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Tips for Texturing Photographs

A Guest post by Mary Andrade from Pam Photography.

Recently while I was processing an image, my husband, Peter, asked “Why take a perfectly good photograph and add texture?” I paused, fair question. I use texturing as to create unique one of a kind images. Recognizing that in almost every aspect of photography there are “rules of the road” to understand, and then knowingly break, I tried to gather more information about tips and techniques. I had trouble turning up information, so I reached out to Paul Grand and Jill Ferry, the creators of Flypaper Textures, whose work I have admired on Flickr. They have been gracious enough to answer my many questions, and share some images to illustrate key points.

Step 1: Pick an image that is a good candidate for texturing

First and foremost, texturing is not a way to fix photographs with problems. You know, garbage in, garbage out. When you first begin texturing photographs, look through your high-quality images for subjects that have a soft quality (flowers, misty mornings, etc) or are simple in terms of composition and the number of elements.

Step 2: Pre-visualize your end result

Texturing can be overwhelming, there are a lot of choices, ways to blend, and different ways to alter your image. Looking at examples is a good way to get clear on your end goal. The Flypaper Textures group on Flickr is active and a great place to go for inspiration.

Here are some things to consider before you begin:

  • What style do you want the texture to help create in your final image? A painterly quality like Impressionism or Turner moodiness? Or perhaps an old-Victorian quality like Shabby Chic? Or maybe you want something with more of a grunge feel.
  • Do you want to alter or sculpt the light in your image? For example, do you want the sky to be darker?
  • Do you want to add interest to any empty spaces in your photograph?

For example look at the difference between Paul’s image of a vineyard and Jill’s image of a vase of flowers. Both have a very different style and feel.

1 Vineyards PG.jpg

2 Powder blue monday.jpg

Below are my before and after images of sunset at a nearby pier. I wanted a distressed feel to the photograph, to add more interest to the sky, but did not want to significantly affect the colors. I chose a combination of textures that preserved the orange and yellow colors of the sunset and created a distressed edge around the image.

3 Before Pier.jpg

4 After pier.jpg

Thinking about what you want your final image to look like, before you consider which textures to use, will help you narrow down viable candidates.

Step 3: Pick a texture and modify it if necessary

This is the hard part. Paul characterizes this as the holy grail, Jill encourages experimentation. Jill and I both recommend, that if something isn’t working, stop. Pick it up again later. The good news is that over time it will start to become instinctual. As you begin texturing try:

  • Matching the color of the texture with the photograph.
  • Matching the strength of the texture with the subject. For example, softer textures for flowers, stronger textures for structures.
  • Looking for textures that can add interest to the photograph’s empty spaces.
  • Finding textures that will help sculpt the light. For example, a texture that has a darker area to help darken the sky.
  • Modifying a texture so that distracting spots and unwanted marks do not distract from the main areas of focus in your image.
  • Selecting a texture that will work with the sky. If you select the right texture for the sky, the other elements of the photograph will start to fall into place.

Take a look at two images that Jill created using different textures. There is a different feel and mood to them.

5 Flowers with texture 1 JF.jpg

6 Flowers with texture 2 JF.jpg

Or the unique results that Paul has achieved using different colored textures

7 Misty pines 1.jpg

8 Misty Pines 2.jpg

Below is an image of a monarch butterfly. I wanted a “shabby chic” feel to the image so I chose textures that were complimentary in color and strength. I reduced the opacity so the “crackle” feel of the texture didn’t overwhelm the image and removed the texture from the butterfly to help it standout.

9 Butterfly with purple flowers.jpg

As you start developing more experience with how textures will impact your images, Paul suggests:

  • Trying a cool texture for images that are too warm. For example, if a sky is too blue choose a texture with green color.
  • Change the texture’s color when you want a cross-processed effect

Step 4: Combine the texture (s) and the photograph

I won’t go through the step-by-step on how to combine textures and your photograph using Photoshop, but rather provide you with some things to consider as you merge them together.

Firstly, simplify the photograph’s native texture first. This may sound contradictory, take texture out so you can add it back in. You are creating a smooth canvas on which to layer elements that you personally select. Ways to do this include: Filters in CS5 such as HDR, Daubs, Watercolor all at a very low setting (around 10%) or the Topaz Labs Simplify filter.

Secondly, Use layer blend modes.

  • Paul and Jill’s go to blend modes are: Soft Light, Overlay, Multiple, and Hard Light.
  • Change the opacity to modify the texture’s impact.
  • Scroll through the blend modes with the opacity at 50%.
  • Duplicate a texture and try a different blend mode and/or opacity

Paul and Jill include “recipes” on their Flypaper and Flickr sites. I find these are often helpful when trying to get my head around what will give me a certain look and feel. Their recipes are more precise, but here are a few rules of thumb:

  • Soft look = soft texture + Screen blend mode + low opacity
  • Dramatic look = strong texture + Hard Light blend mode + low opacity

For example, compare these two images in terms of the strength of the texture and the quality of the effect.

10 Another beach.jpg

11 brushes.jpg

Overall Tips

There is a lot to consider when texturing. Here are some basic tips that will help you:

  • Don’t over-texture. Step back, turn off textures you’ve added and critically evaluate what you really need and what positively adds to the image.
  • Use texture to enhance a great image, not overwhelm it.
  • Layer textures, and then evaluate each one’s impact on the final product. Don’t be afraid to delete what is not necessary.
  • Texturing is a creative process that takes time and vision. When things are not working stop, or start over.

As I began texturing, I explored many free and fee options. I even started photographing textures myself. It’s not easy to get the quality and variety that I have found with Flypaper Textures. Paul and Jill’s background and experience shows in the textures they offer. Here is their link for more information and recipes.

For this image, I used Cirrus Skies and Tempest Seas from Flypaper Textures new Spring Painterly pack.

12 White Sands of New Mexico.jpg

About Paul Grand and Jill Ferry

Paul and Jill formed their international collaboration after discovering a shared interest in texturing on via Flickr. Paul, a formally trained artist, and Jill, a photographer and librarian, are both represented by Getty images and are successful book illustrators.

About Mary Andrade

Mary is one half of pam (Peter and Mary) photography. We are a husband and wife team that discovered our shared passion for photography a few years ago. We characterize it as a unique form of couples’ therapy that requires negotiation, compromise….and most difficult….the sharing of equipment. You can see our portfolio and blog at: Pam Photography.

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