Get Creative with Textures

by Deborah Sandidge | April 23, 2012

© Deborah SandidgeDo you want to create a fine art look with your photograph by simply applying a texture? A texture layer addition can increase the depth, dimension, and drama of a photograph. It is one of the easiest ways to create a more expressive image. A texture layer can be anything you wish, from painterly brushstrokes, coarsely textured canvas, and even old grunge that appears in the viewfinders of antique cameras. Texture can add more personality to an image. You can make a digital image look vintage, contemporary or impressionistic. Apply textures to a still life, landscape, or portrait for a totally unique look…anything goes!

The subject matter will often suggest how to approach using a texture layer with your photograph to create a new visual narrative. For example, if you want to make your technically perfect digital photo look like it was taken long ago with film, just add a grainy texture layer to suggest a vintage photo look. You can dirty it up, add grunge and grit, and create depth and dimension with a level of coolness that can’t happen with a perfect digital image.

What about painterly effects that make a digital photo look like an Old Master’s painting? This can be achieved by adding a texture layer that looks like canvas, or perhaps even has brushstrokes. A photo can look extraordinary with this simple addition, changing the mood and look of the photo.

Bay Bridge © Deborah Sandidge

Textures can be photos of anything, such as clouds, daisies, concrete, peeling paint, rust, wood, marble, or rock. Textures can be photographed everywhere you go. You can even use your scanner to create textures, with old photos, painted canvas, pebbles, wallpaper, feathers, or coins. Create different folders of textures, and add to your folders whenever you like. The options are limited only to your imagination. Have fun with it!

Daytona Beach © Deborah Sandidge

Purchased textures can give you a big head start on your texture collection. Flypaper Textures offers a wide variety of textures and colors from fine grained, to a painted on canvas look. Theses textures blend beautifully with photographs, creating a more intriguing visual story. There are also many free textures available online. You can also use the preset Patterns within Photoshop to add various textures to an image. There are filters designed to produce texture effects such as the aptly named Totally Rad Dirty Pictures. This texture plug-in will automatically set up your photo with a texture and blend mode. This is a great way to start if you are unfamiliar with using textures and would like an easy way to get started.

El Morro Havana lighthouse © Deborah Sandidge

You can easily blend images to tell a new story. For starters, choose two images roughly the same size. If you have photographed your own texture with the same camera, they will automatically be the same size. Choose a texture that will blend well with your original photograph, generally the subject will suggest what type of texture to choose. For example, a delicate rose would work well with a subtle texture, whereas a strong texture might overwhelm the same subject. Textures work perfectly to accentuate a landscape photo taken on a cloudless day, allowing the pattern in the texture to show through, adding depth and drama.

Palm tree texture © Deborah Sandidge

There are many texture tools that are incredibly easy to use. If you are using a Smartphone, you have access to hundreds of texture generating apps that create beautiful results. Snapseed, a great iPhone/iPad app, is now available as a desktop version for Mac. You can create wonderful vintage and dramatic textured images right from your desktop. Smugmug’s Awesome Camera is a fantastic app that that has great textures and is built for easy sharing of your images.

You’ll also find textures in Photoshop Plug-ins such as OnOne Perfect Photo Suite, and Dfx, digital filter suite created by Tiffen, well known for their outstanding filters for the lens. Dfx has hundreds of texture and color effects that you can use to easily enhance your imagery. You’ll find rich vintage film effects in Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, and Alien Skin Exposure, which has fantastic film effects specifically designed for black and white, or color.

Santorini © Deborah Sandidge

Mini Bridge in CS5 makes it super easy to experiment with textures. The key in combining images is using a blend mode that complements the image. You can try out a texture using Mini Bridge by navigating to your folder of textures and simply dragging a texture over your image. The texture layer will open in Photoshop as a Smart Object. Or, you can copy and paste one image onto another directly in Photoshop.

Experiment with a blend mode and opacity to find a look that is complementary to your image. With the Move Tool active, hold down the shift key and use the plus or minus key to scroll through the various Blend Modes to see the effect each blend mode has on your image. Try Overlay, Soft Light or Multiply. If you like the effect; press the Enter key to choose it, or Escape to remove it. You can also open a texture image in Photoshop, and copy and paste it over your original image.

Seattle sailboat © Deborah Sandidge

Now that you’ve added texture, you can change the blend mode and adjust the opacity of the layer. Experiment, and have fun creating a beautiful and expressive image that blurs the line between photography and art!

Also be sure to check out Deb’s latest book, Digital Infrared Photography on

About the Author

Photography has been part of award-winning professional photographer, Deborah Sandidge's life since she picked up her first camera - it has evolved into her passion.

Deborah is the author of Digital Infrared Photography published by Wiley. She is an instructor at and shares her knowledge and enthusiasm with photographers in her online classes.

Deborah's favorite photography subjects include Florida's birds and other wildlife, as well as its landscapes. Her travels, however, have not been limited to Florida's fascinating beauty; they have taken her from coast to coast of America and beyond to yield photography that stretches the imagination. She has had the joy and privilege of photographing areas ranging from Namibia, Africa, with its stunning dunes, and sweeping coastlines, to the cities and towns of Europe with its rich culture, history and majestic landscapes. Recently, the captivating architecture and beautiful people of Cuba captured her heart.

Deborah's passion is not only capturing images of people, places, and things with her digital cameras, but also in the creative work she does in the digital darkroom. She considers Photoshop her "artist's palette."

Check out Deb's blog, web site, and Twitter pages.

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