Find Textures


Humans are programmed to find patterns in things and to respond to them. The brain will sometimes cook up patterns where none exist. It's our job. The visual analog of this is a texture, a visual pattern that has strong repeating elements. A checkerboard is pattern, but not a very interesting one. It is uninteresting because the repeating elements, the squares, are too simple, and because they repeat perfectly. Interesting patterns have complex elements that repeat with some irregularity.

Nature provides many interesting patterns. Photographers benefit from being attuned to finding them.  Two important tips are:

1. Look up.
2. Look down.

If you don't do those things, you will miss many of them.

Textures and  Almost-Textures

Here is an image that is almost, but not quite, a texture:

Flower Bed, full frame

The flower bed edges defined by the road spoil the pattern. The eye is drawn to those edges rather than trying to appreciate the pattern. Also, the lower right corner has only greenery, no flowers. Cropping produces a "pure" texture:

Flower Bed Texture

It meets our criteria of comprising only complex elements, the flowers, that repeat imperfectly.

Here are three more texture images, a tree trunk, a clover patch, and a pitcher of ice water:

Tree Bark Texture  Clover Texture  Ice Pitcher Texture

The tree and pitcher had to cropped to eliminate the natural boundaries of the pattern on the object. The clover was a pattern full frame. The repeating pattern on the pitcher is made of water droplets that are difficult to see on a small image. On a larger scale and with the contrast reduced a little, the pitcher image might be suitable for a web page background.

Textures Do Not Have a Subject

Finding good candidate for texture images requires attitude adjustment.  Many photos have a subject. Landscapes have a composition of individual scene elements tied by perspective.  Textures have subject matter, but no isolated subject. Texture patterns are essentially two-dimensional, although sometimes perspective variation will add interest. They are primarily repeated elements rather than a com[position of elements.  Instead of framing a subject or framing a scene, the texture has no natural bounds. Textures will remain textures no mater how they are cropped, so long as there are still enough of the elements repeating.

Once attuned to finding texture patterns, your first instinct upon seeing a garden arbor will be to go in and look up.  This wisteria was in a public park in Sapporo, Japan.  A wide angle lens helped capture enough of the grid squares make an interesting texture. The lattice to appear bowed out, not because the lens caused distortion, but because the wood really was bowed. I wanted it to appear more square. That was corrected in Photoshop using the Filter > Correct distortion command and adjusting the top slider in the pop up window.

Wisteria texture

Looking down finds patterns of foliage and leaves. The pattern of oak leaves is posterized in Photoshop to strengthen the color variations.

Leaf texture  Oak leaves texture

Looking up finds textures of sky and branches against sky.

Cloud  Clouds

Texture patterns can be used as computer desktop background images. Take care to select a pattern that will not hide you desktop icons in a maize of camouflage. Patterns that are not too colorful and have soft edges work well. One trick is to put a 50% transparent layer of gray over the pattern using Photoshop. If you have only a few icons a grayed-out patch can be put in just one area of the screen as a background for them.

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