We think of photography primarily as a visual medium. But a wise photographer remembers that our senses aren’t entirely independent of one another. A photo of a band playing might bring sounds to the viewer’s mind, even if she can’t actually hear music being played. Food ads use photos to make audiences think about smells and tastes. And in the case of texture, photos use the sense of sight to simulate and stimulate the sense of touch.
A good texture shot immediately suggests an adjective about touching. In this photo, the word “rough” comes immediately to mind. Both the textures in the shot produce the same visual-tactile sensation. You might also get other adjectives from this, such as “dry” and “lumpy.”
At the opposite end of the touch spectrum, this shot produces a feeling of “smooth” or perhaps “wet.”
What you’re aiming for is communication with your viewer that says “If you could somehow reach into this picture and touch what we’re both looking at, you know exactly what it would feel like.”
You’ll notice that most of the photos in this slide show are “close ups,” taken from positions close to the subjects and using higher focal lengths to bring out surface details. From farther away, it’s harder to get the feeling of what it would be like to touch the subject.
You’ll also help your sense of texture by framing to exclude distracting elements. A wider shot of this wing – a photo including the cockpit, engine and the like – would have done a better job of saying “airplane” but a worse job of saying “smooth.”
However, that doesn’t mean you have to live inches away from your subjects all the time. This picture was taken from a considerably greater distance than most texture shots, but it still does a solid job of saying “wet.”
Some teachers stick with a familiar, narrow definition of texture, limiting it to what surfaces feel like when you touch them with your fingers.
I encourage you to think more expansively about it. On the subject in this photo, the sweat on his face says “wet.” But it also says “hot.” And the mist coming out of his frozen-lemonade-filled bag provides a contrasting sense of cold. You wouldn’t be able to touch the mist with your fingers, but it still gives you a strong visual sense of what it feels like to be out at the ballpark on a hot summer day.
As you work, keep an eye out for images that include more than one texture. The artist who made this statue uses “smooth” for skin but “rough” for cloth, as this photo brings out.