Using light to show or hide texture

Sometimes you want to show the texture of what you are photographing, for example, you may want to exaggerate the texture of wooden or paper items to make them look more authentic, other times you want to hide texture (and make skin look smother).

Today we’ll see how you can control just how much texture we will see in the images.

Our first test subject is a printout of the dinosaur from the white background post a while back printed on cheap office paper.

For this experiment I’ve set the camera in manual mode, ISO 100, f/8, 1/200, at those settings all the light we see is coming from the flash (without flash the picture is completely black), the camera is on a tripod looking almost strait down at the printed paper that is on a small table.

In the first picture the flash is on the camera pointed directly at the paper and in minimum power (because the white paper reflects a lot of light back at the camera) and we get this:

In the second picture, with the same camera settings and the same flash at the same distance from the subject and still pointed directly at the paper – but this time located to camera left at the same height as the paper and in maximum power (because this time most of the light crosses from left to right without hitting the paper) and we get this:

The picture is too dark so we open the aperture and raise the ISO and get this:

We can clearly see the difference in the paper’s texture between the first and third picture (the second picture is here to prove that the difference was caused by moving the light and not by changing the camera settings).

Now, I’ve chosen those two extreme positions To make the difference obvious in real life, you rarely light your subject directly from the side and, unless you don’t have a choice, you also rarely want the light to come from the camera, in most cases you should choose something in the middle.

Why does this happen? when the light source is close to the camera and the light hits a textured surface all the surface is more or less evenly lit – making the surface look flat.

On the other hand, when the light is coming from the side it only lights one side of each little ridge that makes up the texture – transforming the surface into a series of lighter and darker patches and bringing out the texture.

This is why people say the light from on-camera flash is “flat” it makes 3D object seem flatter and reduces the feeling of depth is the image.

That’s it for today, see you next week.

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