A Few Tips on Integrating Textures in Your Photographs

Jessica is no stranger to EW Couture Collection. You might remember the first monthly giveaway held here on the blog. Jessica was part of it.

She is an extremely talented photographer with a non-traditional style. You can definitely see in her work that her background in visual arts - painting, printmaking and sculpture - is a big influence in her style.

Jessica has created her own very unique textures that she's been using in her post processing. Personally I am a big fan of the latest set - texture pack three.
... So, I thought to myself, who better to ask and invite over to offer a few tips about using textures in post processing?
Please welcome her, and enjoy the tips she's sharing. Do check out her textures, if you are not familiar with them yet. (elena wilken)

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I was reading a post on a photography board the other day. A photographer was saying that she would no longer be using textures in her images because she'd never sold a photo to a client with a texture in it. As a creator and lover of textures, this post stopped me in my tracks. I wasn't familiar with the photographer's work who'd posted the message, but I had a pretty strong suspicion as to why her photos that used textures hadn't sold: The textures probably weren't terribly well integrated.

Textures are like any tool -- properly used, they can help you. Improperly used, they can ruin your image. I believe that applying textures is often trickier than other aspects of post-processing, because unlike actions that provide relatively quick and easy road maps to achieve a desired result, editing with textures is a much more open-ended process. The same texture in different photographs, in different modes can look quite different.

Here are a few tips for working with textures so that you can create images that will not only sell, but will also help to distinguish you from the competition in an increasingly saturated marketplace.

Pairing Texture and Image

I watch cooking shows on TV and listen intently as the chefs discuss how to pair wine with an entree. They carefully consider the flavors in their dish and then debate how those flavors will enhance or clash with the flavor profiles in the wine. At the most basic,  Merlot is too powerful for a delicate fish and a Chardonnay will not stand up to a steak. You as the artist have to make these same types of assessments.

When you're fusing textures with images, pay close attention to your subject matter and environment.
For example, I rarely use textures when I shoot newborns in a studio, because adding a texture to would seem extraneous. As you can see in the photograph to the left, the entire focus is on the baby. Adding a texture to a photo like this would be a distraction. However, I am using a texture in the photo to the right. It's a subtle texture (Blue Velvet from TP2 with a very slight gaussian blur added) and it works in this instance for a variety of reasons. First, the setting is different.  Instead of a modern studio approach, I've posed the baby in her parent's backyard in an antique buggy surrounded by greenery. Since the shot is not a close up, I have plenty room in the composition to play with. Because I'm shooting at a distance with a wide open aperture, everything except my subject matter is soft, which helps it to absorb the detail in the texture without becoming too busy.
Basically, the more "open space" I have in an image, the more license I have to play with texture.
However, I still kept it very subtle because my photo's focal point is a sleeping baby and anything more noticeable would seem at odds with what the portrait is trying to convey.

Generally speaking, I think our subjects grow into textures. I tend to use more conservative textures on  young kids and families and then begin experimenting with wilder textures on teens and young adults. But it all depends. So much is based upon the subject's personality and the mood captured at that moment. Here are some examples.


Getting Rid of Texture Over the Skin

Often, the biggest mistakes I see regarding the use of textures in portrait photography relate to the subject's skin. If you leave texture over the skin, most likely it is going to be very unflattering to your subject. But, if you simply erase the texture from the subject's skin tones, often the skin will no longer match the rest of the photograph. This will look bad.

I use a combination of masking and painting directly on top of a texture to get it off the skin, yet maintain unified tones. Here are two examples. In the first photo, you can tell that my original photo is back lit and underexposed (embarrassing but true). You do not have to use underexposed photos to use textures, but using these images as examples makes for dramatic before & after shots to demonstrate what I'm talking about.


A pretty basic way to fix an underexposed shot is by adding a warm, fairly bright texture. The texture I chose is "Thin Gold Line" from TP3. My young couple is hip and edgy and the intensity of the markings of the texture will fit their wardrobe and personalities. All I do is place the texture over the photograph in layers, select "Overlay" in 100% mode. To get rid of texture, I select some of the bright yellow tones (because my subject is dark, the light color I'm painting will help to brighten it up in "overlay" mode, plus it will eliminate the texture which I do not want to appear over the skin). You can see below what the texture looked like after I painted on top of it.


Here is another example of my couple. I converted the image to black and white and then picked "Corroded" from TP2 to lay over the top of it in "Screen" mode to add light and softness. To add even more light, I painted with soft white brush over the areas in the texture where the skin tones would appear to give it a slightly ethereal look. To add emphasis to the eyes, using a mask, I got rid of the screened back texture over my subject's eyes which eliminated the hazy softness of the screened texture and helped to establish the focal point of the photo. By playing with contrast and light here, I think I complimented the emotion captured in the photo and added a touch of intimacy.

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Jessica Drossin is a natural light photographer working in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. A self-described texture addict, she creates and uses textures in the vast majority of her photography work.

You can follow Jessica on Facebook through the FB Texture group, or browse more of her photography work at Jessica Drossin Photography.