Working with Textures

It seems that commercially available textures for processing photographs have become increasingly popular. I see them a lot in pictures of people that post on Flickr. I have discovered them for my photography in recent months as well and I would like to write a little about my experience. 

Essentially textures are alterations to the appearance of a picture that the photographer can apply as a “blanket” on a picture during the editing process. And with blanket I mean that by applying one texture you change colour, distribution of light, appearance of the “canvas” or background the picture is on and many other details. So by adding one single texture you make a lot of alterations to your picture. You can also create layers of alterations which means that by stacking textures on top of each other you add the respective effects on top of each other.

To me using textures is a way of creating visual emotions. A one step process can change the expression and thus the emotion a picture conveys considerably. It appears to me that applying and combining textures is much more effective for my workflow than using the usual development steps in Lightroom or Photoshop.

So the upside to me is that by taking simple development steps I can make changes that have a very profound effect. But the process has clearly downsides. As you apply textures to the whole of a picture the way of influencing the outcome manually is very limited. In other words, you need to accept what the preset that you apply provides you with. You can make changes to the intensity of a certain texture, you can also vary brightness, structure, colour, warmth and other features. But in a way you are still limited with regard to influencing the outcome. That means we are talking about serendipity. If you are lucky, the texture or combination of textures you apply yield an outcome that you like. If not, you often don’t have an alternative to scrapping the whole outcome and starting from scratch.

Learning to know the effect of textures and their possible outcomes for a variety of pictures is an interesting and challenging experience. Over the past weeks I have developed a workflow where I apply textures in a planned manner and I am kind of able to predict the outcome.

This way of working with pictures is very technology driven. You do not take a brush or a chisel and work manually on a picture or sculpture or whatever piece of art. You let the machine do it. In that way it is not very different from the use of Photoshop. The interesting aspect is the combination of pure coincidence of the outcome with your attempts of planning and gauging the effects the “machine” makes on a picture. It is actually creative. It is a creative process. And the more I work with it and the more I learn to control the zillions of variables in the process the more interesting it becomes.

One limitation that I find sometimes difficult to work with is that textures come as apps for your smartphone. So you are limited to the minute screen that a smartphone provides. And on the small screen you can not fully gauge the effect your textures have on an image. So sometimes you get (positively or negatively) surprised when you see the picture on your bigger computer screen after having processed it in your smartphone. I will try to find out in the future if and how textures can be applied on an iPad or the desktop computer.

I also bought a new camera recently. It is a RICOH GR III. A little camera with an APSC sensor, no full frame and no view finder. You watch the scene on the camara’s screen and compose the picture there.

For post processing I transfer the picture to my iPhone where I apply the textures. For the transfer I have purchased an app that connects the GR III with my iPhone wirelessly. As I am traveling a lot at the moment and as I don’t have my desktop computer available this is a nice and simple way of processing pictures.

By using the same textures again and again I find myself able to learn how to apply them more specifically and to predict outcomes. I have certainly not exhausted the options yet so for the moment I will limit myself to the current tools.

To my surprise (I had clear reservations about the use of textures) I find these tools enrich my photography and I enjoy using them very much. And I am planning to use them on my long exposure motion photography in the future. It will be interesting to see the outcomes.