Patterns and textures are widely used in design, and this is why photographers want to have a collection of images of this sort in order to sell as stock. Anyway, since stock sites now have a massive library of these types of images, you need to think about shooting very original textures in order to get your photos accepted and make sales.
First of all, let’s see what’s the difference between pattern and texture. While these two terms are used as synonyms in photography, there is a difference: one is repetitive, while the other one is not. For business purposes, this means you should seek to obtain patterns, not just textures.
Pattern – a repeated decorative design (regular and intelligible form or sequence). You can multiply the image to obtain an infinite bigger image.
Texture - the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface (not necessary repetitive design!).
This means that a texture can be a pattern, and a pattern has a texture. You hear about wood texture, but not about wood pattern.
In texture photography, it’s all about patterns, colors and depth. To obtain a nice texture, you just need to find interesting patterns, apply vibrant colors and good contrast and sharpness. Not every texture makes a good photograph, but with time and practice you will develop an eye for what works and what doesn’t. First, if you want your picture to be artistic and appealing, there has to be some depth which will allow for shadow. Shadows create the look of dimension, without which your texture will appear flat. For texture photography, I recommend this article here, while I will continue talking more about pattern photography.
Outdoor textures and patterns are easier to photograph, and there isn’t much to say about this. You can find them all around: human made (such as brick walls) or natural (such as tree stamps).
In the case of indoor pattern photography, however, things are much more complicated. Many photography beginners believe that pattern photography is easy: there is nothing to compose, the subject is clear, and there is this misconception that there aren’t many possible mistakes when shooting a pattern. This means you don’t have to think creatively as much as for other kind of photography types, but you need to think technically a lot.
How to photograph indoor patterns
When those apparently simple pictures are downloaded on the computer, and viewed at at full resolution of the big screen, the technical errors show up. So, this is what I’m going to talk about: the technicalities and issues that come with pattern photography.
1. Indoor conditions have poor lighting
It’s important that you use a tripod whenever possible to avoid camera shake. Also, need to try and illuminate your pattern evenly, meaning that you need to avoid strong lateral lights (like the light from windows). An image that is darker on one side, and gradually lighter on the opposite side, is a poor pattern.
Software solution: use highlight/shadows adjustment to brighten the shadows and darken the lighter areas. The image will then become flat, but sometimes, this is exactly what you aim at. Here’s how I did it for one of the surfaces I photographed (click to enlarge):
2. The edges of the frame may be subject to distortion
The best lens for shooting patterns is a 50mm prime lens. This lens will allow you to shoot with as less distortions as possible. Still, in the end, you might want to crop the outer frame of your picture. The pattern looks best towards the middle of the frame. Think about it: the distance from the sensor towards the center of the image is slightly different from the distance you have between the sensor and the outer sides of your frame. What you get is a prismatic perspective over your pattern, and, this prism will have a larger angle the closer you are to the subject. In conclusion: if possible, avoid being too close to the patterned object, and crop the edges.
4. Automatic focus doesn’t work on patterns
The reason why automatic focus doesn’t work on most patterns is simple: the sensor cannot find a distinctive element to focus on. There are two ways in which you can get past this inconvenient:
- Focus on a subject at the same distance as your pattern, lock the camera, then move back to your pattern.
- Use manual focus for the estimated distance.
3. A part of the picture might not be in focus
The camera must be perfectly, and I repeat that: perfectly, parallel with the patterned surface. A wrong angle not only causes a different illumination, but also might change the way your subject is captured in the narrow depth of field (assuming you have a narrow DOF due to the small distance from the pattern). A large part of your pattern will gradually “step” out of focus.
What you need to do is following (apart from shooting perpendicularly on the surface): use the aperture that allows you the maximum depth of field. If you can’t get perfectly parallel (it’s rather difficult), then you can crop the edges and cut out the slightly out of focus areas if you are using the narrowest aperture. However, there’s a problem here: with a narrow aperture, your shutter speed will increase. If you think about the poor lighting of indoor conditions, a long shutter speed is a big issue. In this case, if I can’t use a tripod, I increase the ISO number.
The shooting perspective also gains you a lot of distortion if you can’t keep your camera perpendicular on the patterned surface. A tripod with an air bubble comes in handy for such situations. In the below example, the patterned surface would have been perfect if the angle between the tiles would have been a perfect 90 degrees. Perfection is hard to achieve, and you should not get frustrated with this. You can skew and crop afterwards.
What patterns do you have at home? Look at the furniture, textiles, floors and carpets. I wanted something rustic, not very saturated, so it can be used as background (or adjustment layer) for something else.