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Looking for patterns to photograph

Looking for patterns to photograph - Ben Boswell explains why he searches for patterns to photograph while on his travels.

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Category : General Photography
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Words and images by Ben Boswell.

Photography has a fantastic ability to isolate things: details, shapes, colours or patterns. You can remove a subject from its distracting surroundings in just the same way that you can place it there; by thoughtful framing. During your travels see if you can find patterns in the places you visit that will remind you of the trip later. I have always done this, but then I have always liked pattern.

Carp

GEAR
There is no special equipment needed to photograph pattern, though standard and slightly longer lenses can make the framing easier, but you do need to look carefully at what you are shooting. Very long lenses are also useful since they will flatten the perspective of distant shapes which often uncovers the patterns they make. Try and fill the frame aligning the pattern carefully. A tripod makes this easier but is not essential. You can crop out distractions later, but it is better to get it right ‘in camera’.

Flower Seller 2007 Banbury

TECHNIQUE
Patterns can be quite addictive: once you start seeing them it is hard to stop. Look for quantities of a single item and see how they fit together, regularly or random. In nature this could be stones on a beach or marks in the sand, clouds or a flock of birds, even the leaves on a tree. In towns, look along streets at how the buildings fit together, sometimes just the steps leading to the door of a building make a good pattern.

There are no rules other than that you should crop tight to fill the frame. You may like to avoid irregularities (though I rather like them since they seem to emphasize the pattern). You can shoot square on or oblique and, if you are shooting oblique, you can shoot wide open to isolate a detail in the shot or stop down to keep it all sharp, so set the camera to aperture priority to make life easier. Whatever you choose make it a definite choice, very narrow depth of field or very deep, otherwise it won’t look intentional.

Prayers 2009 Kyoto, Japan

Letterpress Type 2010 London

Markets and Souvenir Shops are great places to find patterns: stock piled high or artfully displayed is a gift to a photographer. Whether it is tourist tat or delicious looking local produce it is likely to work as both a reminder of your holiday and an interesting composition. Look out especially for shops selling lots of versions of a similar thing; they often fit together really nicely. Don’t be afraid to get right in close.

Octopus 2009 Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Buildings and architecture by their very nature are full of patterns, but look beyond the obvious: bricks and tiles work, but so do whole buildings if viewed from the right angle. If you can get above the roof level of a town the rooftops will often make beautiful patterns. The great thing about patterns is that they do not have a particular scale; they can be vast or macro, but to make a good picture out of a pattern, the pattern needs to be the star.

Wooden Wall with Rusty Nails 2009 Kurashiki, Japan

You will generally only need to add a little extra contrast to emphasize the pattern, this can be achieved with a simple curves adjustment. But the graphic nature of patterns means that they are often ideally suited to image manipulation if you want to. I have found that my patterns often make great wallpaper for my computer as long as the icons stand out, but they also make good pictures for the wall. Even the most mundane subject can give you a good picture; you just need enough of it to make a strong pattern.

Torii, Gates 2009 Kyoto, Japan

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