Texture Photography -- Part 1

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow


Figure 1: Texture Photography
Texture Photography

The point of any image is to draw the attention of the viewers. Now, there are many ways to do this. Some images depend on bold color. Other images utilize leading lines. Still others rely on dramatic scenery. However, an often overlooked method of capturing the viewers' attention is the use of texture. Thus, the purpose of this article is to cover the fundamentals of texture photography.

Of course, the first thing that needs to be done is to define texture photography. For the purposes of this article, texture photography is any imagery that depends, at least partly, for its impact on the texture of the objects in the image. Texture will be defined as the surface detail of an object. This detail can be composed of surface irregularities (such as the wood grain of an old plank) or of small forms on a surface (such as a mass of roots from an ancient tree).

Why Shoot Texture Photography

Perhaps, the first question that should be addressed is why shoot texture photography. The answer is quite simple. As photographers, we need to create images that have impact, and the proper utilization of texture can add impact to images. When used properly, texture can be just as powerful as bold color, leading lines, or dramatic scenery.

By adding the use of texture to our skill set, we expand our skills and become better photographers. Thus, texture becomes another tool that is available in our skill set that can be drawn on at any time.

Types of Texture Photography

There are three primary types of texture photography that will be covered in this article: detail, drama, and information.

Detail: With this type of texture photography, the detail in the surface of the object being photographed is the most important aspect of an image. The actual object is of lesser importance. When this technique is used, the image is often shot as a macro shot in order to move in very close to emphasize the detail or as a partial object shot where only a portion of the object is photographed (see Figure 2).

For a good detail image, it is important to select a proper subject. The best subjects will have either strong tonal or color contrast as the contrast enhances the detail of the texture. Without this contrast, the detail will not show very well, and the image will suffer as a result.

Another thing to pay attention too is the light. Often, the best light for this type of image is side light. Side light will bring out the detail in any uneven surface by casting shadows.

Figure 3: Texture for Drama
Texture Photography Drama

Drama: With this second approach to texture photography, the texture is used to add drama to an image (see Figure 3). Here, the texture is not necessarily the most important aspect of an image. Rather, it is one component of the image that serves to spice up the image.

Generally, the contrast or color of the texture serves to capture the viewer's attention. As is the case in Figure 3, the texture can also serve to direct the viewer's eye by the use of curves that the viewer's eye tends to naturally follow.

As was mentioned above for detail texture images, it is important to select subject matter that has tonal or color contrast. In addition, side light also tends to work well with drama texture images as it helps to bring out the texture -- thus enhancing the drama.

One more thing to look for in this type of image is that the texture must work in harmony with the overall image. For instance, the texture of some foreground rock may work harmoniously with the rest of an image of a large canyon. However, the texture of some old curtains (in the background) may not work well with an image of some fine, crystal glasses.

Figure 4: Texture for Information
Texture Photography Information

Information: The third type of texture photography uses texture to help communicate information about an image. This can be seen in Figure 4. This is the window of the mortician's shop in an old ghost town. The old wood of the window frame, as well as the aged wood of the wagon (reflected in the window), clearly communicate that this is an old structure.

For information texture images, it is important to identify exactly what information the texture is to communicate and compose the image in such a way that the texture brings out the proper message.

One other important point is to make sure that the texture serves a subservient role in this type of image. In other words, the texture should help to enhance the center of interest of the image by adding information to the center of interest. The texture should not overwhelm the center of interest.


The general composition rules apply to texture photography just as they do other fields of photography (for a comprehensive article series on composition, see Advanced Composition). However, three aspects of composition tend to be particularly important in texture photography: contrast, curves, and patterns.

Figure 5: Composition -- Contrast within Texture
Texture photography Contrast Within Texture

Contrast: Contrast comes in two forms: tonal contrast and color contrast. Either one works well for texture photography.

Now, there are a couple of ways that contrast can be used. The first way is within the texture itself. As already mentioned above, contrast enhances the detail in texture and makes it stand out. This can be seen in Figure 5. The color contrast of the white, yellow, brown, and green on the leaf makes the leaf detail more noticeable. In addition, the tonal contrast of the wood grain makes the texture of the wood stand out.

Figure 6: Composition -- Contrast with background
Texture Photography Contrast with Background
The other way that contrast can be used is to make an area of texture contrast with the background. This draws a viewer's attention to the area and makes it stand out. This is shown in Figure 6. In this image, the leaf sharply contrasts with the background. This draws the eye to the area of texture at the front of the leaf.

Curves: Texture can often take the form of curves. When this is the case, the curves tend to fall into one of two categories: leading curves and non-leading curves.

Figure 7: Leading Curves
Texture Photography Leading Curves

Leading curves serve to lead a viewer's eye. Specifically, they lead the viewer's eye to the center of interest. This strengthens the center of interest. As a result, leading curves can be very successful in increasing the effectiveness of an image. The use of leading curves can be seen in Figure 7. The curves lead the eye to the bush (which serves as the center of interest in this image).

Figure 8: Non-Leading Curves
Texture Photography Non-Leading Curves

Non-leading curves do not lead a viewer's eye to the center of interest. Instead, they serve to add some type of feeling or information to an image. This is demonstrated in Figure 8. The curves do not lead anywhere. Instead, they serve to add a sense of the dramatic to the image.

When using curves, it is very important to be aware that curves add emotional content to an image by affecting the mood of the image. Vertical lines can communicate moods of: stability, peace, or power. Horizontal lines tend to communicate a feeling of permanence or lack of change. Diagonal lines are best at making an image more dynamic or communicating a sense of action (for a much more detailed coverage of the use of curves to communicate mood, please see Advanced Composition).

Figure 9: Vertical Curves
Texture Photography Vertical Curves

Consequently, it is very important to use curves that work in harmony with the rest of an image to communicate the main point of the image. For instance, Figure 9 shows the image of the ghost town again. Some of the strongest curves in this image (the lines/curves formed by the grain of the wood post at the right of the image) are vertical. They help to communicate a sense of stability in this image. In other words, this ghost town building has clearly been around a long time, and it isn't going to change much anytime in the near future. The vertical curves help to communicate this message.

On the other hand, had strong diagonal curves been used in the image, the curves would have added a sense of the dynamic to the image. This would have contradicted the rest of the image. The result would have been a weakened image.

Figure 10: Diagonal Curves
Texture Photography Diagonal Curves
Figure 10 shows an example of an image that benefits from the use of diagonal curves. In this image, the diagonal curves help to communicate the graceful and dynamic nature of the sand dunes.

Patterns: Patterns are frequently very effective at catching people's attention. However, when used in photographs, simple patterns by themselves often don't hold the attention for very long. Therefore, it is necessary to be a little more sophisticated with the use of patterns when creating texture images. There are a couple of ways that patterns in textures can be made more effective: multiple patterns and breaking the pattern.

Figure 11: Multiple Patterns
Texture Photography Multiple Patterns

When using multiple patterns, two or more patterns, that reinforce each other, are used. Figure 11 shows a use of multiple patterns. Here, the texture pattern of the center of the flower is matched with the texture pattern of the petals.

Figure 12: Breaking the Pattern
Texture Photography Breaking the Pattern
The other option is to break the texture pattern. This is usually done by inserting an object into the pattern (see Figure 12). The inserted object should be carefully placed in such a manner that it enhances the composition. Often, following the rule of thirds (or a similar composition rule) in placing the object will give excellent results.


The information in this article provides a good foundation for creating abstract images. The next two articles in this series will apply the concepts of texture photography to various subject matter. Part 2 of this series will be posted about June 20.


Texture Photography -- Part 2