How To Shoot Better Detail, Pattern, And Texture Photography

When we think about travel photography, we generally envision beautiful vistas in exotic locations; mountain ranges, paradise beaches, towering cities or jungles. People and culture; interesting faces, traditional costumes, foreign food and festivals. A great way to capture these aspects are through details, pattern, and texture photography.

Photo by Alan Stock.
On a Thai cooking course, when we visited the market to buy fresh ingredients. I focused on the detail of hands of the instructor showing us the different types of garlic. Photo by Alan Stock.

Of course, photos like this are necessary to set the scene and capture the feel of a place. They’re the “big sells” that make us want to go to that place or maybe learn more about it. In travel photography you need them. But in this article, we’re going to look at another approach–how we can also use details, patterns, and texture photography to add to the story of a place and increase the artistic value of a travel collection.

Start Taking Amazing Pattern And Texture Photography

You can also use these ideas for many other types of photography, but travel photos can make really good use of them. Let’s look at some different subjects and see where we can use details and patterns in our photographs.

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General Travel Photography

Opportunities to use details in your travel photographs are so plentiful that I could write a book full of scenarios – and get nowhere close to covering them all! Instead, I’ll just highlight some common subjects where you can take advantage of details and patterns during your travels. In the following sections, we’ll also look at scenery, nature, and architecture.

Markets

  •  Products are often laid out closely, with many of the same item grouped together. These can be great to isolate in photographs. Especially if they are something typical to the region that you’re in. Shooting from above works well, creating patterns and removing distractions from the frame.An added bit of advice: It depends on the country, but generally, it’s polite to check with stall owners to make sure it’s ok to take photos of their wares before snapping away.
Goods laid out in displays can make for good patterns like these traditional Hmong designs on purses in Laos.
Goods laid out in displays can make for good patterns like these traditional Hmong designs on purses in Laos.

Food and Drink

  • Food markets are great for close-up photography highlighting unique foods, fruits, and vegetables of a country. When you see interesting food and drink in other circumstances–maybe in a restaurant or at a food cart–get in close and look for interesting textures, patterns, and colours you can exploit.Think about presentation too. Make adjustments if you think it will help, and maybe resist the urge to plunge in and eat half of it before you take your photo!
Markets and food stalls are great places to capture lots of the same food without packaging. Photo by Alan Stock.
Markets and food stalls are great places to capture lots of the same food without packaging, like these fresh chilies at a Laos market. Photo by Alan Stock.

Cultural Details

  • Keep your eyes peeled for smaller things when you’re exploring a place which could be photographed and give cultural clues to a viewer. For example, let’s take hats. In the right context, separate photographs of a cowboy hat, a turban, a beret, or a straw farmer’s hat can give big clues to the kind of location or culture that the photograph is taken in. (Admittedly together they might point to a strange new version of the Village People!) Cultural detail can crop in many forms–objects, animals, architecture, food…A photo of a small detail can tell you a lot about the place in question, so look out for them.
Cultural Details like these prayer wheels in a Nepalese temple can be isolated - here with context we can identify these as prayer wheels and the markings clearly identify them as foreign. Photo by Alan Stock.
Cultural Details like these prayer wheels in a Nepalese temple can be isolated – here with context we can identify these as prayer wheels and the markings and colours help to set the tone. Photo by Alan Stock.

Art and Language 

  • Look for art and language in your destination, such as written signs, paintings, murals, magazines, books, and newspapers. Photographing these tells you a lot about a culture and can be a good complement to other cultural photos. If you’re taking photographs for commercial use, do check copyright laws and respect artists. Photographing a painting for example and then selling that photo can be morally and legally dicey.
Chinatown in Chiang Mai. Photo by Alan Stock.
The characters, image, and colours help us identify this location as oriental (Chiang Mai’s Chinatown in this case). Photo by Alan Stock.

People

  • Sometimes focusing on the details of a person can tell you something about them without having to take a traditional portrait. Close-ups of hands are popular in travel photos because for elderly people or outdoor workers like farmers, the hands can tell a story in their own right–wrinkled, weathered, or decorated. However, hands are a bit of a cliche these days! Other examples of details you could focus on are clothing, eyes, makeup, tattoos, or hair.
The windswept black sand at Muriwai beach, New Zealand.
The windswept and sparkling black sand at Muriwai beach, New Zealand. Focusing in on this one area helps to capture the strange colours of the sand here and also the nice patterns created by the wind. Photo by Alan Stock

Scenery

When looking at scenery that you want to photograph, keep your eye out for where you can isolate to take advantage of attractive patterns in the scene which draw the eye. Here are some ideas for using patterns and details in scenery photographs:

Rural Land

  • Fields and their boundaries such as hedges or fences and irrigation systems can make for good patterns. Usually a higher location like a hill or viewpoint is a good place to shoot them from. Power lines, roads or paths threading through a landscape can also look nice, especially from long distances where long routes can form lines and patterns on the scene.
Terraced farming often creates nice patterns you can exploit in your photographs. Photo by Alan Stock.
Terraced farming or ploughed fields are particularly good at creating nice patterns you can exploit in your photographs, like these terraces in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo by Alan Stock.

Sand and Snow

  • Sand and snow have a uniform colour and are often shaped into interesting and pleasing patterns by the weather. Dunes are great for this, and snow drifts or windswept snow on mountains can form amazing patterns too.

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Water

  • Water is a good place for patterns and you can zoom in to catch details. On flat water, take advantage of ripples and reflections. In the sea, look for patterns including lots of waves from afar, or zoom into individual waves to catch them breaking or peaking.On very windy days a breaker streaming spray can be a photo in itself. Waves crashing on to rocks and objects can also look amazing even when up close. But you’ll need a high shutter speed or sports mode to catch it in action.
Photo by Alan Stock.
Surging breakers on a tour of the South coast of Australia. This photo of detail really helps to capture the essence of the incoming stormy weather of the time. Photo by Alan Stock.

Urban Settings

  • In urban settings, buildings and street layouts merge into interesting patterns when viewed from a distance. If the buildings are similar in architecture or colour this can be very effective. Try zooming into parts of your view and see if isolating these makes for a better photo. City skylines can be good for patterns too, especially if silhouetted against the sky by a sunset or oncoming sunlight.
Bristol, England. Photo by Alan Stock.
Bristol, England. On the far side of the city, the mish-mash of buildings develops into chaotic street patterns. Photo by Alan Stock.

Rooftops

  • Rooftops and towers in cities are good vantage points to find patterns or focus in on details. If you get the chance to go up a really high structure, such as a viewing tower or wheel then this is even easier. City lights at night can produce great patterns especially from above.
Thanks to their regimented nature, city lights often create interesting patterns from a distance.
Melbourne, Australia – taken from the Sky Tower. Thanks to their regimented nature, city lights often create interesting patterns from a distance. Photo by Alan Stock.

Aerial Photography

  • Aerial photography is an easy way to find interesting patterns in scenery. For the committed, drones are becoming increasingly popular, and remove the need for helicopter or light aircraft rides that only the richest photographers can afford.If you’re flying on a passenger plane, always try to get a window seat. If you’re lucky you can get some good shots onto the landscape below which is a goldmine of patterns from thousands of feet in the air. Just get your camera as close to the glass as possible, use apolarizer if possible to reduce reflections, and bear in mind you can crop that annoying plane wing out afterwards.
Photo by Alan Stock.
This closeup of fallen cherry blossoms helps to reinforce the time of year in relation to the other photos in the same collection. Photo by Alan Stock.

Flora and Fauna

With wildlife and plants, try including close-up shots to capture detail or patterns on the subject. This is extra effective if the subject is something typical to the region you are traveling in. Iconic wildlife or plants can sometimes be identified from markings or patterns without seeing the whole subject. For example, a zebra’s stripes.

If you have a strong close-up photo that isn’t too obvious what it’s of, you can always give context by putting another photo showing the whole animal/plant/whatever next to it in your collection. Remember, nature is full of patterns you can exploit.

Bonus Tips:

  • Plants of the same type can look good and create patterns when layered against each other. Try getting in close, or shoot from above or the side to isolate them from their surroundings.

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  • Leaves can have interesting textures and patterns. Epecially when light is shining through them. Additionally, bark is also great for close-up photographs.
Photo by Alan Stock.
Photo by Alan Stock.
  • Try zooming into animal skin, fur, or bird feathers. This can even reveal what the creature is to the viewer if they have distinctive colours or markings.
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Can you guess what it is? Photo by Alan Stock.
  • Close-ups of wildlife’s eyes and faces are always good. Just make sure to keep the eyes in focus. You may want to use a high shutter speed or sports mode, as wildlife is not usually very cooperative for portraits! Check out our Wildlife Photography Tips article for some great advice.
Never work with animals, children, or butterflies. Anyone who has tried to photograph butterflies knows how unpredictable they can be! Patience is a virtue, folks! Photo by Alan Stock.
Never work with animals, children, or butterflies. Anyone who has tried to photograph butterflies knows how unpredictable they can be! Patience is a virtue, folks! Photo by Alan Stock.
  • Insects tend to get ignored in a lot of travel photography, but keep your eye out for them. Tropical locations especially have some amazing insects of all shapes, sizes, and colours. Including a photo of a weird insect you’d never find at home can help a travel collection feel more exotic.You could go down the macro lens route to get this kind of shot, but they’re expensive, and many travelers won’t want to lug around an extra lens just for that. A macro lens adapter is a decent alternative, or you can use a good zoom lens from a distance and just crop the heck out of the photo afterwards!
Photo by Alan Stock.
You can isolate parts of buildings to capture their form in interesting ways. Photo by Alan Stock.

Architecture

Photos of architectural details can capture the style or mood of a structure without even having to show the whole thing. Furthermore, they can just compliment other photos you have of the subject. This will help flesh out the viewer’s perception of the place. You can create artistic photographs by focussing on a small area of a building, even if the structure as a whole doesn’t look great. Here’s some ways to incorporate architectural details into your collection:

  • Doors, windows, and arches often capture the essence of an architectural style and can have plenty of character of their own.
  • Look up! Roofs and ceilings can be interesting enough in their own right. Especially in historical buildings. They’re also prime candidates for nice patterns.
A historical ceiling. Photo by Alan Stock.
A historical ceiling. Photo by Alan Stock.
  • Groups of windows, or multi-pane windows on big buildings, can make for great patterns. Also look out for reflections you can use in windows. You can use them for different effects and abstract photographs if you zoom into them.
Big businesses love their shiny mirrored windows – so take advantage! Photo by Alan Stock.
  • Use uniform constructions such as lines of pillars, doorways, or arches to incorporate patterns into your photograph. Play around with your positioning to achieve different effects with them. A line of these leading away from you can convey scale. Looking at them from a 90-degree angle can also make a pleasing photo using their shapes to create structure.
These uniform arches at Angkor Wat temple made it possible to make a pattern framing composition. Photo by Alan Stock.
These uniform arches at Angkor Wat temple made it possible to make a pattern framing composition. Photo by Alan Stock.
  • Walls can tell you a lot about a building even when close up. Old buildings often have a lot of character in their walls, maybe being cracked or moss-covered. Look for interesting textures and details on the walls you can isolate and zoom in on.
Walls of temples and shrines in Bali are often constructed in this unique style, making it worth zooming into the detail of the pattern for an interesting photo in its own right. Photo by Alan Stock.
Walls of temples and shrines in Bali are often constructed in this unique style, making it worth zooming into the detail of the pattern for an interesting photo in its own right. Photo by Alan Stock.
  • Take a step back and look at the shape and form of the architecture. Sometimes these shapes are distinctive and can make for a good photo if you compose closer frames which just capture part of them. They can also hint to the viewer what they are looking at without seeing the whole structure. For example, the distinctive steeple of a church or the curved glass of a modern skyscraper.
Photo by Alan Stock.
Clay pots drying in the sun, in the pottery hotpot of Bhaktapur city, Nepal. Photo by Alan Stock.

Look For Those Patterns and Details!

So when you’re out taking photographs, whether traveling or not, keep an eye out for details you can capture. Are there little things which, when photographed, will help to add to the story of the place that you are showing your viewer? Look for patterns in your scenes you can isolate to help add interest and artistic flair to your photos.

The more you get into the habit of doing this, the better you get at it. If something catches your attention, why not isolate it and get a photo of that detail? Get closer, and see what the results are. We live in the digital age where you can delete photos with no penalty so take advantage and experiment. Have fun and we would love to see your examples of patterns and details in your travel photography. Until next time folks!

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About the author

Alan Stock

Photographer, traveller and writer hailing from the United Kingdom. I love exploring new places and cultures, I like to learn and teach others. I also enjoy films, videogames and good food!

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