-fall-foliage-in-canada-1481743
Best Times To See fall Foliage Across Canada with Interactive Map http://www.winnipegsun.com/2013/10/02/best-times-to-see-fall-foliage-across-canada

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Essential Composition: Visual Patterns

Essential Composition: Visual Patterns

General How-To

Essential Composition: Visual Patterns

Visual Patterns

The human eye and brain are instinctively drawn to visual patterns. We are a pattern-seeking species after all so we’re always searching for patterns in random data to help extract order from the chaos in the world around us. As a general matter, we love patterns so much that we have a peculiar inclination to create patterns even where none exist. The old axiom “bad news events come in threes” is but one example that immediately comes to mind. There’s even a word for this curious human tendency to create phantom patterns: apophenia.

Therefore, it should come as little surprise that we seek out visual patterns and repetitions in the observable space around us in the same way we seek patterns in every other way. That’s great news for us photographers and artists since we know our audience is already biologically predisposed to like our images if we use them. Visual patterns can be natural or manmade, regular or irregular, the primary subject or a complimentary part of a larger image concept.

Visual Patterns

“Vermiculations” Patterns of foam and autumn leaves in a back eddy of Duck Brook, Acadia National Park, Maine USA.

Visual Patterns

Patterns are combinations of elements or shapes repeated in regular and reoccurring arrangements. “Discernable regularity” is how Wikipedia describes pattern succinctly. Shapes, lines, and areas of contrast have powerful visual impact when arranged in repeated or corresponding parts either in regular or irregular form. Repetition is a good example of regular patterns and they tend to be manmade. The veins in a leaf or a spider web would be examples of the irregular variety and these are more than plentiful in nature.

What exactly constitutes “good” or “bad” visual patterns is purely subjective. Aesthetically, it’s an indeterminate entity. A forest of tall trees, leaf litter scattered over the ground, a grouping of flowers, a row of buildings, stacked mountain ridges, ocean waves, and flocks of birds are just some examples of literal objects that can be defined as patterns. These are subjects you can encounter on any given day with no need to travel very far to find them. Look no further than your house or backyard if you wish.

Visual Patterns

“Stripes” Zebra fur patterns, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Repetitions

Repetition refers to objects, shapes, forms, figures, or lines repeated in regular, consistent intervals. Think of it as the visual equivalent to the beat in music. Gestalt theory suggests that a repetition of visual forms in a composition is pleasing to the eye in much the same way rhythm is pleasing to the ear in music. In addition, the eye tends to follow successive repetitions creating visual movement through the image frame.

Visual Patterns

“Last Sigh” Stacked ridges and sunset at Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina USA.

Tips For Finding Visual Patterns and Repetitions

  • Look Around! Patterns are everywhere. They can easily be found inside or just outside your home if you don’t care to travel very far. Search for strong graphic elements, shapes, lines, areas of contrast, or colors. Remember, you’re biologically pre-programed to be awesome pattern hunters!
  • One successful strategy is to Fill the Image Frame with repeating elements or patterns for powerful emphasis and the greatest possible visual impact – from corner to corner, 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! Often a pattern or repetition can indeed be the order that you seek in the 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 pattern or set of repeating objects or shapes can make a compelling foreground that helps move the viewer’s eye up and through the image in a dynamic way. I call this compositional tool perspective progression and it can be every bit as effective as leading lines or power shapes in creating visual movement.

For more help with visual patterns, as well as other photography composition concepts, check out my e-book, Creative Composition. Have fun with visual patterns and repetitions in your photography!

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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