Use Repeating Elements for Stronger Images

David duChemin

One of the techniques used by graphic designers and other visual artists is the intentional use of repeated elements throughout the image. Those elements might be a shape, a colour, or both. We see the shadow of a person in the image once and it registers, but if we see it three times it’s more than a detail; it becomes a significant way in which we read the photograph, like a rhyme in a poem it creates a rhythm and the repetitions call our attention to that element even more. 
In the two images above, what are the repeating elements? How do they reinforce the story, or guide your eye around the frame?
Of course, there are limits to this idea. Repeat something four times and it might be powerful, but repeat it 100 times in the same image and it’s not really a repeated element so much as it is a pattern, and then it’s not the pattern that our eye goes to but to the breaking of that pattern. You see three or four penguins and you really notice each of them. You see 100 penguins and you see only a crowd. But put a flamingo in there and my eye will go to it immediately.
Repeated elements can also act like a trail of crumbs, one leading to the other through the frame, forming an implied line that pulls our eye in the intended direction, though with more subtlety than just using a line or a giant arrow saying, "Look this way."
Like all techniques, you can’t use it in every scene and there’s a danger of overuse, but begin to experiment with it. Look for it in the work of other photographers or in graphic designs.
David duChemin is the founder and Chief Executive Nomad of Craft & Vision. A world and humanitarian photographer, best-selling author, speaker, and adventurer, David can be found at  
Craft & Technique David duChemin

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