As a word, “texture” carries quite a few meanings. For photographers, texture is a concept that is often difficult to explain. It’s almost as if it has to be shown instead of merely described. Texture is simply the pronounced visualization of the surface feel of an object which is photographed. Now, you may be thinking “well, everything has texture…”. While this is true, the way in which that tactile nature of whatever you’re shooting can play a huge role in the overall mood and expressiveness your final image. Understanding texture in photography means learning how to recognize the importance(or lack of) the portrayal of the physical surface of a substance will impact the viewer.
I know I know…how boring can you get, right? Just hang in there and read on. You might be surprised just how much incorporating and focusing on textures can strike increased interest in a photo. We’ll talk about how the directional properties of light morph the textural feel of a scene and how you can put that to work for you. Let’s get started!
How do you transmit a physical sense into a two dimensional photograph? It all comes down to the type of thing you happen to be shooting and how you position your focus and your camera. Generally, there must be some degree of angle involved between the subject and the camera. This essentially places the surface of whatever your shooting into profile and thereby better displays whatever the irregularities might be into sharper relief. Here, have a look at this. It was shot with the camera directly overhead and perpendicular to the cloth.
This is a rather mundane example but it does a good job at displaying the relationship between camera angle and texture. Notice how with the straight on camera position all the texture within the cloth is muted and visually flat. This next image is made after moving the camera to approximately a 45 degree angle to the subject.
This places all the nonuniform attributes of the cloth at an angle and makes its texture more pronounced. If you want to amplify the texture of a scene, try different shooting positions and avoid photographing the subject from 90 degree angles.
The Effects of Light
Extremely closely related to camera position is the directionality of the light falling on your subject. Shadows are key when showcasing texture. The textures of an image will be enhanced by the addition of contrast which is, afterall, the differences between lights and darks in a photo. The direction of the light will determine how and by how much the contrast of the texture will be determined. The more contrast, the more obvious the texture will become. If you’re ready for another effective yet basic example, you’re in luck. These next two images are of the same floor tile. The first was shot under very diffused natural light from above.
The next photo was shot with the window blinds open which produced a much harsher directional light. And the camera angle was lowered to enhance the lighting effect even more.
All the textures within the tile are brought out due to the shadows produced by the side lighting and camera angle. These were not at all evident with the previous lighting conditions.
Using Depth of Field
Photographs that center around textural elements work well when shot in abstraction and/or with shallow depth of field. The small plane of focus adds contrast to the texture by framing it with foreground and background blur. Here’s an image shot using an aperture of F8.
The entire subject is in focus. And while the texture is evident it’s not readily defined. Next have the the same little pine cone but this time shot at a much wider aperture of F2.8.
The softening around the edges help to focus the attention on the textures of the cone and seperate it from the rest of the frame. While not a rule(what are those?) wider apertures generally work well to isolate and draw focus to the evident textures present in a subject.
Final Thoughts on Texture…
Let’s face it, talking about texture in photography isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. Still, ignoring it completely means ignoring one of the most powerful techniques for adding interest to your photographs. Texture is all around us and can be made the centerpiece of your images if you understand how to put it at the forefront. Using textures effectively will open up so many more shooting opportunities that you might not have considered before now.