with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Patterns in Nature – Texture and Recognition

Texture on aspen tree bark, photograph by Brent VanFossenTextures give depth and “feeling” to a subject. They are accentuated on flat surfaces by the use of side light and shadow. Look for the play of shadows on surfaces. Watch for the direction of the light and how it creates shapes and lines and forms and adds dimension to your subject.

Side light rounds the curved tree bark, photograph by Brent VanFossenLight plays a critical role in emphasizing textures. Side light creates strong shadows on raised surfaces. Three-quarters light makes things appear round, capturing the three dimensional depth of the subject. Front light, while it tends to flatten out the textures and cast shadows behind the subject, can illuminate the details in the texture such as the fine patterns, lines, or colors in the subject.

Shadows create texture on the sidewalk, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenShadows, even though they have no substance, create texture with their graphic play across a neutral or undistracting background. Shadows on the sidewalk, snow, or across a grassy field. Shadows can be distorted by the placement of the sun, creating long exagerated shadows when the light is low to the horizon and short, almost shrunken shadow plays when the light is nearly overhead.

Warm side light makes this bale of hay feel rough and brings the smell of hay to the imagination of the viewer, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenTexture can be found in many subjects and should receive equal attention as part of the photographic composition. The fur on an animal is texture which may appear flat and uninteresting in front light, but with side or three quarters light, especially warm morning or late afternoon light, it can become dimensional and inspire viewers to want to touch or pet the animal in the photograph. Even flowers, fruits and vegetables have texture which is part of their design in addition to their color and shape. Look for opportunities to put the emphasis on the texture in addition to the other patterns within the subject matter.

Growth and Motion

Wind blows the daisies around, photograph by Brent VanFossenPatterns and shapes which represent growth and motion make for exciting images, capturing energy and motion on film. Freeze the motion of birds in flight. Blur the motion of the wind in the flowers. Look up and feel the height and energy involved in growth in trees. You can stop the motion of the water or blur it intentionally. Look for symbolism of growth such as the trees changing color in the fall.

Waterfall with the water photographed at a high shutter speed, photograph by Brent VanFossenWaterfall photographed at a slow shutter speed, photograph by Brent VanFossenMotion is enhanced by an appropriate shutter speed. A photograph of a speeding car stopped in its tracks isn’t very interesting compared to a shutter speed that captured the car fairly sharply but allowed the motion of the vehicle to also be seen with the blur across the film. Waterfalls photographed at high enough shutter speeds to stop the motion are uninteresting drops of water. But when photographed at slow shutter speeds, the motion of the water blurs across the film creating a silky effect against the sharpness of the rocks or hillside.

Motion and growth are felt in this wide angle photograph of a tree from the base looking up, photograph by Brent VanFossenGrowth is captured by inspiring the imagination. Point your camera to the sky to photograph the trees rising up to brush their tips against the clouds. This is an obvious sensation of growth and motion. Less obvious is the example of fall color in the trees. Familiar with the Growth played out in the changing colors of a tree in fall, photograph by Brent VanFossenseasons and the growth of trees, turning from green to golden as winter approaches, photographs of autumn tell the familiar story of growth and renewal, of aging, all psychological emotions inspired by the changing seasons.

Many patterns, such as color, growth and motion, stimulate the senses through recognition of their symbolism. Red, white and blue represents American spirit. Autumn colors represent aging and changes. Mountains rising up from the lowlands caked with snow represent the power of nature.

The Elements of Recognition

The eye in an aspen tree bark, photograph by Brent VanFossenA person viewing an image feels safer when they can recognize shapes, lines and patterns. Abstracts may lead to a sense of confusion. Just as humans are always working to anthropomorphize animals’ behaviors and expressions, so too we always look for familiar symbols and signs in nature.

Chocolate Lily looks like a smiling face, photograph by Brent VanFossenPsychologists use inkblots to test a patient’s psychological response to nonsense images. It is called pareidolia, the human propensity to see paterns in random phenomena. People would see butterflies, flowers, their father, mother and other symbols which represented their recognition and perception of the image. Have you ever looked at the ceiling in your bedroom or living room and tried to make sense of the spackle there? Or in the tiles on the floor? Or looked up at the clouds to see horses and sheep?

Letter N in a flower petal on a leaf, photograph by Brent VanFossenWe always seem to see the symbols that we know the best, like the letters of the alphabet. We see them in mountains, rivers, streams, and elsewhere. We also look for humans and body parts in nature. Faces, profiles, arms, legs, and other body parts. Phallic and sexual symbols are favorites to find. As we try to put some familiarity in abstract images, all sorts of common objects seem to appear.

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