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Abstract photography is a medium relatively free of rules, which makes it appealing because of the freedom it gives you to explore your creative vision. Having said that, applying the principles and practices of good composition will help take your abstract images from mundane to spectacular.

One of the most effective methods you can use to elevate the quality of your abstract photos is to look for patterns. Whether based on a shape, like a circle, or simply a random pattern like that in the image above, filling the frame with repeating elements will make your abstract photograph much more visually pleasing. This lesson explores a few ways to use patterns in your abstract photos.

Why Patterns?

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Patterns are a powerful tool to use in abstract photography for several reasons. Our eyes are naturally drawn to patterns, so their inclusion in an abstract photograph immediately increases its visual impact. Patterns also help facilitate eye movement within an image. You can direct a viewer’s eye toward a specific point in the frame, or you can help move his/her eye around within the frame.

Patterns also create strong areas of shadow and light, which give the image more dimension. The shapes created by patterns are well suited to abstract photography, too; they create a strong graphic element that can help disassociate the image with the “real” object(s).

It helps that patterns are all around us – in nature, in our homes, even on the clothes we wear – so finding a good pattern for an abstract photo is quite easy.

Examples: Patterns in Abstract Photography

Seeing is believing, so let’s investigate a few examples of how patterns can be used to enhance the composition of your abstract photos.

Use Patterns to Highlight Shapes

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The repeating pattern of circular shapes in this image gives it a very strong graphic component. Not only are there large circles being repeated with every cluster of tendrils, but each cluster has several round patterns of tendrils while each tendril itself has a small, white circle on its tip. Having several layers of the same pattern means this image has a lot to offer our eyes to investigate.

Use Patterns to Highlight Depth

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Patterns benefit the composition of the image above by adding a sense of dimension and depth.

Although fairly subtle, the circular rings on the surface of the wood help the eye travel from the outer edges to the center of the rings. With such little variation in color, the jagged cracks in the surface of the wood give the image much-needed depth by creating areas of deeper color and shadow.

Note also that patterns need not be consistent or symmetrical. In this case, the cracks in the wood create a random pattern, but it still achieves the purpose of emphasizing greater depth.

Use Patterns to Highlight Color

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Patterns are also useful for drawing attention to colors in abstract photos. In the example above, the intersection of several triangles makes the shift in color from blue to white much more obvious. Although this tends to divide the photo into two parts, the fact that the pattern is repeated on both sides of the color division provides cohesion.

Final Thoughts

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One of the challenges of abstract photography is to help the viewer see a tangible object in a completely different light. As the example photos in this lesson demonstrate, patterns can help you achieve that in several ways.

Look for patterns that accentuate colors or add depth, and see if you can use repeating shapes to boost visual interest. Patterns are all around you, so it’s just a matter of using your photographer’s eye and your creativity to determine how you can best make them the feature of your abstract photos.

Lesson Summary

  • Patterns give dimension to abstract images that might otherwise appear flat.
  • Patterns can act as guides to help viewers move their eyes around the frame with purpose.
  • Shape-based patterns can help you create an abstract image that is orderly and has a strong graphic quality.
  • Random patterns are a good way to add depth to an abstract photo, especially if the subject has little variation in color or texture
  • The colors in an abstract photograph can be accentuated using patterns.
  • Strong, repeating patterns, in particular, are highly effective in drawing attention to color variations in an abstract image.


Scour your surroundings - be that indoors or out - for shapes, textures, and patterns that you can highlight in an abstract photo. Remember, strive to fill the frame with the element you choose as your subject to give it a greater sense of abstraction. Also remember to look for elements that have great color, structure, and depth to further the visual appeal of your images.

Further Study