The Elements of Visual Design – Texture

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So far in this series on visual design we have discussed four elements to use in composing photographs: tone, colour, line and shape. Light is the common ingredient that allows us to see each of these elements in a scene and as photographers we owe everything to it.  Not surprisingly it is also important in being able to recognize the next building block, texture.  Probably the least used of all the elements of visual design, texture can be described as either the coarseness or softness of a surface or something that resembles the feel of woven fabric.

Successful visual design in photography depends on seeing with new eyes and often that begins with removing the labels we normally use. This is true of shape, which we discussed last week, and also with texture. In the picture below, all sense of what the original subject matter is eliminated. This was a bed of yellow grass in a local park. It could have been photographed exactly the way it appeared however by using intentional camera movement and multiple exposures, the picture now gives the viewer a completely different feeling of texture.

texture in an image using multiple exposure and intentional camera movement

There are other techniques to create texture in your pictures. Let’s say you are at a beach where you see water and rocks. By using a longer exposure (more exposure to light), you can create a feeling of roughness and smoothness by including both the rocks and the water within the same frame. This kind of exposure will even out any distractions so that the eye can concentrate on two main forms that successfully create two different textures.

How you choose to light something can also create texture in a picture. The tonal contrast between areas of light and shade will give you a feeling of roughness and smoothness. You may have noticed that when you use the Lightroom sliders to change the contrast in a picture, you achieve a more textured feeling.

Texture is not as an intuitive a visual design element as line and colour because we have to work much more to see and use it in our photographs. It takes experimentation and practice but once you are more familiar with texture, you will find it easier to incorporate it as a compositional element to make stronger photographs.

Next week: The Elements of Visual Design – Perspective