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  • Writer's picturePaul Cotter

Unity and Variety

Artistic black-and-white view of rocks at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California

I've always wondered: why do so many people want others to be exactly like them? They won’t be happy unless everyone else looks like them, thinks like them, votes like them and worships like them.


Why would we want a sea of sameness?


When I taught photography, we discussed the Principles of Design as they relate to effective photographic composition. Two of the principles, Unity and Variety, are relevant here.


Unity is the visual glue that helps everything in the picture work together as a cohesive whole. Unity is important — but it can be a drawback if it's taken too far. Imagine a photo of a plain piece of paper filling the frame. Lots of unity. But not very interesting, right?


This is where Variety comes in. Variety adds spice by giving the eye something to focus on, something to compare and contrast with other things in the picture. It could be different shapes, or contrasting tones, or a mix of different textures – anything that brings one or more different elements into the frame.


Whether it’s a photograph, a meal or a geographic region, things get more interesting when a little variety is added.


Think of New Orleans. It’s a vibrant, eclectic city, unlike anyplace else in the United States. It's unique because it was created by several cultures converging in one spot – Acadians, Cajuns, Creoles, African-Americans, Native Americans, French, Spaniards, Haitians, Sicilians and more – all interacting, all contributing something to the rare cultural gumbo that became the birthplace of jazz.


Unity bonds us together. Variety enriches us. It's another lesson from photography that can be applied to life.




Photographer’s Footnote: I photographed these variegated rocks at Point Lobos near Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.



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