What is Texture in Photography?

Texture is one of the hallmarks of great photography. It adds character and variety to an image, creating a more dramatic composition. So, what is texture in photography, and how can the average hobbyist use techniques to bring out the texture in their work? Below, we've shared why texture is so important, as well as a few visual elements worth seeking out if you're trying to add dimensionality and detail to your photos. 

Accentuating the Third Dimension

We all know that photography is a two-dimensional medium, even if we're shooting scenes that are three-dimensional. However, great texture almost looks tactile, as if you could touch your smartphone or magazine and feel each surface detail. It's an optical illusion, but a powerful one, and it allows viewers to put themselves into the scene. Whether you're looking at a worn tree trunk, a coral reef, or an animal hide, there's an abundance of texture in the natural world.  

How to Heighten Texture

Using a macro lens (or "macro" camera setting), you can hone in on an object's detail and create more drama in your composition. Texture provides more information about an object, but it also allows photographers to set a specific mood. For example, if you're taking photos of an abandoned city — where debris is scattered on the road and vines are climbing up the buildings — the texture will add a feeling of desolation and mystery. Here are a few useful techniques for enhancing texture:

  • Harness Contrast: When you boost the contrast of an image, you also intensify the textural elements in that image. Pro photographers know to look for scenes with a lot of contrast, and they'll also frame shots with a contrasting background, so that the textured areas stand out even more. From there, you can illuminate the scene with some indirect light, so that you heighten the three-dimensional aspect of the subject.
  • Look for Detailed Patterns: People love looking at beautiful patterns, especially if they're varied enough to be unpredictable. Textured objects and environments usually have intricate patterns, and they can be showcased to create a more compelling image. One way to do this is by shooting two patterns in the same frame, such as the texture of sand and water. You can also create a composition with one primary pattern that's broken up by a smooth object, and this contrast will accentuate the pattern even more. 
  • Use Lines and Curves: You can't make music without having silence between the notes. Likewise, you can't truly appreciate texture in a photo without having something non-textural to compare it with. Smooth lines and curves can draw attention to an image's textured elements, while also breaking up the frame into sections so the overall composition is more engaging. 
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