Break the pattern – capture the eye
Pattern is a funny thing. The human eye is great at picking out patterns. We see them in everything. It is probably one of the elements that makes us human. However, when we see a pattern our eye is quickly satisfied. We lose interest. So, do you want your viewer to lose interest in your pattern?
Photographers love to work pattern shots because they know patterns are eye catching. I look at a lot of images every day; sometimes hundreds. When I see a good pattern shot it draws me into the shot. The geometry, the symmetry, the perspective, the lines… well, all these things, and more are appealing. If the pattern is uniform I almost immediately lose interest. To keep the attention of the viewer you have to give them some reason to keep looking into your pattern. So give them a puzzle. Often, and for good reason, it is best to break the pattern. If the eye sees a pattern the work is done. If there is an incomplete pattern, or an anomaly then the pattern is broken. Why? What happened? What’s wrong? How did that occur? Suddenly the viewers mind is in turmoil. The questions follow and they look around the pattern for confirmation, answers, insights… whatever. The point is they are drawn into the picture. You have made them engage with it and internalize it.
Photographers forget they are working for the viewer. There is no other reason to take a photograph, even if it is a pure record shot. Hopefully, at least one day, someone is going to view it. If you never look at the shot again, and no-one else does either, you have not succeeded in communication in our image language – photography.
Communication is about engaging an audience. Pattern shots are a category of image where you can force your viewer to question what is going on in the shot. At once you can catch the eye, show a subject, appeal to the viewer, engage them and intrigue them. On the other hand you have lost their attention if they glance and move on.
So, when looking at a pattern look deeper than the pattern itself. Look at the variations, the subtle differences. Check the light, examine the graduations. Count the tones, identify the differences. Know that pattern inside out. Look for where it is the same. Look for the obvious ways it can be different. When you know your pattern inside-out, arrange the shot. Optimize the pattern, maximize where it breaks. One single instance of a difference is enough to stop the eye. And that is the aim – stop the eye; create a question. THEN, you will be showing the true meaning of that pattern to the eye of the viewer.