Tutorial: Post Process and Textures

Now, if you’re a regular reader, you probably will remember that I’m not a huge fan of excessive post processing. I try to keep the post-processing to a minimum; that, however, doesn’t mean I never use it.

It’s my opinion that by getting images just right while shooting saves me a lot of time in the long run. For example, I recently took a picture of this eagle, who I’ve named Leslie. I don’t know why. He just seems like a Leslie.

He flew nice and low and surprisingly close to me, and I was able to grab a few halfway-decent shots of him.

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Unfortunately, on this particular day, I really needed some fill lighting, to illuminate the underside of the bird better. I could edit this in photoshop and recover the details, sure. But consider that I took a couple dozens images of this bird each with different wing strokes and different angles of the body. It’d be pretty tedious to fix each individual image; I couldn’t batch-edit these.

However, I see nothing wrong with some minor tweaks to correct an image. For example, Pentax cameras are set to slightly desaturate all images (factory programming), so I’ll boost the saturation a little bit to compensate. On occasion, I’ll tweak the contrast and, yes, I admit it, even zap zits. Hey, I’m vain!

I also have no problem with taking a little artistic license with an image that I’m otherwise pretty happy with. I’m not editing to “save” a weak image. I’m editing because…well, I want to!

And that brings us to today’s tutorial.

dog in water
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Say hello to Apollo, my creaky old bow-legged retriever. I think he makes an excellent model, yes? Even though he’s a little funny looking.

On its own, this image can stand on its own legs fairly well. It’s a somewhat neutral image because the water is reflecting the sky quite a bit, but there’s still a lot of interest. Composition-wise, it’d be better if there weren’t lines of waves intersecting with Apollo’s head. It’s not too distracting, though.


First, I wanted to heighten the sea effect. You know, the steely blue-green hue that people seem to associate with the northern oceans.

I fired up the Curves adjustment layer. Normally all I do is tweak the RGB curve (the black line) for increased contrast, but today I also adjusted the individual color curves. It’s the dropdown menu by the “auto” button.

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The curves adjustment layer’s opacity got decreased to 50% – at 100%, it was a very gag-worthy shade of green. (Obviously 100% is the left one).

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I know it still seems pretty green, but I have a reason for that. Hang in there!

Then I decided to give the overall image a slightly more bluish cool cast. Yes, in theory I could’ve done this in curves, but it’s finicky and annoying, and I hate working with the color curves. So there! Selective Color here:

And here comes the fun part.

I hate artificial noise. It looks nothing like film grain, it just looks fake. There’s no randomness in the chaos. It’s not organic. It’s just…terrible!

A few years ago, I discovered a way to get a bit of that film grain feeling without using noise, whether from high ISO or from postprocess.


Textures are a great way to introduce a different feel to a digital image. You can make it feel distressed and old. Or like a high grain film. Or add a sense of motion. Or enhance colors that are already present in your image. It’s really easy to go overboard; if you’re curious, remember that less is more.

Where to find the textures? You can do one of the two things: 1. Take photographs of various surfaces and keep a folder with these texture photographs on your computer. Or 2. Get them online. Flickr’s Creative Commons is a great place to get high-res textures. Just read the licenses carefully – you may need to credit the original owner.

You can use as many or as few as you like. The more layers you have, however, the busier it gets, and it can get chaotic and detract from your original image too much. My max is usually 3, but only if at least two are very translucent (low opacity %).

I usually hit the Creative Commons, but today I decided to use what I have in my archives. I chose three different texture here. I really liked the textures in the gray and the blue stones, but wanted the gold one to add a little warmth because the other two would cool the image significantly (and reduce the green even more).

Generally I try to pick textures that are finely grained. Ideally, it’ll be free of obvious, distracting blemishes, although those can be cloned out if need be.

To start, put each texture on its own layer, on top of your image, and change the the type of the blend (the dropdown menu) from “Normal” to “Overlay” at about 10% opacity each. Feel free to experiment though, different option will have different effect, and likewise, different opacity will make the image look different. Slowly increase the opacity until the texture becomes apparent, but isn’t too obvious.

The layers ultimately ended up with these setting:

The “gold” texture: Soft light, 20%
The “blue” texture: Vivid light, 15%
The “gray” texture: Overlay, 40%

The gray one, I decided to go higher because I really liked the effect. It made the picture look distressed and gave it character.

Final image:

final edited image
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What do you think?



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