This is a guide covering texture in photography.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
- Definition of texture in photography
- Best settings and camera tips to photograph textures
- Three aspects that aid texture in photography
- How to find texture for your photography
- When it would be important for a photograph to show texture
- 5 ways to capture texture
- And more
Let’s dive in!
What is Texture in Photography?
So, what is Texture in photography? Texture is simply defined as the way we capture the depth of a surface. It could be smooth or hard, depending on what you need the picture to project.
If you’re shooting a photo to emphasize small details within an object that makes it unique, for example, the interesting bumps and textures on human skin, you might want to use a hyper detailed and harsher picture to depict the details we often don’t notice.
On the other hand, if you want to highlight a model’s glowing, flawless skin, then a softer texture is definitely for you.
If you are more of a visual learner, check out this informative video (2 minutes) by Louvre at First Sight:
Best Settings and Camera Tips to Photograph Textures
The first of answering “what is texture in photography” involves camera settings.
In order to bring out a texture to its fullest, the optical quality of the lens cannot be overemphasized. This is the reason portrait photo enthusiasts are willing to spend thousands on buying expensive premium lenses.
Premium lenses generally excel in terms of image sharpness.
The most practical way to get the sharpest photo, so that the object’s Texture comes out, is to set the aperture of the lens to a critical point.
The lens always has the sharpest point at a certain aperture opening, usually in the f / 5.6-f / 8 range. It is this feature that we must find out first every time we use a new lens.
To be able to show the impression of depth or dimension, the direction of arrival (fall) of light should also be paid attention to.
Light coming from a low angle (side) to the surface will make the texture pop. The resulting shadow shows the surface is uneven.
Positioning yourself by managing your distance and choosing the right type of light is also important. A surface with a horizontal position will show better Texture when photographed with morning or evening light.
Meanwhile, a vertical surface will show a better texture if taken when the sun is overhead. Again, a successful texture shot should give the viewer a “feel” of the surface.
When it comes to textures, the first thing to keep in mind is aiming for a close-up. If you are using a DSLR, the closest you can get is between the object and the focal plane of your camera.
You can check this minimum distance by referring to the number on your lens. What can you do to get the best close up? Macro lenses are made precisely for this purpose.
Also called ‘flat field lenses’, it ensures your images stay flat unlike other ordinary lenses. It’s your best option for guaranteeing a sharp focus.
What’s the difference between macro lenses and zoom lenses? Unlike zoom lenses, macro lenses have a fixed focal length (they’re usually prime lenses). The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 is a great affordable option for macro lenses if you’re interested in exploring your options without causing too much damage to your finances.
Having a prime lens also means producing sharper images at a faster rate, and they’re very much durable compared to other lenses.
Let’s say you’re still exploring your options and you’re not sure about getting a new gadget. You can experiment with the macro modes that exist in the camera you already own:
Just press the ‘flower’ button!.
It allows you to get a good close up. However, this mode can sometimes result in softer images as your camera would have to work at a lower aperture. With more experimenting, you can avoid this.
What are the Three Aspects that Aid Texture in Photography?
There are three aspects of composition that are very important in texture photography, namely: Contrast, curves, and patterns.
By paying attention to these three factors, you can definitely make your texture photo more vibrant. This is important in understanding texture photography and in executing it well.
The styles for contrast can be divided into two main types:
- Tonal contrast
- Color Contrast
Both of these styles are highly effective for capturing textures in an image.
You can play around with textures in the picture to highlight the contrast— keep in mind that contrasts can emphasize textures and make them stand out more.
You can make your job a whole lot easier by picking objects that already have natural contrasts, like the layers of a certain rock formation. Explore various environments and you’ll find that these objects exist almost everywhere.
Alternatively, you can choose a background that naturally contrasts the object you’re trying to shoot. If you are able to pull this off, you can make sure your audience will pay attention to your object as the textured areas will emphasize some neat details.
Contrasting backgrounds can also mean using colors or experimenting with tones— for example, using a clean, crisp white background to capture green grapes.
Other than using colors and picking objects with natural contrast, you can also make use of side lights to clarify your objects even better.
Textures can often pop up in curves as well. Curves are an amazing tool to experiment with composition.
There are two main types of curves that are relevant for textures:
- Leading curves
- Non-leading curves
I. Leading Curves
Leading curves are useful for pointing the viewer’s eyes to the center point of your picture, thus highlighting your primary object.
II. Non-Leading Curves
Vice versa, non-leading curves sway the attention away from the center point, simply adding an emotional element or some informational components to the textures of the image.
An example of this would be the patterns naturally found in a fern leaf.
Curves only work great if they are harmonious with the picture and are able to communicate its message. You can try exploring patterns as they are productive in making certain subjects stand out.
Be careful when picking patterns, though, simplistic patterns can translate as bland and boring. Bring in some creativity with your patterns!
What’s the best way to pick texture patterns? Generally, you’d have two options:
- Multiple patterns
- Break patterns
I. Multiple Patterns
When you play with two or more patterns within a picture, that’s called multiple patterns (make sure they don’t clash, though— they ought to complement one another).
Think about a close-up image of a flower whereby the petals are matched with the flower’s center.
II. Break Patterns
Breaking patterns are executed by inserting a subject into a pattern— say, an interesting stone in a field of dandelions.
How to Find Texture for Your Photography?
In understanding what is texture photography, it’s also important to understand types of Texture in photography:
1. By Origin
I. Natural Texture
As the name suggests, natural texture occurs naturally, without interference. It occurs in natural objects around us, from birds’ feathers to blades of grass.
II. Artificial Texture
Artificial Texture is the texture intentionally created or results from the invention of paper, plastic metal and others to depict scenarios that are either in nature but not 100% real or other situations and scenarios that are fictional, that you won’t find in real life.
Patterns on buildings, human paintings or a line of cars are included here.
2. By Proximity
I. Primary Texture
Primary Texture is only contained in that specific object, and can only be seen by being in close proximity. This includes human skin, object surfaces, patterns on bee hives, and similar things.
II. Secondary Texture
These are textures that are proportionally seen from distance. Think of the patterns on mountains, buildings, in cities and across landscapes.
You may decide not to start photographing textures until you really need them, but if you can, then it's often useful to shoot interesting textural shots while you're out and about and build a small stock library.
In your journey towards understanding texture photography, you can also experiment with different equipment. Use a bigger lens to zoom in on clouds or a highly sensitive camera to obtain detailed view on certain surfaces.
When Would it Be Important for a Photograph to Show Texture?
Textures are often a matter of aesthetic and not context, though for some ideas it might work really well.
1. If you’re taking aesthetic photos, Texture can emphasize the beautiful or interesting things in each photo. This might be seen within nature or fashion photography.
Both types of photography can emphasize Texture to highlight the uniqueness of the subject. If you are dealing with close proximity and range, use the portrait setting and macro photography techniques to emphasize the details better.
2. The situational photo. Remember that photo of an army lining up in perfect sync – so much so that they looked as if they were edited? These kinds of occurrences could also benefit from texture emphasis.
It helps to make images more impactful, and allows you to tell a better story.
For this one, use more landscape-based techniques and approaches because you will mostly deal with secondary Texture that needs a more distanced view.
5 Tips to Capture Texture in Photography
We’ve talked much about the technicalities, but if you want to go out right now and give texture photography a try, here are some practical tips.
1. Getting the Lighting Right
There are several points to consider with lighting. If you are shooting in a place with insufficient lighting, your camera would have to overcompensate by increasing its ISO.
This isn’t ideal as you’d end up with noisy images. Experimenting with an external light for an indoor shoot may improve the quality of your pictures.
Shooting a reflective object is a little tricky, but the rule of thumb is to steer clear from direct sunlight.
Harsh, direct sunlight will capture undesirable reflections— you may attempt to imitate natural lighting by using an external light placed at an inclined angle.
You should be able to get away with using just one external light, but if you end up with harsh shadows, you might have to use extra lights to cancel out the shadows.
Take a moment to think about what you truly want out of this shoot. For example, shooting during the famous ‘golden hour’ will yield in textures varying in beautiful colours.
There’s a reason why this time of day is celebrated by photographers everywhere! Harsh light can bring out rust or brick texture well, but won’t work well with watery surfaces.
If you’re seeking to produce dull and flat textures, you can make use of direct flash— but these images tend to be unflattering as it washes out all shadows.
2. Get Sharper Images
If you’re shooting at a wide aperture, then the macro mode is not very ideal. If manual cameras aren’t your cup of tea, then you may benefit from trying out the Aperture Priority Mode (the ‘A’ button on your camera).
Aim to shoot, at the very least, at f/8. This ensures all textures are in focus and a deeper depth of field. This has an effect on other settings.
Let’s say you’re not getting enough light and your camera is at a lower aperture, the shutter speed of your camera may be altered to slow down and resulting in a blurry image.
Or, the ISO may be increased and create noise to your pictures. Having a tripod or trying out different shutter speeds will be handy to counter this.
If you choose to use a tripod, try using a remote to trigger the shutter. Physically touching the camera may shake the images.
If you don’t think a remote is a worthy investment, though, you can play around with the camera’s timer.
3. Color Composition
Color is an important part of the composition of the photo.
The color characteristics of each object will determine the relationship between elements in a photo, and ultimately affect the message conveyed.
I. Color to attract attention
The method for using color as an eye catcher is generally very simple. What is required is the application of a strong, saturated color to gain more attention from the viewer.
II. Colors for mood
Using color to portray a certain mood is usually as inconspicuous as applying color to attract attention.
For example, the typical color of the scene at sunset will give a feeling or mood that is soothing and peaceful. You can apply color to your photos to evoke a certain feeling in the viewer.
III. Black and White Gradient
Black and white photography, sometimes called grayscale, removes the color in the photo to leave black and white.
There is no specific color to shape the mood or to attract the viewer’s attention.
As a result, the success of a black and white photo’s composition depends entirely on the pattern in photography, and shape of the subject.
4. Rule of Odds
The composition of the Rule of Odds is rather interesting.
This theory says that a photo will look attractive if there is an object that is odd or becomes a "disturbance" in the photo.
With the odd annoying element, the photo viewer feels “unsure” which one should be the center of attention of the photo.
In this case, you can try to find inconsistency within a pattern in photography and object, this would work great if you observe natural patterns that usually have consistent forms.
5. Post-Production Techniques
Post-processing, or post-production is also important to preserve, emphasize or minimize the focus on patterns in photography.
When it comes to post-processing, doing as much or as little as you feel comfortable with is fine. If you’ve shot your images in RAW, they can look a little flat and boring, so you might want to think about boosting things like saturation, contrast, and sharpness.
Hopefully, having the right camera means your shots are good and you can clean up any imperfections with spot removal or clone tools.
If you're pretty confident in post-processing photos, then you might start mixing them up a bit by swapping colors, increasing reflections, or even combining multiple types of textures.
How much or how little you do all depends on what you want to achieve in your end result.
With this content, you can continue to experiment and learn what is texture in photography. Photography, just like other arts, is about self-expression, so use it as your personal playground.
Patterns and types of textures come in many ways and from many sources. Sometimes it’s natural, and other times it’s man-made.
There are a lot of things that you can do to use types of textures to work for your photo, whether you’re a nature photographer or a fashion photographer. Good luck!
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Jon has been a passionate photographer for 10+ years. Fun fact is that he has a collection of around 300-400 cameras that his family has collected over the years. Outside of photography, he has a Masters Degree in Engineering and has 13 years experience working in the industry across the globe.