Textures—Rule Breakers And Rule Followers

How to capture more texture in your images using light and direction
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Textures come in all shapes and sizes. They can be soft like the feathers of a bird, fragile as peeling paint, delicate as ripples of sand, patterned like a plowed farm field and more. The key in revealing them is dependent upon the direction and hardness of the light, and the detail within the subject. With regard to direction, the more it comes from the side, more texture is revealed. With regard to hardness, the more direct and pinpoint it is, more texture is revealed.

OVERALL TEXTURE – Rule Follower: When photographing large scenes or grand landscapes that contain textural elements, the classic time of day at which they should be photographed is within a 20-minute period just after sunrise and just before sunset. Additionally, in order to take advantage of the low angle of the sun, your subject must be close to a 90-degree angle from where the sun rises or sets. When these conditions are met, the light strikes the subject from the side, revealing a world of highlights and shadows. This is what causes textures to pop. As gorgeous as the golden light of sunrise or sunset looks, if the subject is front-lit, subjects look flat as no texture is depicted. Look 90 degrees to your left or right and a world of texture opens before your eyes. The image from White Sands National Monument (lead image above) was made about 30 minutes prior to sunset, and I was at a right angle to the sun. The result is one that illustrates many levels of texture. The ripples in the sand come alive, the mid level yuccas have dimension, and the dunes in the background have highlights and shadows.

IN CLOSE – Rule Breaker: As stated above, texture is emphasized with sidelight at sunrise and sunset. But the close up photo of the sand prints and caterpillar (left) was made about two hours after sunrise. The reason it works is I zeroed in on a subject filled with texture. Even though I lost the benefit of strong shadows and highlights on the insect tracks, in that they are three dimensional, it shows texture. The other fact that allows it to work is there’s still a slight hint of side-lighting as the sun was about forty degrees above the horizon. If I made the same shot at noon, it would look flat and lifeless.

DIFFERENT TEXTURES IN THE SAME PHOTO – Rule Breaker: Photo number three (right) is a rule breaker as it was shot in soft light. There is no sidelight to bring out grain and no early or late light at a 90- degree angle to emphasize the wood. The reason it works is it’s a macro shot whose subject matter exudes texture. The shape, pattern, grain, and color of the wood allow its texture to pop. Coupled with the bonus of the lichen rich in texture, the two work in harmony and give the impression you could touch the image and feel the texture of each element.

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