Archive for the ‘pattern’ Tag

Foto Talk: Abstract Patterns & Photography   6 comments

 

Panajachel, Guatemala, on the shores of Lago Atitlan, has some colorful murals in its busy little town center.  Please click on image for download options.

Panajachel, Guatemala, on the shores of Lago Atitlan, has some colorful murals in its busy little town center. Please click on image for download options.

It is very common in books and blogs on photography, and in workshops and classes, to highlight line and shape as being very important elements of good compositions. Count me among those who believe that.  In fact, I did a blog post on line that dives into the reasons they are so important. It would be very helpful for you to read that first: Friday Foto Talk – Line. Also check out my post on Shape.  

But before I join the crowd and trumpet the value of the abstract over the literal, I would like to ask a simple question: Is it worthwhile while photographing, to go searching specifically for line, shape and pattern?  The reason I ask is that I have come to question whether the emphasis on abstract patterns among many instructors (as opposed to a more literal focus) isn’t doing a disservice to the learning photographer.

If interested in any of these images, please click on them to go to the full size versions on my main website.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

An semi-abstract of a dried water pocket in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

An semi-abstract of a dried water pocket in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Just looking for a good angle on this old cabin in Utah, I naturally liked the one where the monolith repeated the triangular roof line.

Just looking for a good angle on this old cabin in Utah, I naturally liked the one where the monolith repeated the triangular roof line.

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know how I generally feel about learning photography. I think it’s one of those things best learned by doing. Isn’t everything that way you may ask? Well, I think I would prefer to learn how to calculate rocket trajectories from an expert rather than go experimenting with it (especially if there are astronauts onboard!). Photography is an art, and art can only be genuine when it comes from you not others.

Cross-bedded sandstone in Utah's Vermilion Cliffs National Monument form beautiful curving line patterns.

Cross-bedded sandstone in Utah’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument form beautiful curving line patterns.

Adobe architecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a natural study in line and pattern.

Adobe architecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a natural study in line and pattern.

We live in a time that is flooded with how-to.  And photography is a particularly apt example of this.  In nature and landscape photography, and in travel photography as well, most professional have to teach in order to make ends meet.  While nearly all of these folks are very good if not great photographers, perhaps some of them do not put enough thought into their teaching approach.

I have seen photographers whose images I greatly admire preach that you must learn to seek out abstract patterns if your nature and landscape/cityscape photography is to rise above average. I believe these teachers, good as they are at photography, are giving style-specific advice and making it sound as if it’s a universal principle.

Gently curving lines naturally attract my attention.  This is a building in Portland, Ore.

Gently curving lines naturally attract my attention. This is a building in Portland, Ore.

Las Vegas at night is a study in pattern, highlighted by the ubiquitous neon.

Las Vegas at night is a study in pattern, highlighted by the ubiquitous neon.

While I agree that line, shape and the patterns they form are certainly key parts of many compelling and interesting compositions, I don’t agree that a learning photographer should go out with the specific aim to find abstract patterns.

Of course if abstraction becomes part of your style, then go ahead, knock yourself out.  I do it from time to time.  But don’t let anyone (even if their photography is masterful) convince you it is the way to successful image-making.  That is far too rigid. Instead, I believe your overall approach should be more open-minded.  The elements you seek out when you’re shooting should be guided by your own personal take on the character of your subject and the mood of its surroundings.

I was amazed at how nearly circular this ostrich’s body seemed when silhouetted against the setting sun in Namibia.

A strong photo will always tell good story about its subject. I don’t think you can focus on the character and mood of your subject, scene and lighting if you are too wrapped up in the abstract patterns. As I mentioned in the post on Line, we are visual creatures who naturally seek out leading lines or repeating shapes and patterns. So trust that you will find them even without a conscious focus.

Concentrate on what makes your subject or scene cool and interesting, on how that light helps to set the mood you wish to either create or pass on from the scene directly to your viewer. Do this I believe, and those compelling lines and patterns will show up all on their own.

The angled lines formed by the clouds and active Volcan Masaya in Nicaragua were not in mind when I decided to take this picture. The the setting sunlight filtering through the volcanic steam and ash was.

 

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Friday Foto Talk – Patterns I: Line   7 comments

A short hike will take you to beautiful Elowah Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A short hike will take you to beautiful Elowah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  This is an example of very subtle use of line and pattern in an image.

This Friday Foto Talk let’s think about the very basics of composition.  Patterns are definitely worth seeking out in your photography, and this applies especially to nature and landscape photography.  The most essential part of patterns are the lines that define them.  Lines can lead you into a scene, point to your subject, mimic the shapes of your main subjects, and frame your composition, among other things.  They’re very powerful parts of an image.

Tall grass is reflected in a pond in the Potholes area of eastern Washington.

Tall grass is reflected in a pond in the Potholes area of eastern Washington.  Abstracts like this one often make use of repeating lines.

Think about looking out at a landscape.  There is a winding river or roadway stretching toward some overlapping hills.  The ridgelines that define the hills are slightly curved.  And wouldn’t you know it, the clouds above are in gentle arcs as well.  Perhaps you got lucky and sitting in the grass alongside the road or river there is an old abandoned car.  It’s from the 1950s and has nice gentle curves that define its fenders and hood.  These curves are outlined by a bright backlight from the setting sun.  This image draws your eye partly because of the beautiful light of course.  But it is the lines which lead the eye and clouds and hills that mimic the gentle shapes of the car that makes you stand and stare.

The narrows at Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are here full after spring rains.

The narrows at Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are full after spring rains.  The curved lines in the water contrast with straight and jagged vertical lines of the canyon walls and falling water.

A photograph I’ve always believed is effective if it captures what you would stop and look at even without having a camera.  I always try to keep this in mind: would I stop and admire this even if I wasn’t out shooting pictures?  Lines that make up patterns draw our eyes because of our evolutionary history.  We evolved in semi-open areas where picking out patterns from the background of grasses and trees really mattered.

One of the many lakes in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington is calm and colorful at sunrise.

One of the many lakes in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington is calm and colorful at sunrise.  The curved shoreline and angled lines of the orange sky help this simple image.

Lions and other predators, I found out during my recent trip to Africa, blend in very well to their surroundings.  I drove right by one in Kruger, South Africa.  She was crouching at the roadside only a few feet from my open window as I passed slowly, scanning for wildlife.  I stopped to look at something else (a rock it turned out) and caught a tiny movement out of the corner of my eye.  That’s the only reason I saw her, and she was actually in plain view.  Our ancestors, already very visual creatures, developed even greater ability and passed this acuity on to us.

The Columbia River where it passes through the gorge along the Oregon/Washington border forms wetlands along the river bottom in springtime.

The Columbia River where it passes through the gorge along the Oregon/Washington border forms wetlands along the river bottom in springtime.  Reflections can often get you a two-for-one, doubling the lines in the landscape to make a closed shape.

Often the most interesting photos are those that mix and match different line patterns.  Straight lines combined with curved, horizontal combined with vertical, or slightly curved combined with tightly curved.  You only need to see these patterns and photograph them in the kind of light that brings them out.  Some amount of contrast can be added later in software, but you need light with depth and clarity to really bring line patterns out.

One of the many wetlands in the Potholes area of eastern Washington, a paradise for waterbirds.

One of the many wetlands in the Potholes area of eastern Washington, a paradise for waterbirds.  The think lines of the grass are fairly subtle but contrast with the overall horizontal nature of the image.

For me, I think I like gently curved lines the best.  I normally seek out peaceful settings, and gently curved lines help to establish that mood.  The image at top shows an obvious gentle arc (the falls), repeated by the more subtle curve of the tree’s left side.  The rock at right also has a similar angle.  Very dramatic and imposing  mountain or desert scenes may benefit from a different type of line pattern.  When photographing these scenes it is natural to go for sharply angled or jagged lines.  Maybe you like different kinds of subjects.  Whatever you are photographing, think about the kinds of lines that will both help to define the mood of your image and also lead the viewer’s attention to your main subject(s).

A double rainbow appears as a spring storm clears over the lush Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

A double rainbow appears as a spring storm clears over the lush Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  I loved how the arcs of the rainbows were so close to the forested walls of the Gorge, and also at a similar angle.

The photos here are all very recent, captured during my recent trip to eastern Washington and in the nearby Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  I hope you enjoy them.  Remember they are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  These versions are much too small anyway.  If you’re interested in high-res versions just click on the image.  Then once you have the full-size image on the screen click “add this image to cart”.  You will then get price options; it won’t be added to your cart until you make choices.  If you don’t see an option that matches what you want to purchase, just contact me with any special requests.  Thanks for your interest.

The sun goes down over the wheat fields of the Palouse in eastern Washington.

The sun goes down over the wheat fields of the Palouse in eastern Washington.  The subtle lines in the rows of wheat lead into the scene, and the angled line of clouds helps to frame the sun (which has its own radiating pattern of lines).

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