Using Light to Create Texture in Your Photography
When you think of ways to catch someone’s attention with your photos, we often jump to color first, while overlooking another key element — texture. The way photographers take ordinary subjects, infusing them with life and immense detail by mastering the light around them.
By working with two primary inputs in regards to lighting, you can learn to master the shadows and create amazing texture in photography.
1. The angle the light strikes your subject
The angle of your light source creates shadows that cause texture to become more muted or more pronounced. Let’s talk about how front and side lighting work and how you can use them to increase or reduce the light texture of your images.
Front lighting flattens the appearance of texture because it creates little to no visible shadows. The light hits all the surfaces of the subject the same way and spreads evenly creating a two-dimensional or “flat” feel to the photograph. Think high noon or overcast lighting. The light strikes all surfaces with equal light and “fills in” any unevenness in the subject.
Pro Tip: If you want less texture, move your light source closer to the front of your subject.
When light strikes one side of your subject, it creates a shadow on the other side. This is what creates the texture in an image.
As your lighting gets closer to 90 degrees in relation to your subject, the shadows created will be stronger and more dramatic.
In some cases, you may not want the dramatic shadows produced by using pure 90-degree lighting.
An alternative would be to decrease the angle to soften textures and shadows. Start with 45 degrees and adjust as needed.
Pro Tip: Want your texture to really pop? Try directing the light source so it hits your subject at an angle.
The angles below will help guide where you should place a light source for more or less texture:
- 0 Degrees = No texture
- 45 Degrees = Some texture
- 90 Degrees = A lot of texture
2. The qualities of your light source
Whether you’re using a camera mounted flash, a remote-triggered off-camera flash, direct light, or a softbox, you’re often able to change the qualities of your light. Harsh light, like bare bulbs or direct strobes will create much harder edged shadows and, as a result, more defined contrast.
Soft lighting like softboxes soften the shadows and mute the contrast.
You have some Control of the Light Qualities if you’re able to change the position of either the light source or your subject. Moving the subject closer will cause the lighting to become harsher and more pronounced, while moving away will impart a softer, more diffused quality.
Correct Any Imperfections in Post-Production
By controlling the direction and quality of your light sources in relation to your subject, you can create almost any texture you want in your image. One thing to keep in mind is that shooting in harsh light can introduce more imperfections or blemishes, so don’t be afraid to tweak and refine your image after the shoot using your favorite photo editor, like Corel PaintShop Pro.
Creating texture in your photographs can be creatively rewarding. However, mastering the art of “seeing” the quality and direction of light just like every other skill and needs practice. The best way to improve is to get out and shoot. Learn, experiment, and don’t forget to enjoy the process!