Creative Homework: Using Texture to Minimize Distractions

Hibiscus with Texture Effect Applied
Hibiscus with Texture

Story & photos by F. M. Kearney

Another month has come and gone, but unfortunately, things haven’t changed that much. Most of the country is now on full or partial lockdown. Each day tends to blend right into the other. There were many things I had planned to shoot this spring which will now, undoubtedly, have to wait until next year. But, that’s a small price to pay compared to the medical superheroes who are fighting on the front lines every day. With field work indefinitely postponed, I thought it best to remove the batteries from all my equipment to prevent corrosion. Nowadays, I spend most of my time working in Photoshop. In my last article, I touched on adding texture effects to old images. Since so many of us are still confined to our homes, I decided to expand on this technique as another way to take advantage of this unprecedented downtime.

Original dahlia image (left) and dahlia with texture applied (right).
Original dahlia image (left) and dahlia with texture applied (right).

In last month’s article, I talked about going through your files and giving a fresh new look to old images. Depending on the size of your files, this should keep you busy for days, weeks or even months. If nothing else, it’s sure to break the monotony of these seemingly endless “Goundhog Days.”

I had mentioned a software company called Photomorphis. They provide a vast array of texture effects that you can apply to your images. I purchased their Luminous Alchemy package, which consists of ten different textures that work really well with flowers. The photos above are a before and after view of a dahlia with one of the textures applied. The methods as to how you apply these textures vary, but I tend to stick with the techniques I’ve successfully used in the past.

The first thing I like to do is to resize the texture file to match the size of the image I plan to use with it. The texture files are extremely huge at 10,000 pixels. It makes them applicable to as many applications as possible, but it also makes resizing necessary. I simply determine the pixel size count of my image (say, 4952×7341), then bring the texture file into Photoshop and resize it to those dimensions. IMPORTANT: If you use this method, be sure to do a “Save As,” otherwise, you will overwrite the original texture file. I then upload both files into Photoshop via the “stacking” method: File>Scripts>Load Files into Stack. I browse for the texture file and the image file I’m applying it to. The two images are now layered (or stacked) on top of each other with only the upper layer visible. You can click and drag the layers to place whichever image you want on top. Personally, I prefer to place the texture file on top. I then click it to select, then go to Filter>Convert For Smart Filters. After applying a layer mask to the texture layer, I set my foreground color to black and begin “painting in” the flower underneath with the brush tool. By controlling the brush size, Opacity and Flow levels, I can bring in as much or as little of it that I want. If I make a mistake, I can switch the foreground color to white and paint it out. If you prefer (or find it easier) to paint in the texture, simply place the image layer on top.

Original hibiscus image  (left) and hibiscus with texture applied (right).
Original hibiscus image (left) and hibiscus with texture applied (right).

Besides the obvious aesthetic component, the texture sort of acts like a customizable fog and can minimize (or completely eliminate) distractions and/or mistakes. I took out the wayward stem above the large dahlia, and significantly “toned-down” the blooms in the upper corners. Depending on your opacity level, you can even blend the distractions with the texture. I photographed the hibiscus above in 2002 while vacationing with my wife on the Grand Bahama Island in The Bahamas. I shot it on film and just recently scanned it to a digital file. (By the way, digitizing any old slides you may have hanging around is another great way to occupy your time.) The flower was growing on the grounds of our resort along a narrow walkway. I didn’t have a lot of space to work with, so my compositional options were limited. I was never completely happy with the end result. Eighteen years later, I gave the image a texture face-lift and it now looks better than ever. I used the texture to eliminate the dark shadow on the right and to partially cover up the distracting leaves. However, I left enough of them visible on the left to add a touch more color. On the right side, I melded them seamlessly into the texture. I then slightly saturated the color of the flower.

I’ve even added texture to images with special effects previously applied. The image below on the left is a waterlily compilation. On the right, is the same image with texture applied – giving it an almost painterly appearance.

Original waterlily compilation (left) and compilation image with texture applied (right).
Original waterlily compilation (left) and compilation image with texture applied (right).

When you look back on your old image files, you might be surprised at what you find. Sometimes, I’ll wonder, “What the heck was I thinking when I shot this?” But this is a good thing. If you’ve ever asked yourself the same thing about your old images, it shows just how much you’ve grown as a photographer. Instead of depositing these images into the circular file, try adding some texture effects. You might be amazed at how well they can transform a mediocre, or even bad photo, into a contemporary work of art. If you’re short on cash, you don’t even have to purchase a program. Long before I even heard of Photomorphis, I created my own textures by shooting close-ups of things like wood, rocks, cement, water or anything else that I felt would make a good texture background.

Of course, I, as I’m sure most of you, would rather be outdoors creating new images. Until it’s deemed safe (or, at least, safer) and the lockdown restrictions have been eased, this will be our lives for the foreseeable future. If you live in a “hot spot,” don’t endanger yourself or anyone else by venturing out unnecessarily. In the coming months, I will be writing more articles about the different ways that you can turn all those images lying dormant in your files into potential little masterpieces… while staying safe at home.

F. M. Kearney began his photography career as a photojournalist for New York City newspapers. His focus soon shifted to capturing the beauty of the natural world. As an award-winning nature photographer, Kearney’s images have been widely published. A slight departure from photography, his recently published horror novel, “They Only Come Out at Night,” about supernatural happenings in the New York City subway (partially inspired by his travels as a photojournalist), is available on Amazon. To see more of Kearney’s work, visit http://www.starlitecollection.com.