Digital images don’t have much texture. Your subjects might, of course, but the way cameras render tones is glassy-smooth (at low ISO settings anyway) and sometimes a little sterile. Adding a texture digitally can make a picture look more interesting, more tactile and more ‘hand made’.

Textures can be very subtle, like the fine texture of a canvas printing paper. The texture in this photo is not subtle (!) but it shows what textures can do at the other end of the scale, adding a corroded, aged look and even some tonal interest to otherwise blank areas of the picture.

Textures aren’t difficult to apply in any program that supports layers such as Affinity Photo, Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements. All you need is your image and a ‘texture’ image to layer it with – and little know-how with layer blend modes and opacity.

You can photograph different textures with your camera and stockpile them for future use. Or you can take a different route and use software that has textures built in, together with tools dedicated to blending them with your images in all sorts of was.

This picture was made with ON1 Photo RAW, which probably has the best collection of textures and blending options of all. Alien Skin Exposure is good too, though a little subtler in its textures and effects. Or you can use Analog Efex Pro, part of the free Nik Collection, which can simulate dust and scratches as well as old-fashioned photographic wet plates.

So here’s our start image, a perfectly pleasant travel shot, though with a pretty blank sky and that glassy ‘digital’ look we talked about at the start.

Texture effects

And here’s what we’ve done to it in ON1 PHoto’s Effects module. We’ve just used the Texture filter and its adjustments but chosen a particularly strong ‘Earth’ effect that almost gives the impression of an painting. It’s hardly realistic, but in photography the overall ‘look’ can often be more important than technical accuracy.

Texture effects

01: ON1 Photo’s ‘Earth’ texture doesn’t just add a patina to the whole picture, it adds some valuable interest to an otherwise blank sky. To stop the texture image completely covering up the photo it’s applied to, you use blend modes such as ‘Soft Light’, ‘Overlay’ and more. Blend modes control the way the pixels in the top layer and those in the layer underneath interact and mix together.

02: Our texture spreads across the whole photo, covering the facades of the buildings. For this image, it works rather well, though ON1 Photo and other programs will usually offer masking tools so that you can protect key parts of the picture from the texture effect if you want to.

03: The Filter panel has a drop-down menu for selecting different texture effects, blend mode and opacity controls for adjusting its strength and appearance and – usefully – brightness, saturation and hue controls for fine-tuning the look of the picture afterwards. These options are not unique to ON1 Photo – you’ll find the same tools in other programs, though in different panels and menus.

So here’s the finished image. It’s a pretty exaggerated ‘look’, but chosen to show just how powerful these texture effects can be.

Texture effects

The underlying image detail perhaps looks a little sharp for this ‘distressed’ look, but that could easily be fixed with ON1’s Glow filter or similar softening tools in other programs. Very often, it can take a couple of filter effects used together to get a final image you’re happy with.