Photography: Patterns and the Still Image

01 March 2012


Stacks of Wood, Uhrwiller, France, 2005; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2005

The Razing, 2007; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2007

Gate Shadows against Brick Wall, February 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Park Bench, Spring 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Note: Let me know which photograph is your favorite.

P.S.: The last image was taken with my (non-smart) cellphone, because my Nikon was being charged.


Composition is one of the key elements in photography–it has the ability to woo the viewer’s attention, cast an eye elsewhere, and/or cause confusion. This single force is as exacting as the other components of a stilled image. Once taken, the image is available for conversation, musing and scrutiny. In the darkroom and on the computer manipulation can alter the original intent–a crop here and there, a tonal shift here and there. This ability to redefine the original is a phenomenon that comes with the history of the photograph and the human animal’s inclination to get it just right. Still, composition can be singularly the cause for triumph or not.

While thinking about this element, I turned to patterns generated in our visual landscape–the seen and the unseen repetitions: angels, rhythms, shapes, symmetry, and textures that stare at us even if we ignore them. As important, nature provides limitless examples of this phenomenon that has been easily transferred into the human animal’s bag of tricks.

Then I began to ponder M.C. Escher’s amazing drawings–patterns at their most derivative. His art was exacting and shows the relationship of line to line, design to design, dark to light. He achieves illusion and perception with such pronouncement and skill. Talent naturally flowed from inside of him. During the winter holiday a friend gave me a spectacular book: M.C. Escher Pop-Ups (2011) by Courtney Watson McCarthy. To cast an eye on his work is to be awed. But this pop-up collection astounds, and brings yet another dimensions to Escher’s already dimension-filled art. The book takes an already 3-D effect and staggers the viewer with the added feature.

Example of Escher’s art:

"Fish and Waves," 1963, by M.C. Escher

Cover of the pop-up book:

"M.C. Escher Pop-Ups" (2011) by Courtney Watson McCarthy

The word “pattern” implies a repetitive element, but it also can be asymmetrical. While a chaotic design can force us to stare at its elements or turn away, it raises the question: are all patterns mathematical?

Enter fractals in nature. This mathematical discovery upended the chaos theory, making nature’s reiterations and unpredictability less so. The totality of a cloud or shell are examples of how mathematics is used in patterns that become smaller as they are repeated. When you tear off a piece of broccoli, that part looks much like the total head of the vegetable. (Benoit B. Mandelbrot coined “fractal” while working on the concept  between 1977-1980.)

Here are examples from Mother Nature’s fractals:


Romanesco Broccoli

Salt Flats in California

Through the still image we can document human nature’s or nature’s capabilities to capture our attention. But do we always recognize the pattern and its substance: its place in daily life or its ability to spur other forms of creative energies?

Thanks to this blogging life I’m “following” others who have similar interests and passions. I am enriched by their art (whether literary or visual). For example, I’ve met Val Erde who lives in a small hamlet in Wales. Her work is lusciously vibrant, and pulls you into her compositions. PLEASE take a few minutes to view her blog at She combines original drawings and paintings with digital media to produce a sumptuous body of art. This work reminds me about the “patterned” world that encourages our own creativity, and instigates a personal vision.  Thanks Val for sharing your work.

I continue to be intrigued by the precise or random patterns in my visual universe. Each pushes my abilities to still their effect upon me, and to capture their photogenic essence.

Note: As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog.

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18 Responses to Photography: Patterns and the Still Image

  1. The stacks of wood remind me of duckweed floating on the surface of a pond, and the park bench reminds me of the pleated leaves of a palmetto. In each case the human thing mimics one in nature.

    Steve Schwartzman

  2. My choice is the park bench as the pattern and contrast is so strong. So glad I have discovered you blog.

  3. Leslie says:

    My favorite is the gate against the brick image. The red just pops against the image and I love the pattern that’s captured in the photo. I like the idea of taking up close shots of objects just to get a different perspective, a new pattern that might be present in it. Just intriguing. Nature has its own beautiful designs for us to enjoy and photograph. Thank goodness for cameras!

  4. Gracie says:

    I also like the park bench one, Sally. It gives off an abstract effect, which I am drawn to these days.

    • Gracie, sometimes I think that my affinity for the abstract puts me in the minority. The visual landscape is salt-and-peppered with ways to pull the undefinable from a scene.Thanks, Sally

  5. melfrommass says:

    The last photo came out really nicely considering you took it with a regular cell phone — nice!

  6. The last one of the park bench would be my choice. It reminds me of some of the work by Edward Weston. Very nice, and taken with a cell phone, how far we have come. How many meg a pixels is the camera if I might ask. I am looking for a good one.

    • First, I am humbled by your comment and reference to Weston, who was one of my favorites. Joanna, I have to laugh, because I have a five-year old LG cellphone with a 2.0 camera, which really is basic. But I have gotten some good shots with it. Today you can get a cellphone with abilities far superior to mine. I’m still not ready to get a new one or a Smartphone, where you can edit immediately. Thanks again, Sally

      • Thanks Sally,
        We are not really smart phone people, my LG works just fine but my husband is getting another pohone and he said it has a 2.0 camera which looks to be a good choice. For our regular camera we have a Cannon powershot digital. Weston is a favorite of mine as well.

      • Have fun with the camera phone; it’s definitely worth the adventure that comes with an entirely different capability and format, Sally

  7. Northern Narratives says:

    My favorite photo is the ferns. I have ferns in my garden and I love to watch every step of their growth. I am a fan of Escher and did not know there was a pop-up book. Wow. I have to look into that. Thanks for an interesting post.

  8. Like the 3rd one… I love to photograph patterns, specially when the light is just perfect! Great images

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