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10 Texture Photography Tips

Shooting textures is a lot of fun, you don't need to be a professional photographer or have a top of the line camera to take textures.

There are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that the textures you take are as useful as possible. In this tutorial I illustrate them point by point, with as much examples as possible (because I know everything is more interesting when there are pictures to look at )

Face your subject

A good texture is flat and undistorted. Point your at a 90 degree angle to the surface so that the texture is as flat as possible.

This angle gives a deformed texture. You could scale it straight, but it would still look different and the sides of the images will probably be blurry because of the depth of field.
This is much better. If you are one of those people who can photograph perfectly straight then count yourself lucky, it saves a lot of time post processing.

Not too close!

A very common mistake is to zoom in too much. Your eye is drawn to this beautiful brick wall, so naturally you walk straight up to it. Unfortunately it's really hard to make a tilable texture of a photo with just 3 bricks, so try to photograph as much of the surface as possible. Most cameras have at least 6 Megapixels nowadays, so resolution is hardly ever a problem. You can always crop the image if it contains too much.

If a texture is especially nice I photograph is a several times. I take one photo of the complete surface, and a couple of photos which are more zoomed in.

Too closeup to the surface, you'll have a hard time creating a tilable texture out of this because the texture repeat itself too quickly.
Taken a bit further back, you have a good amount of bricks to work with.

Tree bark seems to be especially magnetic to cameras, so here is a dedicated example with a tree bark texture:

You tree hugger!
Much easier to work with.

Pick your target well

If you are taking a photo of a certain object like a ventilation grate, try to fill the whole view with it. The wall around it might be a perfect texture as well, but take a seperate photo for it. The blessing of a digital camera is that pictures don't cost you anything so snap away!

A ventilation grate on a wall. It's nice, but nobody will use the wall texture from this photo so you might as well fill the whole frame.
Make every pixel count!

If the grate has a nice border or some cool leaking stains running down be sure to include them in the picture. Stuff like that makes it much easier to blend the texture onto another surface.

Shadows and reflections

Our brain filters out a lot of the things we see. If you look at a storefront with glass windows, you will hardly notice the reflection. If you would take a picture the reflection suddenly looks much stronger. The same counts for shadows. It happened to me many times that I took a picture of a wall and only discovered that great big shadow afterwards.

A great texture, to fill up the recycle bin that is.

Reflections or sun flare are easier to avoid, if you change your position a bit you can get rid of them most of the time.

The glare of the sun makes this texture unusable.
Try to move your camera so that the surface is reflecting a dark and even part of the background.

Manual White Balance

Another thing that our brain does unconsciously is figuring out what is white. Even in very diverse lighting situations we can easily tell if a piece of paper is white or not. Our camera tries to do the same, but in a lot of cases it fails.

If your camera supports white balance presets, try these to see if the colors are more accurate than the Auto White Balance. Or better yet, photograph in RAW so that you can pick the best white balance when you convert your RAW file.

Auto white balance: cold and unpleasing colours.
White balance set to 'shade': A bit to colourfull perhaps, but it's much easier to remove colour than to add.

Great ball of fire!

The sky is bright, very bright. On a clouded day the sky emits several times times more light than a brick wall for example. If you are photographing a subject against a bright sky, try to avoid having any part of the sky in the picture. The brightness of the sky will wash out your photo, and most likely it will confuse your camera. The result is a washed out image without contrast and colour.

Point your camera so that the sky is not in the picture. A lens hood helps a lot in shielding unwanted light from the camera. You can also hold your hand above the lens to block bright parts that aren't in the picture anyway.

Artistically more pleasing perhaps, but rubbish for use as a texture.

The camera is thrown off by the bright sky, it thinks the image is much lighter than it is, so your image is underexposed
Point your camera so that the sky is not in view. Use a lens hood or your hand to shield the camera from the brightest light. A good quality lens is also more flare resistant.

Low light situations

Photographing textures is for bright days only, if it gets dark pack up and head home. With enough light your colours are vibrant and your images are crisp. If there is a lack of light they'll be blurry and have mucky colours.

Low light: the image is blurry and the colours are drab. Because the lens is wide open, there is some 'vignetting' as well (the corners of the image are darker).
Enough light: bright colours and a sharp image all over.

But my camera has a flash!

Your camera's flash won't help you much. The flash will wash out colours and make the image look very harsh. Because the light is coming from the same direction as the lens every detail tends to stand out.

One exception is if you have an external flash and you can 'bounce' the light upwards against a light ceiling. The light hitting your subject will come from a much bigger area so it will be softer, and the shadows will look better as well.

A photo with the flash fired: washed out colours and harsh lighting.

Lens distortion

Most lenses distort the image at least a little bit. Barrel distortion is the most common, it makes the image looks rounded or bloated. There is not much you can do about this, because it depends on your camera's lens. If you have a zoomlens then most likely there will be more barrel distortion when you set it to the wide angle mode (for example at 24mm). If you find that your lens has less distortion at 50mm, you can try to take most your pictures at this angle.

It's easy enough to fix the distortion with Photoshops 'Lens Correction' filter, but you loose a tiny bit of quality and it is nicer not to have to do this for every picture you take.

Exagerated lens distortion.

Blurry Images

I've left the most important thing for last: blurry images. Texture and blur are eachothers opposites, there is no use for a blurry texture. A blurry image can have two causes: camera shake and shallow depth of field. I'll devote a seperate tutorial on how to take sharp photos, so I'll just simplify and give two tips:

- Hold your camera still (or against a stable object like a street light)
- Don't photograph on a dark day. - Use a tripod (this will also enable you to use better settings overall, so you will have less noise in your picture).

Yuck! A blurry image. If it would have been a bright day this might been a splendid texture.

That's it, have fun photographing!

Copyright 2007 - CGTextures