Six Techniques to Control How Textures Blend into Photographs

Are you ready to spread some more yummy textures on your images but also want more control over how they blend?  Then this is the blog for you.  I’ll discuss 6 techniques that will give you flexibility in modifying how your textures blend with your underlying image.  “Home Coming,” (the image above) illustrates many of these techniques and I’ll refer to it as we explore each technique.

  1. Layer Masks:  These masks allow you to add a texture to the part of the image that you want it applied to, but still protect other parts of the image where you don’t want the texture.  Without a layer mask you will be blending the texture to the entire image.  Sometimes this is perfect, but sometimes you will only want the effect on a certain part of the image.  In Home Coming, I’ve added a bit of mystery with the white pyramid.  When you look closely, you can see that the pyramid is actually a painted “one way” arrow in the street.  See the tire tracks next to it?  Pretty funny. Although this is not a texture that I’m blending you can use the layer mask to add parts of another image using the layer masks.  In this image I like the pyramid but can’t leave the entire street in the image or I lose the mystery and you can see that it is just a picture of the street.   Layer mask to the rescue.  Technique; at the bottom of the layers palette are a series of icons, and the third from the left allows you to add a layer mask.  When I had the layer with the street/white arrow active, I simply clicked on this icon and you will notice a white thumbnail appear to the right of your layer thumbnail.  That is the representation of the new layer mask.  Now select the brush tool (push the B key), set the foreground color to black (in the tool bar click on the small icon of two squares that is across from the two headed arrow), and then paint over the areas that you don’t want to be textured.  With Home Coming, that meant painting out all of the image that fell below my horizon line.  This allowed the pyramid to show but left the bottom part of the image unchanged.  The benefit of a layer mask is that if you paint out too much, simply switch your brush to paint with white (push the X key) and you can recover any mistakes.  Remember that white reveals the texture and black conceals it.  So to totally block the texture you paint in black but you can vary the opacity of the brush to allow the texture to blend at any percentage that works for your image.
  2. Desaturating the Texture:  I overlaid a photograph of tall grass over the lower half of Home Coming, but when the green colors of the grass combine with those of the underlying image it just didn’t give me the look I was after.  By desaturating the texture, I can use the shapes in the texture image without the color information.   There are numerous ways to convert a color image into a black and white one, but the quickest one is to click Image>Adjustments>Hue and saturation.  Then drag the saturation slider to minus 100%.  Or use the keyboard shortcut: command shift U (hold down the command and shift keys and then click the U key).  If you don’t like the effect of that black and white conversion, try using an adjustment layer, which allows you to modify the value of each color range.  Now any color shift will disappear but you will still be able to use the luminosity information.
  3. Create a Color Shift:  Sometimes you will want to desaturate an image to avoid a color shift, but you can also change the color of the texture so that it enhances the color of the background image.  For example, if you have a reddish adobe texture and you are blending it into an image with a blue sky, that blue sky will shift toward purple.  If that is not the desired effect, use the Hue and Saturation dialog sliders (or Color Balance for additional control) to pull the hue into a cooler range that does enhance the color of the sky.  Tip: You can use a layer mask so that the new blue/cyan texture is only allowed to blend with the sky part of the background image.  If you want that same texture on the rest of the image to be warm, just create a second layer that is masked to hide the sky but allow the warm texture to blend with the bottom half of the image.  In Home Coming, I overlaid an image with a lot of red and yellow tones and then used the blend mode of “color.”  That gave me the color information without the shapes of the textures.  I will often then blur this layer a bit if the shapes are still visible in an important are of the image.  Of course you can just paint colors on a blank layer and blend them, but sometimes using an image with the colors you want will add a bit of unexpected mystery that can spark up the image.
  4. Modify the Opacity: Equally important to the mode you use to blend the images is your control over the amount of the texture that you apply to the background image.  By default the opacity is set at 100%, but you can just click on the word opacity in the layers palette and drag it to the left to reduce the opacity to the level that looks best.  Tip: I find that it helps to start at 50% opacity while I’m scrolling through the different blend modes.  Then when I find one that I like, I’ll check to see if it’s more effective at a higher or lower opacity.
  5. Resize and Reposition the Texture:  Never feel stuck with the initial look of the blend.  Use the move tool (top tool in the tool bar on the left side of your monitor) to reposition the texture to take advantage of its unique shape, color or pattern.  Occasionally I’ve found that the texture works but only if the “peeling paint” or “rust” is made larger or smaller to blend more authentically with the underlying image.
  6. Blend Modes: This is the magic that allows your texture image to merge successfully into your background image.  Play with the modes which lighten (Screen, etc) and darken (Multiply, etc) the image but I find using the modes based on contrast adjustments have been most effective for me.  I typically start with Hard Light but often use Overlay and occasionally Soft Light.  Tip: To quickly preview each of the available modes, select the move tool, then while holding down the shift and option keys (shift and alt on a PC), press the + (plus sign) to move through the modes.  This will quickly allow you to view how this texture interacts with each of the blend modes.  I find that even though I think I know which mode will work best, I’m often surprised by the drama created by a different one as I click through the modes.

I recommend taking an image that you enjoy, and layering 10 textures on top of it.  Turn all of them off (click on the eye icon to the left of the layer) except one and then view that texture using each blend mode, at 50% opacity.  When you find a mode that makes you smile, then try some of the other techniques discussed above.  If your image doesn’t work with that texture, drag it to the trash and turn on the visibility of the next texture.  Enjoy playing with your textures.

 

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