Returning to the continuing series “Seeing Lessons,” I invited my friend Bill Vriesema to share even more ways photography—learning to see through the lens—can change the way we see the world.

Seeing patterns through the lens

by Bill Vriesema

One of visual feasts that surrounds us is patterns. By simple definition, a pattern is a group of repeating shapes, lines, or colors. Perhaps we think of clothing, carpets, a patchwork quilt, or wallpaper most often when we think of patterns. But once you start looking for (or begin to “see”) patterns through a lens, you begin to realize that they are absolutely everywhere!

Aiming a camera at a grouping of lily pads or a bunch of pumpkins is probably not one the first things that comes to mind when you carry your camera to family events, walks in the park, or on vacation. However, the following are pretty normal scenes we can recognize and relate to.

lily pads

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Since we heat our home with firewood, this pattern is always present around our house.

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The beach along the lake offers many patterns.


Or the sun shimmering in shallow water.

Lake Reflections

And a stand of pine trees in a North Michigan forest.

Pine trees

Treasures can be found in a local Conservatory where plant fronds overlap each other.


The beauty of a close-up of a cluster of pine needles shows us another world if we dare to get in close.

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I’m not sure exactly why shooting patterns appeals so much to me. I do know that my personality falls in line with what is labeled as a “harmonizer.” I’d rather have group consensus than own the winning opinion. I dislike competition, discussing politics, and to some extent, conflict. This is neither good, nor bad; it’s just how I was created.

Could it be that a pattern seen through the lens represents harmony in some fashion? Patterns are a “de-stresser” for me. Much of it is in order. Much is structured. Lines and shapes are dependable.  Not a lot of conflict going on visually.

The point is that once you begin to recognize repeating shapes and lines, and once you start intentionally framing some of your photos with only these shapes and lines, patterns begin to appear everywhere.

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Gary Braasch is a professional nature photographer who published a book called Photographing the Patterns of Nature (Amphoto, 1990). Braasch states that patterns “reveal the hidden poetry that only stays hidden when we don’t take the time to look deeply enough.” Aside from the pleasure of shooting such images, shooting patterns changes the way you see the world. You begin to “see” the world for all its richness, its harmony, its dependability, its structure, its rhythm…its beauty.

Part of successful pattern photography is intentionally not including elements that detract from the pattern. But that is not always the case. Sometimes it adds a little “drama” or interest to the photo.

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Sometimes tilting the camera diagonally adds interest as well.

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It’s quite apparent that we will never exhaust all the possibilities for viewing patterns around us. Seeing a pattern through the lens is a way to take a selective part of a scene that represents the whole. For example, seeing this photo of pine bark evokes the thought of a whole pine tree.


Or this section of a fern plant.

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As humans, we are also a representative of the whole—the whole human race. We are individuals, but we are also part of a beautiful pattern that is also part of God’s creation.

I wonder sometimes how God sees us. Sure, He sees us as individuals created in His image. But wouldn’t He also see us collectively as a large pattern—perhaps a “hidden poetry that only stays hidden when we don’t take the time to look deeply enough”?

Maybe someday when we all live in harmony we will represent the most beautiful of all of God’s creative patterns. Maybe to some extent it is—or can be that way now—we just need to learn to “see.”

Certainly that will be the ultimate visual feast.

You can see more patterns at my web site:

Or my Flickr web site:

Or check out other photographers pattern photos on Flickr: and


Bill Vriesema

(Photo credit: all photos used with permission from Bill Vriesema)

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