You can create unique and elegant imagery by adding textures to your photos in Photoshop. It can be quite time consuming to do it manually by opening the texture, draging and droping it into your image, and changing the layer blending mode. If you want to add another texture, you have to repeat the steps.
There is a much faster way to accomplish this, and that is by adding textures in an automated Photoshop action. This is how to do it.
Open a texture in Photoshop. Make certain the resolution is high, I make mine at least 4,500x3,600 pixels. In Photoshop go to Edit > Define Pattern. Name your new pattern and click OK.
Creating your texture action
Open an image and make certain your Actions palette is active. Click on Create New Action and name your action. Click Record.
Now you are recording your steps in Photoshop. The first step is to duplicate the image so that you're not working on an original photo. Go to Image > Duplicate.
Next, duplicate the background layer, ctrl/cmd-J. Click on Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of your Layers palette. From the pop-up menu select Pattern, and select the pattern you just created. Now change the layer blending mode of the pattern layer to Soft Light.
The next step is to Rasterize the pattern layer. Make certain that your Pattern layer is selected, and click on Layer > Rasterize > Layer. The reason for doing this is so that you can use Photoshop’s Free Transform tool (ctrl/cmd-T) to resize the texture if you need to, after the action has finished.
Now go to your Actions tab and stop the action. Run the action on an image to test it.
I usually use two to five textures in an image. You can turn many of your favourite textures into Photoshop patterns using this technique, and then add them using this action. When a texture doesn't work with an image, you can simply delete that layer or turn it off.
Experiment with different texture combinations and layer blending modes
The layer blending mode I use most often is Soft Light, but I sometimes use Overlay or Hard Light, and reduce the opacity of the texture layer.
You can also have a duplicate of your photo on top of your textures in the layers palette and change the layer blending mode of the duplicate to soft light. This will give you a different effect.
Brush away, re-size, Gaussian Blur
You can easily brush on your textures layer mask to reduce its effect anywhere in the image. I usually brush away most of the texture from people in an image.
I use one of Photoshop’s standard soft brushes and set the opacity to about 60% then brush away the texture and/or reduce the opacity of the texture layer.
Sometimes it’s faster to drag part of the texture off of the image using the Free Transform tool.
If you apply Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) to any of your texture layers when they are in the Soft Light or Overlay blending mode, it will nicely soften the texture and give your image a smooth look. I sometimes do this to one texture, while leaving other textures alone.
Add a black and white adjustment layer
By adding a black and white adjustment layer you will not only see if black and white suits your image. You can reduce the opacity of the layer and have some color showing through for an antique color effect.
Gavin Phillips has been developing complex Photoshop actions for photographers for over 12 years. Professional Photographer magazine readers receive a 60% discount on the latest set of 'Vintage Color' texture actions.