When the quality of a surface is important to a shot, use lighting, helped by scale and contrast, to bring it to the fore
Michael explores how the right light enables you to capture a sense of texture in your images
Last issue’s article on capturing form was about taking a photo that sums up the entirety of an object. This time, it’s all about surface texture. If it helps, think of it as the difference between taking a firm hold of something and reaching out to touch it. Which gives you a better sense of what something is, whether it’s river-smoothed stone, a rough-skinned pineapple or a leather handbag? This is up for debate, but photography generally conveys surface qualities well, so long as you make good use of lighting, scale and contrast. This trio of factors is more or less all you need to refine and enhance what is essentially the visual translation of touch.
Texture is above all tactile, and so it’s no surprise that studio still-life photographers tend to have a head start when it comes to working with texture, because capturing it is one of the skills essential for selling many products in advertising. Consider most luxury goods (or anything bought for pleasure rather than out of sheer necessity), and you can see that their surface qualities are a major part of their appeal, whether it’s clothing, a handbag, a new gadget or a ceramic collectible. A single issue of the luxury lifestyle magazine How To Spend It is full of objects that, apart from price and desirability, have one thing in common: they are all exquisitely lit to show off their textural qualities to best advantage, and so to enhance their desirability.
In the wider world, texture also plays a role in bringing scenes to life, and one of the key reasons why the golden hour is so popular among landscape photographers is that the low angle of the sun starts to reveal tactile qualities in the land, from rocks to grass, which can give the viewer a sense of what it was like to be there.
Low-key lighting in the form of daylight through a doorway in an otherwise unlit shop just grazes the cheek of this man, bringing out the texture of his skin and beard
Our globetrotting Contributor at Large, renowned photographer and prolific author Michael Freeman, presents a monthly masterclass that’s exclusive to
N-Photo. Michael has published dozens of books on photography, including the bestselling PerfectExposure.