Using textures to enhance photographs is a creative technique that is often overlooked. The best part is that it can be achieved completely free and usually in a matter of seconds. A texture is essentially an image of anything with a relatively continuous surface. Examples include brick, scratched wood or metal, dirt, or even older film image like in my first example. It doesn’t need to be entirely uniform but the texture should be relatively consistent throughout to avoid being noticeable once it has been applied. Ideally you’ll want to create your own catalog of textures to refer back upon when it suits your edit. Anytime you see an interesting surface, take a shot and save it for later by tagging it with the keyword “texture” so you can search for it in your catalog. Below are two examples where I decided to use textures as a way of enhancing the mood or drama in my final image.
Using Textures in Portraits
Here is a shot taken last week of a Wesley Johnson, a model from my home town of Austin. The shot had a contemplative look to it and I felt that by adding a texture it would make it seem a bit more timeless. I opted for an old film photo found at a vintage store, an odd choice that ended up working well.I opened the edited image of Wesley in Photoshop and then layered the texture on top. I then chose to transform the texture by stretching it so that some of the more prominent scratches would be out of the frame as they were too distracting. Then I simply alternated various blending modes on the texture layer to see what felt right. I landed on the blending mode of screen which I felt left the overall mood intact while adding a bit of nostalgia to the image. Finally, I lowered the layer opacity to around 25% and very slightly masked out some of the effect from his face to prevent it from becoming too distracting. Five minutes top from start to finish.
Using Textures on Landscapes
This next shot was taken in southern Colorado as a massive storm approached. The scene already had a ton of drama and I thought adding a texture would enhance the timeless feel of the aging building. The texture I decided on was a rocky patch of dirt that I literally stepped outside to shoot 20 minutes prior to writing this article.Again I imported both into Photoshop and stacked them accordingly. Using the transform command I resized and stretched the texture so that it aligned with my primary shot and shuffled through blending modes until voila. In this case, the screen mode worked best with an opacity of around 15%. Subtlety is often your friend when blending textures.
Using Textures in Google Nik Analog Efex Pro 2
An alternative to shooting or downloading your own textures is to use Google’s free plugin, Google Analog Efex Pro 2. This plugin has an incredible array of surfaces to choose from including libraries of dirt and scratches, light leaks, and photo plates. Furthermore, you can control the intensity of the effect as well as where it appears in the image using Google’s control points functionality. A quick free and very effective way to achieve the same results.
Often times it’s easy to forget this technique even exists but when used sparingly and with caution, it can create some amazing results that will help your photos standout from the occasional snapshot. Next time you’re editing, give it a shot and see what happens. You may be surprised.