October 21, 2013

Wren in the Bird Bottle – A Study in Applying Texture to a Photo

November’s challenge topic on my other blog, A Personal Photo Challenge, is applying texture layers to photographs. It may be an old hat trick for some of the regular participants, but it may be a bit scary for those who have never tried it. The technique is really easier than you think, and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for transforming your photos into images with artistic flair.

I discovered how to apply textures several years ago, and it changed my thinking process when I pick up a camera. Many times, I plan ahead and take certain photos with the intention of applying textures later in the “digital darkroom.”

In one of my initial texture experimentations, I altered a very casual photo that was a candidate for deletion. But after some basic cleanup in Photoshop and application of a texture, it turned out to be one of my all-time favorite images. The photo has a simple composition, and its subject is a momma wren at the mouth of a bird bottle, pausing after feeding her babies.

I decided recently to recreate and improve the textured image, using current software and knowledge, so that I could give a 5x7 print to a dear friend. And with the next photo challenge topic coming up soon, I thought I would give a little peek behind the digital curtain and share with you the original image file, the textured applied, and the final result.

Below is the ugly truth, straight out of the camera. Looking at this photo now just gives me the shivers. At the time, I was taking photos in jpeg format instead of RAW, and the file size is a measly 3 MB. So the digital information for post-processing is greatly restricted. The largest lens I had at the time was a 200mm, and the subject still was too far away. The photo was also taken through a window, which adds to the low quality.

Despite all of these problems, I thought that the image had some promise for texture testing. Below is what the file looked like after I did some basic post-processing steps, removal of the nesting clutter around the bird, and initial crop. It is already a dramatic improvement!

After cropping the image even further, I applied a lovely texture layer from Shadowhouse Creations. I chose a “linear light” blend mode with 80% opacity and masked off (i.e., removed) the texture slightly on the inside of the bottle. I also reduced the color effect on the bird and tidied up some of light glare on the bottle.

And here is the end result!

Keep in mind that this is a huge crop of the original file. That lends to the “painterly” effect. The final image size is not adequate for large prints, but it is sufficient for smaller prints and note cards.

I hope that this example inspires you to play in the “digital darkroom” and try applying textured layers to your photos. Be sure to check out the handy background information available on my other blog, A Personal Photo Challenge. Of course, I would love to see your creations and have you participate in the challenge next month!


  1. Wow, what an inspiration and a huge change from the original photo. I wish I had your skills when it came to photography and editing. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. I used to be more brave with textures and used them from time to time. It's something I had given up, but I will see what I can do following your excellent tips. Yours actually looks like a top-shelf photograph rather than an altered image as I usually think of with my experiments. This little bird is a star.

  3. That is amazing! I love using textures but I've never done anything like this! It's fun to learn new techniques though so I'll try to open my mind! I'll try.....heehee! Sweet hugs!

  4. Oh boy. This is great. I'm a newbie with textures, but sort of liking them.

    Love the little bird.

  5. Your final product is beautiful! Fascinating!

  6. it's a fabulous transformation and this is exactly why I love to use textures.

  7. Wow, amazing what you can do with a texture. I've been playing a bit but will never achieve something this good. Should we be showing our before and after for the challenge?

  8. Your little bird turned out to be a prize! I have never done backgrounds or textures but I'm gonna give it a try. Thanks for the tips.

  9. This is an amazing transformation! (The original shot was really cute and you made it really POP with the texture layering.) I am so looking forward to this challenge and seeing the various photos. Thanks for this post it's inspirational... hope I can dream up a subject half as good as this! Enjoy your day Donna!

  10. What a great job Donna - finished image is truly lovely, and of course being my favorite little birdie I love it anyway it comes!

    OK, how do YOU get your image on top of the texture, OR did you put the texture over the image? I'm fiddling about constantly try to do textures, all hit or miss, and am not doing that great!

    I have completed my 'texture post' for next month and, according to your request, did do before and after. Of course this breaks the number of pics rule, is that gonna be OK for this challenge Donna?

    Hi to Mr.Jim - thinking of him every day.

    Mary X

  11. Awesome! Better than awesome, actually. :)


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