with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Patterns in Nature – Photographic Techniques

Pattern photography is no different from other forms of photography. We recommend you have a solid knowledge of the basic photographic elements of exposure techniques. Many books and programs are available to help you learn these basic elements in how to take a good photograph. We highly recommend any of the books by John Shaw, specifically his Nature Photography Field Guide.

We also highly recommend William Neill’s book, By Nature’s Design. This is our “textbook” for the patterns in nature workshops we present. It is a step by step look at the various patterns found in nature with an amazing interpretation and explanation by Pat Murphy of the geometric, geological, and other natural forces at work to create patterns in nature.

Brent works with a camera and off-camera flash, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenThe basic photographic equipment for pattern photography is similar to all types of photography. It consists of a 35mm SLR camera, a tripod, a variety of lenses, and film. The camera you have doesn’t matter as long as you know how it works and how to use it. A tripod is the next most important element in nature photography, especially in photographing the patterns of nature. The use of a tripod makes for successful nature photography in two important ways: It steadies the camera for a sharp image and it slows down the photographer, encouraging careful compositions. A good tripod is a steady and heavy one. A good head on your tripod allows for freedom of movement that meets your needs.

Nature photography, especially working with patterns, is a patience game. You have to wait for the right conditions, fighting wind and the light. Slow down and look. Make sure the horizon is level, that there are no distracting elements, and that the composition is exactly what you want. The longer you spend with a subject the more detail you see.

Other Accessories

Brent holds a reflector while working with a subject, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenA flash is a good accessory for controlling backgrounds and adding light to your subject. By removing the flash from the top of the camera with a hot shoe connector, you can directly control the placement of the flash on the subject.

Reflectors are a critical part of our photography work. We use a gold reflector to cast a warm, golden color on our subjects and a silver reflector to bring a whiter light or highlight to subjects. They can also be used to create shade.

Finding your patterns

You arrive at a location. Now what? You’re looking for patterns in nature but all you see is a mishmash of things. The quote about nature abhoring a vacuum is true. Honestly, nature loves anarchy. So where do you start?

Tree branches in silhouette against sunset, photograph by Brent VanFossenFirst, leave your preconceived notions behind. If you have come looking for circles, a forest may not be the right place. You will get branching, straight lines and everything else. Leave yourself open to the possibilities.

Take your time. Look around. Maybe leave the camera in your pack and just wander. Look up, down, under, over – all around. Allow yourself to be surprised. Find one thing and then don’t walk away. Look for another thing. Keep working at it. Come back to the same place and subject over and over and over again.

Curving feathers of a flamingo, photograph by Brent VanFossenWhen nothing seems to be working, get crazy. Do silly things. Experiment. Swing your camera around to blur the colors and create shapes with the motion. Look at things upside down. Play around. Or just sit down and be still. Close your eyes and relax. Listen to the sounds around you and then slowly open your eyes. Allow the magic of the world to reveal itself to you – oh, so slowly. It’s there. You just have to learn to see. Keep your eyes open to the possibilities and magic of the patterns around you.

Experimenting With Patterns

The wind would not cooperate one day while photographing some orange poppies in Port Angeles, Washington, so Brent decided to make a few patterns of his own. He used a slow shutter speed and twisted his camera around with handholding and spinning on the tripod to see what the results would be. And here they are.

Poppy field, photograph by Brent VanFossenPoppy field with hand holding, photograph by Brent VanFossen

Poppy field with hand holding and twisting, photograph by Brent VanFossenPoppy field with diagonal blur, photograph by Brent VanFossenPoppy field with spin of camera on tripod, photograph by Brent VanFossen

To learn more about how to approach subjects, finding patterns, designs, and opportunities, check out our article on Putting It Together, Developing the Photographic Approach. For information to help you work with the patterns and subjects at specific locations, visit our Natural Wander section where we give you the tips you need to get the most out of a location.

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