Playing with Photo Textures

Seagull photo

The seagull photo was combined with a freeware texture to produce this op-art effect.

I haven’t been doing much work with Photoshop lately, and for that matter, I haven’t done much photography since I’ve come back from vacation last fall. It’s too easy to get back into the work grind, you know? Traveling makes me want to take pictures, but it’s hard to be a tourist where you live. You simply stop noticing the kinds of things that make for good pictures because you’re too focused on the daily things in life.

Still, I launched Photoshop — I’m still on version CS — and did some playing. I wasn’t trying to make anything in particular, so there was no “wrong” image. In the above photo, I used a texture image that came on a CD from It’s the radial lines combined with the grunge effect. I layered it over my photo of the seagull and adjusted the opacity. I also had to resize it and move it around so that the seagull would be at the center of the circle. I used the eraser tool to remove some of the texture that was directly over the seagull so he wouldn’t look too messy.

It’s not a work of art — I don’t expect to make an enlargement and hang the photo on my wall. There are some areas around the bird that could use some tweaking and there’s a white line at the top of the image that looks like a huge scratch. But the more I look at it, I realize that not every image needs to be perfect. This one was simply a playful experiment that I did so I could get motivated to do some creative work. An art studio instructor I had long ago told us to take our charcoal and draw a big, dark line across our entire sheet of paper. It dispelled the “blank page” syndrome. Apparently, artists get this block just as much as writers, so I guess it’s possible for photographers to be afflicted with it, too. Take some “junk” photos and just play with manipulating them in your software. Add colors and textures, combine images, and don’t worry too much about what looks right. Just have fun, and if you come up with anything really interesting, post a link to it.

Using Photo Filters

I used a Cokin mauve graduated filter to add some color to the reflections of these trees at the Patuxent Research Refuge.

Now that we’re firmly in the digital age, it’s a pretty simple thing to get yourself some photo editing software and add color to just one section of your image. But that wasn’t always the case and, back in the “good ‘ol days” of film, you needed a filter of some kind to add the color to the image when you were taking the photo. Savvy darkroom enthusiasts might have been able to use colored filters to bump the colors a bit when they were processing their prints, but this was a bit of a hit-or-miss affair and not something for the faint of heart.

If you’ve ever done darkroom work, you know what the terms “dodge” and “burn” mean in real life. To dodge an image mean putting your hand or a piece of cardboard or anything else that would block the enlarger’s light from hitting the light-sensitive photo paper. “Burning in” was dodging’s complement: any area that received more light than the rest of the image was burned in, meaning that it became darker on the final print.

Black and white darkroom work was about as basic as you could get, because the light coming from the enlarger either struck your paper or it didn’t. The more light that hit the paper, the darker the final image would be. In addition to basic photo papers, there were multi-contrast photo papers that were sensitive to a range of colors. With these papers, you could use gelatin filters in your enlarger to adjust the contrast of the final print. I had a set of these filters when I did black and white darkroom work, and I used to make several prints and try out the different filters to see which image I liked best.

Color printing was more complicated. I tried it only once or twice and then gladly paid the local photo store to process my film and prints! I imagine it’s possible to add color to portions of a photo through careful manipulation of the amount of light hitting the color photo paper and the judicious use of filters. Every print made this way would be an absolute original, and it would be nearly impossible to make small adjustments to portions of the image.

Using colored filters in front of the lens when you take the picture is much easier. And these filters work with film or digital cameras, too. Don’t be afraid to try them just because you can add the colors in later with software. Sometimes it’s not so easy, and working with the filters can be fun, too. I have about 25 Cokin and generic brand A-sized filters that I started buying in the 1980s. I probably invested a couple of hundred dollars in these, so I didn’t want to trash them. But they’re too small for my SLR’s lenses. Just recently I found a filter holder that will work with my Nikon Coolpix that cost about ten dollars. Now these filters have a new lease on life, and I have my toys back!

Creating High-Contrast Art in Photoshop

Kayaks wait for the tour group to embark.

The original full-color image of the kayaks was an RGB image.

Years ago, back when I was just learning how to develop black-and-white film and make prints, I became intrigued by high-contrast film photography. There was a Kodak film made for graphic arts applications that essentially reduced images down to a silhouette. The graphic artist in me was busy looking at form, shape, and the interplay of positive and negative space in the image. The photographer in me saw a good way to take a marginally interesting photograph and get something more vivid out of it.

I haven’t done much photo work lately due to time constraints, but I’ve been doing some dabbling and came up with an interesting way to create a high-contrast image using Photoshop’s built-in filters. I am still using an older release of Photoshop CS, but this technique should work with any of the newer versions of the software. It may also work with other photo-manipulation software, including Photoshop Elements, but you will have to look at your software’s manual or menus to see if you have any filters that are similar.

I started with the color photo of the kayaks, which was in an RGB (red-green-blue) mode, and ran the Graphic Pen filter on the image. This particular filter results in an image that looks only black-and-white, but the image is still RGB. Next, I adjusted the curves until I had the water dark and the sky white. The shape of my curve was an “S” shape laying on its side. You’ll just have to pull at the curve until you get a result that you like — this isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription for all photos.

A high-contrast image of the kayaks.

The high-contrast image of the kayaks owes its detail to the graphic pen filter used.

Finally, I pulled up the Hue/Saturation menu and made adjustments. I clicked on the box labeled “Colorize,” and adjusted the other sliders until I had something that I liked. You’ll need to do some experimenting, but your end result should be a high-contrast version of the image that you started with, although depending on your settings, there will be some amount of detail in the image. What you end up with is basically black-and-white (or whatever color you picked in the Hue/Saturation menu), without intermediate shades of gray.

Tip: work on a copy of your image, so you don’t accidentally save over a photo that you want to keep.