As a designer, I have a great love as well as a professional need for visual lexicons. Type faces, illustration, ephemera, old signage — you name it, I collect it. Textures are no different. It’s not infrequent that a texture is needed for a design project, and what better way to amass a royalty-free collection than to generate it yourself!
In this post I will address some basic tips for finding and capturing textures with your digital camera, and share with you some selects from my nature texture library. All of these photos were taken while hiking in the beautiful regional parks of Northern California. They are free for you to grab and use however you want — have fun!
In the next post, I will go over how to zoom waaaaaay in on your photos to create a specific color pallet from individual pixels using imaging software. Stay tuned!
Ever since my boyfriend, David, got a new digital camera (an Olympus Pen E-PL1) I am obsessed with taking pictures. The Olympus is somewhere between a point and shoot and DSLR, it is styled like an old school film camera but has no resemblance to them otherwise. It takes a mean macro, and you can adjust a lot of the basics before shooting — saturation, brightness, background blur — instead of in post production. Granted, there is FAR more to this exceptional tool than I will probably ever figure out, but that hasn’t stopped me from starting somewhere.
Select a Subject
The key to capturing great texture shots is to find relatively uniform fields and crop in on them closely. If you look down at the sidewalk and want to capture the fractal patterns of cracks, be sure to focus on a spot that doesn’t have a weed or large pebbles. Eliminate anything that might interfere with the visual continuity of your viewing field, either by manually removing debris or cropping it out with your zoom. This is counterintuitive to the usual practice of finding a main subject and focusing it against an uncluttered backdrop.
If you’re capturing a larger subject, like tree branches, try to find a patch that has the same sized branches without big holes of sky. But don’t crop so far in that you lose the effect of a repeating pattern. You’re aiming to see a unified if not homogeneous field when you look through the view finder. If there is variation, try to find consistent variation within the frame — like the repeating of colors. I for one enjoy a little contrast, especially when it comes to color (see below).
While I did my best to focus in on subjects that were more uniform in nature, inevitably there were some distracting elements I didn’t notice ’till I opened my images in Photoshop, like the pine needle in the image below, at bottom right. Feel free to further crop your shots once you’ve uploaded them.
Some Photo Tips
Make sure you’re using a macro shooting mode when taking a close-range shot. I much prefer to photograph without flash, in natural but indirect light. Play with the lighting intake options to optimize your brightness without blowing out the image. Play with the focus so you get the right shot. If your camera insists on auto-focusing, adjust your depth of field by moving closer and farther away from the subject while applying light pressure to the button without actually taking a picture. Hold as still as possible when taking the shot. Movement will cause the image to be blurry or “soft”.
Try to shoot your subject flat on instead of at an angle. You are trying to create a two-dimensional swatch and any depth of field will impair this impact. You can see the effects of shooting at an angle below, and how the focus softens in the upper right corner.
That’s it! Go forth and make your own texture libraries. Open source them if you’re feeling inspired! I love having a camera on hand when I’m out in the world. You never know when you’re going to see something worth shooting.