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The Ultimate Guide To Using Textures in Photography

May 10, 20246 min read

Textures add layers and help create the illusion of depth, making images more engaging and three-dimensional. - Alana Lee

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Defining Textures in Art and Photography

Textures in photography and fine art refer to the perceived surface quality of objects within an image. They can be tactile, implied by visual cues, or digitally applied in post-production to add depth and interest to photographs. Textures in photography are the visual details that tell the viewer how a subject physically feels.

The Importance of Texture

Texture plays a pivotal role in fine art and photography, transforming flat, two-dimensional images into vivid, tactile experiences. It introduces visual depth, enhances the emotional impact, and can significantly increase the perceived value of photographs.

Challenges and Solutions Through Textures

Using Textures and Texture Overlays in Photography as creative solutions to common photographic challenges:

  • Lack of Visual Depth: Textures and texture overlays add layers and help create the illusion of depth, making images more engaging and three-dimensional.

  • Unique Style Difficulties: Custom textures can define a distinctive photographic signature. Enhance your photographic style with textures and ensure your images stand out.

  • Dull Photos: Textures can introduce vibrancy and intrigue to otherwise mundane shots. Textures can also help minimize distractions or less than ideal elements of a composition.

  • Creative Blocks: Experimenting with textures and texture overlays can spark creativity and inspire new projects.

  • Cost-Effective Art Creation: Digital textures and texture overlays reduce the need for expensive sets or locations. Furthermore, by using fine art photography textures you may be able to price your work higher because you have increased the perceived value of your art with a more refined look.

  • Emotional Impact: Textures can dramatically alter the mood of a photo, making it more evocative. When viewers connect on an emotional level with an image they are more likely to want to purchase and add it to their collection or create wall art from it.

Methods of Creating Digital Textures

Pre-existing Texture Libraries

Tight on time? You can purchase ready made digital art textures and texture overlays from stock image collections and independent artists. 

  • Pros: Saves time, offers a variety of options.

  • Cons: May lack originality, could incur costs, and may have copyright restrictions. You may not be allowed to enter your final images into photography competitions.

Creating Your Own Textures

Creating digital textures and texture overlays is easy using art supplies, objects and materials found around your house, or by photographing textures you find using your DSLR camera or even an iphone! If you are capturing fine close-up details you may want to consider using a macro lens when photographing textures.

  • Pros: DIY photography textures ensure originality and provide full creative control.

  • Cons: Time-consuming, requires skill in photography.

Digital Creation in Photoshop

Explore the artistic texture filters in Photoshop, or “paint” your own textures in Photoshop by using brushes and color palettes that inspire you. There are a variety of artistic brushes that come with the basic version of Photoshop, or you can purchase an endless variety of creative brushes from Adobe or individual vendors online. If you want to be completely original, you can even create your own Photoshop brushes and stamps to build your digital texture files.

  • Pros: Offers unmatched control, doesn't require physical materials.

  • Cons: Has a learning curve, can be time-intensive.

Applying Textures in Photoshop: A Basic Guide

Applying textures in Photoshop involves selecting the right texture, blending it with your original image using blend modes, and adjusting opacity and saturation for a harmonious integration. This process enhances the visual appeal and narrative depth of your photographs. You can even combine two or more digital textures, by texture blending in photoshop for more advanced and original effects. The same texture will look different depending on what image you are applying it to, so experiment and try different combinations to explore all of the creative possibilities!

There are several ways to add a texture to your image and it can be done in any photo editing software that allows layers. If you are using Photoshop, add the texture file as a layer above your image and then use blend modes to create various artistic effects.

Use the place embedded tool when bringing a texture into photoshop

Now that your digital texture or background is applied as a new layer in your Photoshop document, adjust your layer to blend it in seamlessly with your base image. In your layers panel reduce the opacity (drag the opacity slider, or type a value in the opacity text box) of your background, overlay or texture. Depending on the effect you would like to achieve you may want to add a layer mask to control what areas of the image are covered. I often brush the digital background or texture off the subject using a soft brush, especially from areas such as skin or clothing.

Make sure your digital background layer is active and create a layer mask by selecting Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal all (or click the button that looks like a little rectangle with the circle inside it at the bottom of the layers panel). This will add a white layer mask to your background image. Ensure you click on the white layer mask, select a black brush, and paint over any areas you want to hide or remove the digital background, overlay or texture. You can adjust the softness/hardness and opacity or flow of your brush to control how little or how much of the layer you reveal or hide. The great thing about using the layer mask method is that if you make a mistake then you can simply change your brush back to white and paint back over your mask to reveal more of the background.

Add a layer mask to remove texture from a subject in photoshop

In addition to using layer masks, also consider trying out different layer blend modes. The results you get depend on the colors and contrast of your image and the texture/digital background but some of my favorite blend modes are multiply, screen, overlay, soft-light and hard light.

To use blending modes, look for the box at the top of the layers panel that says Normal. By clicking the dropdown menu you can see all of the different options. Some of the most common blend modes used when editing textures in Photoshop are Multiply, Screen, Overlay and Soft Light. In the example below, the MULTIPLY blend mode is used over the base image to change the color tones, resulting in a darkening effect.

using blend modes in photoshop when adding textures to a photo

Texture Inspiration Gallery

Check out this series of before-and-after images demonstrating the transformative power of textures and texture overlays. This visual comparison not only inspires but also illustrates the practical application of textures in various photographic styles.

before and after example of adding a texture to a portrait of a ballet dancer

Before image @pexels-i-samkov-5255132. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image using a texture to add interest to the background of a portrait in photoshop

Before image @pexels-jj-jordan-5777416. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image of an owl using a texture to simplify the background of a photo in photoshop

Before image @pexels-erik-karits-19190193. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image of a still life using a texture to add interest to a background in photoshop

Before image @pexels-eneida-nieves-917012. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image of a minimalist image of apples on a pottery plate showing how to add a digital texture to the background in photoshop

Before image @pexels-karolina-grabowska-5202161. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image of a skateboarder showing how to add a texture for a grunge effect in photoshop

Before image @pexels-feruzbek-matkarimov-2885940. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image of the eiffel tower showing how to turn a travel photo into a vintage postcard using textures in photoshop

Before image @pexels-tove-liu-3867371. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image showing how to create a painterly photo using textures in photoshop

Before image @pexels-pouriya-kafaei-14859268. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

before and after image of a cat showing how to transform an image using textures in photoshop

Before image @pexels-monique-laats-736530. After edit by Alana Lee using textures from The Imaginator Studio

Want to learn more about creating your own textures and how to edit with them? Check out our comprehensive texture course:

Explore the photography course by Alana Lee called The Art of Texture: Creating and Editing with Textures in Photoshop

blog author image

Alana Lee

Creator, freelancer and consultant, Alana Lee helps people grow businesses through innovative ideas, services, digital products and education.

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