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

“Brazen Serpents” Glacial rivers in southern Iceland

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!

Creative Vision Newsletter




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. 


Kelby One Landscape Photography Conference

Kelby One Landscape Photography Conference

Announcements

Kelby One Landscape Photography Conference

Join me and other top photography pros for an exciting two-day Live Online Landscape Photography Conference with Kelby One on September 8 and 9, 2020. This in-depth training will focus specifically on you and your landscape photography! This digital conference will teach the techniques, tricks, and secrets that you need to know to get flawless landscapes images everytime!

If you would like to be a part of this exciting and educational LIVE event, you can Register Here.

Creative Vision Newsletter




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. 


Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

“Take Me Home” Sparks Lane in Cades Cove on a foggy spring morning, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens @ 93mm, 1 second @ f/16, ISO 200.

Take Me Home

Please tell me, Dear Reader. Can anything in the world be more inviting than a lonesome country road?

Folk songs, pastoral poems, inspirational quotes, and pop culture pseudo profundities are awash with both visions and words expressing the quaint charm of the country road. Many of these roads are entirely mythical or just a state of mind. More than one over-worked and frazzled old soul has fantasized about ditching the computer, cell phone, and the lousy desk job to follow one of these rustic byways to a simpler way of life. Going native, they might say.

Others country roads are every bit as real, but are perhaps more perilous and less inviting than the sentimental John Denver song might suggest. The road might indeed lead to an idyllic log cabin by the river with smoke billowing from the chimney, a front yard tire swing in a big oak tree, and a friendly dog to welcome you home after long days of travel. It might also lead to a clutch of wild-eyed hillbillies operating a makeshift meth lab from a single wide. Try fashioning a set of song lyrics around that word picture.

Where an old road like this could ultimately lead probably lies somewhere between those two extremes: a pleasant picnic spot perhaps, the cosmic swimming hole, or a dead end where a trailhead for hikers leads deeper into the wilderness. Or maybe, as the bumper sticker suggests, it’s not about the destination of that country road, but the journey that matters most. I highly doubt it.

The road pictured above goes nowhere in particular but simply connects two opposite sides of the one-way-only Cades Cove Loop Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Sparks Lane, with its twin, Hyatt Lane, are gravel roads that allow visitors to Cades Cove to shortcut the continuous 11-mile paved loop that circles the broad, picturesque valley.

Photographically speaking, the magic of Sparks Lane is not fully revealed and appreciated until you arrive the morning after a cool, still evening when a layer of heavy fog forms in the cove. On the morning this image was captured, these were precisely the conditions. The fog bank settled down along the river and migrated from right to left from the direction I was standing. The fog would slowly intensify and build before suddenly dissipating and starting the cycle all over again. This gave me several different versions of the scene from this vantage point. The fog helps simplify the composition as it hides and obfuscates the trees in the background. As a result, the foreground trees stand out stronger and more prominently because of the clean and simple background when the fog was in place.

The road and fence posts help pull the viewer into the image and through the small tunnel of trees with multiple leading lines and a sense of diminishing scale. The mid-telephoto perspective crops out any bright sky from the very top and minimizes the amount of road and immediate foreground down at the bottom of the frame.

Take Me Home can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Creative Vision Newsletter




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. 


Going Coastal: Awesome Seascape Photography Tips

Going Coastal: Awesome Seascape Photography Tips

General How-To

Going Coastal: Awesome Seascape Photography Tips

“Bowling Alley West” Sunset at Bowling Ball Beach, Point Arena, California USA

“Every time I stand before a beautiful beach, its waves seem to whisper to me: If you choose the simple things and find joy in nature’s simple treasures, life and living need not be so hard.”

Psyche Roxas-Mendoza

As a landscape and nature photographer, there are few experiences that compare to walking out on the beach in the dawn’s faint light, examining the sky, the clouds, the mood of the surf, and anticipating what the next hour might bring. After experiencing this sensation hundreds of times throughout my career, it never gets old.

So what is it exactly, that unceasingly beckons the photographer back to the edge of terra firma time after time? Is it some visceral, primal urge to “go back from whence we came,” as John F. Kennedy once speculated about the kinship of human beings and the sea? Or is the seemingly boundless ocean a visual metaphor for the infinite photo possibilities offered the photographer? How about the local seaside tiki bar that serves up a kaleidoscopic array of boat drinks with miniature umbrellas during the idle light of midday?

Whatever the reason or excuse, coastal landscapes are a favorite subject for many nature photographers, including this one. So with spring soon turning to summer and the unofficial start of beach season, here are some tips for awesome seascape photography for any season.

Find a Point of Interest

Beaches are often nondescript, featureless expanses of sand and endless water without an apparent focal point. With no obvious visual fixture, the scene might leave a photographer confused and viewer of the image bored and uninterested. Locating a conspicuous geological feature, rock, tree, tidal creek, piece of driftwood, or serendipitous conch shell to use as a foreground object can provide a necessary visual anchor that makes for a more compelling image.

“Timeless Tide” Sunset over Unstad Beach on the northern coast of Norway’s Lofoten Islands. 

Experiment with Shutter Speeds

The ocean is a dynamic body of water, heaving and churning with the ebb and flow of each and every wave. Photography is an interpretative art form, so the shutter speed you choose will greatly influence both the look and feel of the scene to potential viewers.

For example, a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second or faster can freeze the water’s motion, projecting a feeling of power or urgency. Any shutter speed of one second or slower can tame even the most furious ocean swells and ascribe a certain grace or fragility to the sea. Extremely long exposures of 30 seconds to several minutes can smooth out the ocean’s swells creating a much more simplified or minimalist interpretation. Unless you are out very early or late with low light conditions, you will need neutral density filters to help absorb some of the incoming light which will allow exposures this long.

A range of 1/20 to ½ of a second with an advancing or receding waves or foam is a good compromise, giving water the illusion of motion yet retaining important detail as well. The focal length, physical distance, and water’s velocity will all vary the visual effect of the wave’s movement for each shutter speed, so the examples cited above are merely rough guidelines. I think it’s important to experiment with a variety of speeds before ultimately deciding on what you prefer for each situation.

Look for Reflections

As mentioned earlier, beaches can seem featureless with little “working material” to assist in assembling a composition. Reflections in wet sand and tidal pools, however, can add some interest and depth to an otherwise ordinary scene.

Tidal pools and puddles can reflect the sky or clouds like a mirror if there’s little or no wind and the thin film of water left on the sand by a receding wave produces reflections that can be impressionistic and expressive.

“Sea and Sand” Sunrise over Hunting Island Beach, South Carolina USA,

Patterns and Textures

Wind and water can conspire to create captivating dunes, mini dunes, ripples, ridges, and basins in the sand. These features can be used as a component of a larger, expansive scene or they can become the primary subject themselves. Look for conditions created by low-angled, directional lighting where the verge of light and shadow add yet more compositional elements with which to work.

These conditions can be difficult to visualize under flat or direct midday light. But when the angle of the sun in lower on the horizon, the textures, patterns, and lines will reveal themselves. Work quickly, as the light and shadows will be fleeting.

Arrive Early – Stay Late

Arrive early and stay late should be mandatory advice for any landscape photographer – coastal or otherwise. But does the world really need yet another photograph of the sun setting or rising over the ocean? My short answer would be, “Sure, why not?”

I prefer to bracket and blend exposures in post-processing for sunrise or sunset scenes that need usable detail in both the sky and foreground, but the level, unobstructed horizons are ideal graduated neutral density filters as well.

But if beauty for beauty’s sake is too banal for your tastes, you still have the twilight wedge, dawn or dusk’s glow, and low-angled, warm sunlight during the golden hours to compliment the landscape. Snobbery is no excuse for sleeping in.

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Protect Your Gear

The best advice for keeping your gear looking and working like new: Take someone else’s camera to the beach.

Seriously, the saltwater, sand, and wind can run roughshod on your camera gear. Even if the camera is not actually submerged, saltwater spray and mist from the pounding surf can do damage over time. I always wipe down my camera and lenses with a damp, freshwater towel and let dry.

Tripods can become corroded and completely inoperable if the legs are submerged in saltwater. Since I cannot resist getting into the water, I carry an old, backup tripod on my coastal excursions and just go for it. It’s still a good idea to rinse off the sand and saltwater off the tripod legs when you are finished shooting to extend its life as much as possible.

“Swept Away” Small shapely iceberg on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón in southern Iceland,

Get Wet

Despite the previous point of advice, it often helps to get your feet and tripod wet in order get an interesting perspective. Wading into the water and getting a low angle to onrushing waves can provide a unique viewpoint while vicariously injecting the viewer into the scene.

Waves can move the sand and tripod during long exposures, often resulting in soft images. For this reason, I push the tripod legs as deep into the sand as possible before an incoming wave arrives. This usually stabilizes the tripod and camera sufficiently.

“Dark Karma” Praia da Adraga at dusk, Portugal. 

Plan Ahead

Your favorite coastal photo locale has many different faces and characteristics, which all depend upon the tide level. Knowing when high and low tides occur and how they correspond to sunrise and sunset is vital to both your approach and your planning for a future photography trip.

Tidal information can be found online. For the United States, http://www.saltwatertides.com/pickpred.html is a good place to start. A quick Google search for “tidal chart” for your area will produce several similar results.

An excellent application for your phone is Tide Graph, which gives tidal information for hundreds of coastal locations, which can then be quickly accessed and deciphered. I’ve used it for years.

Creative Vision Newsletter




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. 

Favorite Images of 2019: A Retrospective

Favorite Images of 2019: A Retrospective

Inspiration

Favorite Images of 2019: A Retrospective

In early 2019, I was casually mugged by a teenaged reggae enthusiast in broad daylight while traveling in Mexico. Thin, lanky, with hollowed-out cheeks and a wolfish face, this young Bob Marley acolyte donned an oversized Rasta beanie and black tee shirt emblazoned with Marley’s visage and the suddenly appropriate words in block letters:

IF BOB SAYS DON’T WORRY, I AIN’T GONNA

Under the shirt, he kept one hand concealed, which for my sake was to imply a weapon of some sort. I happily obliged, giving him everything on my possession at the time: a first-generation iPad and two 100-peso bills (about twelve US dollars) each of which, before this interruption, were to help me score a mid-morning espresso in the city center of La Paz. This led to an uncomplicated, if not one-sided, transaction between me and the petty thief.

Expect the unexpected might be a tired cliché but that doesn’t make it any less true, particularly with regard to travel. Planning is admirable and always recommended but you should also assume that most of your plans will eventually be replaced by improvisation and gut instinct. Expect the unexpected. But why is the unexpected always biased toward the bad, negative, disappointing, tragic, or catastrophic? Bad travel experiences always eclipse the good ones because they make for better stories afterwards. No one wants to hear your boring tale about how smoothly your trip went off. No one.

Vehicle breakdowns, sickness, missed or cancelled flights, getting lost or even robbed are not necessarily to be expected but are never a total surprise either. My approach to the unforeseen and accidental is to remain calm, stoic, and philosophical as possible. This was expected after all, right? Besides, never in the entire known history of human travel has throwing a tantrum and acting like a spoiled, entitled tourist ever fixed a thing. Take a detached perspective of the situation as a curious bystander might do. It can be interesting or even slightly amusing if you don’t take the turn of fate too personally. It might actually be funny if not for the fact it was happening to you at that very moment. Rest assured, however, you will be able to laugh about it later.

On the dusty streets of La Paz, I wondered how Marley would feel about not only being a witness to this unfortunate situation but an unsuspecting accessory as well. I glanced at the shirt of my antagonist and imagined Bob wearing a pained frown of disapproval. He might even have said, don’t worry…

When the boy suggested that he follow me back to the hotel, presumably for the promise of a bigger and better haul, a wave of panic flooded over me. I looked him in the eyes, shook my head and emphatically said, “No.” No means no in either English or Spanish so he threw both hands up in the air (revealing there never was a weapon), backed away, and disappeared into the steamy La Paz landscape.

I hastily pulled myself together, checked to see if anyone had been watching, and returned to my room for more pesos. Coffee delayed was not going to be coffee denied and yes, every little thing was gonna be alright.

So, now on to some happier moments from this past year.

Silver Silken Blade
Gerlache Straight, Antarctica
December 6, 2019

But what of silver silken blade? I know this image isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine: moody and mysterious with just a glimmer of hope, glorious details of the Antarctic landscape combined with graphical abstract qualities as well. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 349mm, 1/1000 second @ f/6.3, ISO 1000.

Okaukuejo Rising
Etosha National Park, Namibia
June 18, 2019

A big African sunrise over the Etosha Plains with a lone elephant kicking up a little dust for some lighting drama. Compositionally I like a asymmetrical balance created by counterpoising the two primary visual elements but I hate the horizon cutting right through the top of the elephant. Bad form by me. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm w/ 1.4x @ 560mm, 1/1250 second @ f/11, ISO 100.

Meanwhile On Mercury
Cathedral Gorge, Nevada USA
November 12, 2019

This is a real landscape. On this planet. The scale, however, is extremely misleading. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 11-24mm @ 22mm, 1.6 seconds @ f/14, ISO 100.

After Glow
Pied Crows at Deadvlei, Namibia-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
June 13, 2019

I’ve been to Deadvlei countless times and it’s highly unusual to see any living things in this surreal place. After the sun set and there was no light other the the glow on the orange dunes, two pied crows set upon one of the most photogenic trees in the valley. This is why I carried my telephoto lens up and over the dunes. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 248mm, 1/1250 second @ f/5, ISO 2000.

Destiny Unbound
The Camargue south of Arles, France
September 12, 2019

“She said, there isn’t even any road, our destiny was bound”

White horses, bright sunset light, slow exposure to create the illusion of motion, high-key processing.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 105mm, 1/15 second @ f/5, ISO 1600.

Meraki
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
April 8, 2019

Meraki is a word used to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love. On the day I created this image it was cold, wet, and misty, with fog rolling in and out of the mountains, keeping them concealed for most of the time. In other words, it wasn’t the best of conditions. Then I found this composition and I created something new and meaningful, at least for me in this location. I was exhilarated! I remember thinking at that moment, “Holy #%*& I love what I do!” I might have even uttered it out loud. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 135mm, 1/1250 second @ f/16, ISO 1600.

She Lit Up a Candle
Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico
February 14, 2019

The unfortunate title of this image is the result of an unfortunate essay i wrote about an unfortunate popular rock song. I’ll just leave it at that.

There’s an almost zen-like quality to this photo: a wildlife image with no conspicuous wildlife subject? It’s understood. I kind of like that. Despite the many images from this trip with whales in the water and in the air, this photo captured how I felt more than any of the other crowd favorites. This is a gray whale spouting at sunrise in Magdalena Bay, which is protected from the Pacific Ocean by the remote, sandy barrier islands of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 263mm, 1/1000 second @ f/5.6, ISO 500.

Faraway
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
May 14, 2019

In Tanzania’s Ngorongoro crater, the hills (actually the crater walls) are never quite out of sight. Here you lack the big skies of the Serengeti but the multi-hued hills with the chiaroscuro lighting in the late afternoons are the type of palettes I prefer. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm @ 490mm, 1/1250 second @ f/6.3, ISO 250.

Wrinkles In Time
Death Valley, California USA
March 25, 2019

It’s all about texture and movement here. The texture is obvious upon arriving at the scene but it’s also somewhat chaotic at first sight. What makes the image work for me is the visual movement. The subtle diagonal, left-to-rightward flow carries the eye through the frame like dancing barefoot through the desert. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 91mm, 1/10 second @ f/14, ISO 200.

Paulet
Paulet Island, Antarctica
December 9, 2019

An Adélie penguin welcomes visitors to Paulet Island with an offer of a hug, northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 35mm, 1/2000 second @ f/11, ISO 640.

Falling Down
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee USA
October 29, 2019

No dramatic light or special natural phenomenon. No in-your-face, complex composition or visual design. Just a quiet, peaceful photograph of a spacial place during my favorite season of the year. The overhanging tree branches do help to create a very cohesive composition here, however. Enjoy. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 35mm, 1.6 seconds @ f/16, ISO 100.

You can check out my Favorite Images of 2018 here as well.

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Here’s to Truth, Adventure, and Passion in 2020 –  Richard

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. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.