Where does blurring the line between straight photography and digital art happen? Is it in the styling, the shoot or the edit? I often teach creative techniques which can lend a painterly effect to photos. These techniques are done without the need to edit them in Photoshop. Light painting or shooting through a piece of fabric (like chiffon or cheesecloth) are just two worth mentioning.

Is there a need to even add creative textures to still-life photos? I feel that there is room for something a little more creative in today’s still life and even with food photography — not necessarily over the top, but soft and subtle — I feel it can add a little something special. Of course, you can also take what was once a pretty photo and turn it into a piece of art, by adding and playing with creative textures, as in this image.

I still want the star (or hero) of my image to stand out, so I usually add texture in Photoshop, on a separate layer using a layer mask. Then I can paint out the areas I do not wish the texture to touch, such as my hero. I tend to use a Blend mode like Overlay or Soft Light, but other blend modes can work well too. It’s all about experimenting. Don’t forget, you can change the opacity of the texture layer as well, to create a soft subtle look.

Texture layer with adjustment mask removing unwanted areas of texture.

Adding a subtle layer of texture can also enhance colors and tones and it can even help highlight areas of your image. If the color is bright or strong enough, it can change the hues and tones in your image as well. There is a need to decide if the texture should be black and white, making no changes to the overall color, or if the image can add to what is already there.

Textures can help an image

Textures can be especially helpful if you have a particularly uninteresting area in your background, or if there is some noise you are trying to make less noticeable. It can also add a slight vintage or rustic feel to an image, that is something I really like.

So what textures do you use, and how do you use them? Mostly, I make my own from natural textures and fibers, canvas, hessian, concrete, plaster walls and even scruffy old baking trays are fantastic. By taking a high-resolution photo and then in Photoshop I can then either combine a few of them together. I can add additional colors or turn black and white, add various filters, etc. on different layers.

More ideas for textures

Another fun activity is to paint on canvas in various colors and take a high-resolution photo and import that into my texture library. I also have been known to digitally ‘paint’ my own textures in Photoshop and even ParticleShop. Painting your own textures can be very artistic and therapeutic.

So next time you have a still life, food and yes even a landscape photograph that needs a little extra ‘something,’ try working with a texture or two, even if it is just for a vignette. You can have fun making your own, or find some online. There are literally hundreds of stores where they are available — yes, even mine.

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