Patterns In Nature

Mother nature bestows the human eye with spectacular beauty
Mother nature bestows the human eye with spectacular beauty. Crashing surf along a coast at sunset, majestic mountain ranges of rugged splendor, rolling hills of prairie farmland and sandstone arches that decorate the Southwest lure us to travel to these places of natural grandeur. Photographic icons such as Delicate Arch adorn the license plate of Utah while visions of The Grand Teton entice us to journey to Jackson Hole. While these incredible testaments to nature amaze even the casual viewer, Mother Nature also works her magic on a much smaller scale. To the discerning eye, natural beauty appears everywhere. It just needs to be noticed.

Become an Observer: While driving at 50 mph, even the Grand Teton is magnificent. Unfortunately, this is the way too many visitors see the range. But as photographers, we know better. We get there for sunrise and sunset and photograph the mountains in magnificent light. But how many of us stop to look north and south at the other amazing peaks? How many look down at our feet to see if something photogenic lurks near our toes? Many of us go there in the fall to catch the aspens at their peak, but how many walk up to the trees to get a close-up view of the veining in the leaves or the subtle composition of an array of leaves on the end of a branch? Look past the obvious, and you’ll be surprised how many memory cards you can fill with patterns in nature.

In the image of the sand dune ripples and yucca, what I set out to photograph was a grand scenic of the entire dune field in late light. The sky was beautiful, and the dunes in White Sands National Monument were pristine. I made the super-wide shot but stepped back to become an observer. I thought to myself, what else can I photograph that may make a nice image. The golden light on the yucca grabbed my attention. So did the fingers of receding snow kissing the ripples in the dunes. I got close to the foreground and placed the yucca in the upper third of the frame. The snow and ripples became more pronounced and created a beautiful leading line pattern to the lone yucca. By simply studying the scene, I walked away with an additional pattern image.

If you become an observer of patterns, it will play a huge role in acquiring an abundance of images you’d normally overlook. As a matter of fact, it may do a world of good to revisit locations known for the grand scenic and go out with nothing but a macro lens. I’ve been to Valley Of Fire State Park a number of times, and I always came back with wide-angle scenics. Knowing that patterns abound at this location, serendipity struck one morning when clouds won the sky battle and gave me overcast conditions. This provided a great excuse to look for the intimate pattern. The light dictated I look past what I normally photograph. It channeled my eyes to the smaller landscapes, patterns and textures. I’ve since returned to the Valley Of Fire and looked for patterns, even when the sun provided golden light.

If a wildlife subject allows you to get close, look beyond the standard capture that’s been made thousands of times before. Study the feather patterns or the lines of its hide. Look to see if the fur creates a flowing line. If it beds down, do the legs wrap around the body in pattern-like form? In other words, become a pattern observer so your images become more diversified.



    Sorry, but this article is really trite. It is filled with generalizations and truisms that have often been repeated for most forms of photography and are not necessarily true in given situations. Everything in nature is a pattern. And each pattern requires its own compositional approach. The very broad brush approach taken in this article does not do the subject justice.

    Do not know what happened but the main pattern image would not open; seems like the editor cut the author’s article; and the image of the pink flower might have been stronger if the seeds were a bit to the right as author recommends in classes.

    Bill Brennan

    William – thanks for the comment. For the photographer who is getting started seeing nature patterns, the basics that hold true for all types of image making situations need to be pointed out. I appreciate your higher level of photography, but it’s important that some articles target those getting their feet wet. To get the beginner to learn to see the patterns in nature and be shown a few ways to capture them is a great first step.

    I think it was a great story. Even as long as I have been photographing landscapes, i still learned something here. Also, I had a young beginner ask me how to make better photos, so I emailed this story to her. Perhaps, she will subscribe now. This magazine ahs been the best teacher of all! Thanks Russ!

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