Learning how to use textures in Photoshop has been one of the best ways I’ve found to add interest to some otherwise so-so images. In particular, applying textures in Photoshop to travel photos can add depth and meaning to your trip images. How? Because you’re able to add associations to the image that may convey more of how you felt when you captured the image than the photo itself reflects. Or, you might add new meanings – associations with nostalgia or historical references or simply create something of great beauty.
So what do I mean by “textures?” Textures are essentially the same thing as many of the filters you’ll find on Instagram and other photo apps. These filters or textures change the nature of the photo by blending in a secondary image, usually one of some texture. Common examples for texture backgrounds are photos of old parchment, painted surfaces, weathered wood…anything that adds visual interest.
In future posts, I’ll explain how different textures can create different emotional effects. For now, however, let’s jump in and learn some basics so you can try this for yourself.
Knowing how to use textures in Photoshop starts with knowing Photoshop
You can do this in Photoshop Elements or any program that provides you with the ability to blend layers. I’m using Photoshop CS5 for this example, but any version should work.
I’m going to assume you know at least the basics of Photoshop. However, I will try and explain the process step-by-step since there are some important tips I’ve found to make it work well and fast even if you’re just a Photoshop novice.
The concept is simple: Open both images in Photoshop, move the texture onto the original photo (in this case, the image of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul), then select one of the blend modes (more on that in a moment).
How to get started with using textures in Photoshop
You need to start with a textured background. You likely don’t have one just lying around if you’ve never done this before. So where do you get a textured background? Try this highly technical maneuver: Google “free textures for photoshop.” Here’s a screenshot of the top results under Images:
You likely won’t run out of choices. For my style of photography, I prefer ones with darker borders so they have sort of a built-in vignette. But the best way to learn is to try a half dozen different ones and see what works for you. And remember: You can actually use multiple textures for a single blended photo. Your file size gets pretty huge, but the results can be stunning.
The particular texture I used in this example came from here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hanne_exurban/4304057519/in/set-72157622112724335 or go here for H. Adam’s full range of textures.
Once you download your textured photo, you’ll need to open it and your original at the same time. Do this by using File > Open for each. Then, I select Window>Arrange>Tile to get both images on screen at the same time like this:
Unfortunately, the images aren’t the same size. So do you rotate the texture image and hope it will fit? Resize each image? Crop the larger down? You might get those to work, but there’s an easier way.
Start by dragging the texture image onto the main photo. When you try that, you may get this message:
It means that my original photo was taken as a 16-bit image but the texture is only an 8-bit image. You don’t need to know about bits to get around this. Just go to Image>Mode>16 Bits/Channel and check that (assuming your texture image was only 8-bits and your main image was 16. In one case, I had the reverse situation, but the process is essentially the same). If you’re lucky, both images will be the same depth and you will never see this message.
Once you drag the texture image over on top of the original (and you always want to make sure the original image is the background or base image NOT the other way around or this won’t work as well), you should see something like this:
If you have trouble doing this, be sure you’ve got the move button highlighted (it’s the top button on the left side menu on my screen) AND you’re holding your mouse down as you drag and drop the texture onto the main image. When you do, you’ll see you now have a new layer on top of your background image layer.
At this point, I either close the texture image that is now floating all alone over there to the top right or just maximize the original image so as not to be distracted by the texture file if I want to use this texture for another photo after this one.
Back to the size difference, here’s the easiest way I’ve found and it works great. Just do this: click on Edit>Free Transform. You’ll see the little “handles” appear the textured image. Just drag each side until each aligns and covers the main background image. In the screenshot below, I’ve dragged the bottom left corner into place and am in the process of dragging the top right to cover the background image. When done and it covers, select the check mark at the top of the screen to confirm.
And now it gets interesting…
All the hard work is now done! Now it’s time for some fun. It’s the closest you’ll come to magic without a wand and white rabbit…
All you do now is experiment with the blend modes. If you’ve never used them before, they are located over above your layers with the default “Normal” mode showing. Click on the the little drop down arrow next to “Normal” making sure your Layer 1 (the textured image) is highlighted. You can rename it if you want with something completely original like “Texture 1.” This really only matters when you have multiple texture files in place and you need to differentiate between them at a glance.
My “go-to” choice is Overlay. It works probably 70% of the time. But not in this case, I don’t think:
It’s just not very interesting as is. But check this one out when I use “Multiply:”
Much more interesting. I won’t show you all the variations here, but try each of the blending modes out and see what works.
A few last pointers:
- Use the Opacity and Fill sliders (to the right of the blend mode drop down) and adjust those. Normally, I find just changing the Opacity is enough. And sometimes, what looks horrible at 100% can look spectacular when dialed down to say, 45%. So be sure to play with those extensively.
- You may have to make other adjustments to fine tune your blended image. In particular, I usually have to play with the Color Balance adjustment (it’s the one with the hanging scales as an icon directly above the blend mode area) if the textured image has a color cast like this one does. In this image, I like the yellow cast because it looks like old parchment, but often you’ll want to adjust that and perhaps your saturation, levels or curves as well.
- You may want to crop the final image. I like the crop on the original, but the heavy black in the Multiply version above is too much but if I try to lower the black by lowering the Opacity, it turns light gray and that looks funky. So instead, I’d likely crop out the main part of the border above so it isn’t so heavy. But that’s just me.
That’s it. When you’re done, save the new file as a TIFF, PSD or JPEG (if you don’t plan on working on it any more and want a smaller file).
My final word of advice: You only appreciate the power of textures by trying them and experimenting…a lot. I do find this general rule of thumb, however. My best images don’t always work well for textures. In fact, textures take away fine details. Instead, the best images to use with textures, to me, are ones with blah looking skies or open areas where the texture adds that…texture…to an otherwise bland background. But try a bunch of different types of photos and see.
Examples of how to use textures in Photoshop
Just for fun, here are some of the variations I tried using just the above two images and different settings. You begin to see the possibilities of using textures in Photoshop…
In the image above, I did go back and use Overlay, but I lowered the Opacity to 90%, adjusted the saturation down and also cropped off the blue sides to make it cleaner.
The one above uses the Linear Burn blend mode with Opacity at 96% and Fill at 83%. I also adjusted Saturation, Color Balance, Curves, Levels and even Vibrance. I probably didn’t need to do all those, but I was just playing…and that’s how we learn.
I love the purple color of this one. It feels like a storybook image. This was done on Multiply with Fill at 90% but I lowered the Saturation and adjusted the Hue to get the purple tint.
Here I used Multiply, kept Opacity at 100% but lowered Fill to 90% and did some adjustments to Color Balance, Levels and Curves.
In the above, all I did was use the Difference blend mode and changed the Fill amount down to 77%. It reminds me of an illustration or something. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the colors, but I like it a lot. I especially appreciate how it looks like a dreamy illustration except for the cars near the bottom. Interesting juxtaposition.
So there you have it. How to use textures in Photoshop to create several very different feeling images all from the same two photographs blended together in different ways.
Have fun with this and remember to try all kinds of combinations. You never know what will happen…
Also, if you want another take on the process and see what it looks like using textures on people shots, take a look here.