Shooting Patterns, Shapes And Lines


Mother Nature bestows the human eye with spectacular beauty. As I drive along the Oregon coast, I can’t help but notice the crashing surf as it pounds against the sea stacks at sunset. I feast my eyes upon majestic mountain ranges of rugged splendor. I admire the rolling hills of prairie farmland and sandstone arches that decorate the Southwest. And these are but a few of the glorious features of her natural grandeur. While these incredible testaments to nature certainly amaze even a casual viewer, Mother Nature also works her magic on a much smaller scale. To the discerning eye, natural beauty appears everywhere. It just needs to be noticed. Look past the obvious and you’ll be surprised how many images you can create that are made of patterns, shapes and lines. 

Become An Observer

While driving north on route 191 at 40 mph, the Grand Teton is magnificent. Unfortunately, this is the way too many visitors to the park see the range. But as photographers, we know better. We get there at sunrise, stay until sunset and photograph the majestic peaks in splendor-filled light. But how many of us stop to look north and south at the other amazing peaks? How many look down at their feet to see if something photogenic lurks near their toes? Many of us go in the fall to catch the aspens at their peak, but how many walk up to the trees to get a close-up view of the veining in the leaves or the subtle compositions of a group of them on the end of a branch? Think to yourself, “What else can I photograph?” and all of a sudden, many new compositions will unfold.

Shooting Patterns

A pattern is created when a repeated design or form continues on and becomes recurrent. Patterns in nature become more obvious when seen on smaller scales. One that immediately comes to mind is a dahlia in full bloom. A central bud is surrounded by concentric petals as they radiate out from the bud. Ferns are another great example. Patterns that flow smoothly tend to make great subjects. On a larger scale, continuous bends in meandering rivers, aspen trunks in a large grove, the lines of wildebeests during the migration and more also work well. The pattern doesn’t need to be in-your-face obvious. Study your surroundings and environment more closely and you’re bound to find patterns in the unlikeliest of places.

Shooting Shapes

Shapes carry ambiguity as there needn’t be rhyme or reason to them nor do they have to show patterns or lines. They just need to be definitive to the viewers of your images. Hillsides dotted with random smaller groves of aspens are a good example. A silhouetted tree against a twilight sky with a crescent moon framing it is a good example that shows ambiguity but also one that shows known shapes. “S” curves are classic shapes in all art forms. There’s no mistaking its shape and it works as a great line to course a viewer through your photos.

Shooting  Lines

As just stated, the “S” curve is the most iconic line that comes to mind when a composition is made. It allows the viewer to meander through the image from one end to the other. Lines that lead the viewer to a specific portion of a composition also work to enhance the aesthetics of an image. Horizontal lines imply rest as this is the position you take when you go to sleep. Vertical lines imply strength. When you’re told to “stand up tall,” it sends a message to be alert, on the ball and take on the world. Diagonal lines imply movement. Roll a ball down any diagonal incline and it will move downhill. Build these psychological aspects of line use into your images to influence viewers of your images to feel at rest, feel strong or show speed and movement.

Whether you use patterns, shapes or lines symmetrically to show rhythm or in a more chaotic way to be less obvious, think about the message each sends and how they’ll influence those who study your photography. Each time you venture into the field, incorporate one of these concepts into your repertoire of tricks. You just may come up with that image that hangs on the wall.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit to get more information.

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