A sense of touch can be given in a photograph by capturing texture. By accentuating the surface undulations, or lack of them, you can provide useful information that will help the viewer identify the substance of the subject.
Texture is not just about identification – it can be isolated to create strong, semi-abstract images. By moving in, or zooming, to remove clues about shape and form, you can concentrate on the texture alone. Get in close enough, using your camera’s macro mode or with specialist accessories, and you will often find that surfaces are less smooth than they first appear.
To maximize the visibility of texture, light needs to cast shadows into the furrows and dips in the surface, and illuminate the ridges. As with form, sidelighting is often useful. However, if a surface is reasonably flat, the light rays just need to rake across the surface at an acute angle. The lighting can therefore be directly above, to the side, or below the subject.
Unlike most subjects, texture can often be shot successfully in the midday sun. Interesting texture is often found on vertical surfaces—such as the peeling paint on walls or the gnarled wood of an old door. This means that the raking light from the overhead sun can pick out all the textural detail without any problem. Inscriptions carved in stone also show up clearly when the sun is directly overhead.
In the studio, it pays to avoid making any artificial lighting too harsh. Otherwise, you will end up with large areas of burned-out highlight, which are impossible to recover satisfactorily using digital manipulation. Either diffuse the light slightly or place a reflector to reduce the contrast across the surface that you are photographing, so you can expose for both shadows and highlights successfully.
These days there is a normal practice to retouch the skin tones and make it look like plastic when over done. That works well in glamour and beauty shots but it takes away from the reality and the feel of texture or the skin. One needs to be careful as to the extent one should apply such filters and avoid where not required.
Munish Khanna is a well experienced creative photographer based in Delhi, India
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