Repetition in image making can be used in a number of different ways. We are attracted to repetition in photography because the human eye craves organized, strong visuals. When we have the ability to capture repetition to deliver a story, we often achieve very satisfying results. Whether it’s creating a background for a captivating portrait, or using it to deliver a concept, repetition is a tool that can be used in many different ways. Here are some of the methods repetition can be used to elevate your photography.
Repetition As Design
Repetition can be used to create clean, minimal, and organized designs. The best way to do this is to shoot at a long focal length, such as 85mm and above, to focus in on one area of your scene. This way, you can pick out elements of an environment that repeat with one another, and crop out anything else that would disrupt that harmony. For example, focusing on the windows of a building is sure to create a photograph that bring out elements of organized harmony.
When shooting for repetition as design, look for scenes with interesting colour palettes, lines that compliment each other, and repetitive elements as elements of design. Think of the scene as a graphic design. Is there harmony in the image? Does one element overwhelm another? Does the scene feel organized and in order?
Repetition in Concept
Repetition can be used to aid in a concept of a story or a narrative in a body of work. It can further cement your idea, and illustrate your thoughts without the help of a description. For example, if you’re working on a series about climate change, repetition can be a powerful tool to document the issue.
When thinking about using repetition to help your concept, ask yourself: how does repeating the subject matter make the viewer feel? Does it overwhelm them? Does it comfort them? Can you use it to prove an idea or generate an emotional response?
Only break repetition intentionally. If an image seems like repetition is the core theme, and is suddenly broken off or falls off the frame in a disorganized manner, the theme of repetition will be lost on the viewer and weaken the image. Portraits are a great way to break repetition. Adding a model into the frame will not only immediately make them the focal point of the image, but the rest of the background becomes a clean canvas for the model to stand out in.
When choosing where to place your subject matter to disrupt repetition, try placing them in the centre of the frame, or towards the end of the “line” if your repetitive elements fade off in the distance.
Most of the time, repetition must be intentional for it to be understood as repetition. If you’ve shot an image that has repetitive elements in it, but doesn’t quite stand out as being intentionally repetitive, there are a few ways to tweak it for improvement. Let’s take a look at the image of swimmers below.
To emphasize the volume of swimmers, a closer shot would achieve the theme we want. If you’re still on-scene, finding a spot closer to the swimmers would be beneficial, or swapping for a lens with a longer focal length. If you’re not on-scene and are editing this image in post, cropping it so that the swimmers are the focus of the image would work as well. Although, if you’re doing it this way, note that you may lose some of the quality of your image.
Looking at the difference between the two, the cropped version feels more active and charged, compared to the previous version which feels more isolating.
Now that you have this in mind, a fun activity to try would be looking through your archive and see: what images can be cropped for repetition? How does this change the overall tone of your image? Try changing up the perspective and you may be surprised by your results.