Photoshop Texture Overlays: More Useful than you may Know

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Photoshop Texture Overlays: More Useful than you may Know


Most photographers probably don’t think of Photoshop texture overlays as photo editing tools. They’re more for special effects and creating digital art, right? It’s true that those are common applications for them. Textures can be used in more subtle ways to enhance your photos, though. Let’s look at some examples of using them in ways you might not have considered.

I’m going to walk through how I used overlays on an image I took many years ago with one of my first digital cameras, an Olympus E-10. I chose this image because it’s a good example of creating something from nothing. Here’s the exposure data:

  • Focal Length: 17mm
  • Shutter Speed: 1/125s
  • Aperture: f/3.6
  • ISO80

and here’s the original image, which was disappointing:

Original photo witth blown out texture

I’ve always liked this shot artistically, but blown out highlights and low resolution made it a difficult fix. Sadly, it just took up space on the hard drive for a long time. Eventually, I decided to play with it a bit. I did some careful cloning on the rocks on the left and made some tone adjustments. Next, I cropped it according to the Rule of Thirds. Here’s the result:

Improved photo needs texture

While I was much happier with this version, the rocks on the left didn’t have any recoverable detail. I also wanted to play up the light reflected on the boy’s face. I felt that the rock ceiling above his head was a good place to enhance the reflection effect by adding a little mottled light.

Photoshop Texture 1

I ran the Texture Applicator Plus Action and browsed through the Texture Play Overlays for one with a fairly marbled look. When the Smart Object came up, I sized it to match the photo and then let the action run. Here’s where the process gets fun! Checking the the blending mode layers in the Textures group created, I liked the contrast that Hard Light gave me. Setting the opacity at 82% gave me the light and shadows I wanted. Finally, I used a big, soft-edged brush to mask out the overlay where I didn’t want the effect.

First Photoshop Texture Overlay

Photoshop Texture 2

Time to deal with those blown-out areas. This time, I used the Slate texture from the Topper selection in the overlays package.  Soft Light was the blend mode I chose, at 11% opacity. A quick brush around the central area to mask it and we’re done – almost.

Photo with second Photoshop texture overlay added

Photoshop Texture 3

This texture was nice,  but a bit too uniform. To break it up a bit, I ran the action one more time with the Weathered Rock Topper. (That sounds like a good fit, no?) The Overlay blend mode at 12% opacity gave me a nice, random look with the right tone. This was much closer to what I wanted.

Photo with third Photoshop texture overlay added

Finishing Touches

Okay, at this point I had a nice texture that matched the color of the rock. It was still a little overexposed in places, so I grabbed the Burn Tool. I worked on highlights, shadows and midtones separately, keeping the exposure setting very low. The rocks gradually gained form and the texture in the mortar started to show. I didn’t take it too far, since I wanted to retain the directional quality of the light. The before and after slider at the beginning of this post shows the result after burning:

Am I finished with this photo? I’m not sure, but I think it’s vastly improved. It’s still a relatively low-resolution photo from a 4-megapixel camera. Despite that, it’s an image I wouldn’t mind using online.

The real point I want to make here is that the Photoshop texture overlays haven’t made this look unnatural. Instead, I’ve used them to create texture where there was none in the original. Considering the blown out highlights, that would have been virtually impossible by the standard methods. The free Texture Applicator Plus application made this a very simple process.

These examples just scratch the surface of what you can do with Photoshop texture overlays. I’ll provide some other ideas in a future post. Have fun!


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Photoshop Texture Overlays: More Useful than you may Know