The Art of the Overlay: Texturising Digital Photos

A quality we all look for in digital photos is clarity, with clean, sharp details and an absence of noise. We usually want the images on our screen to jump out at us with no “interference” whatsoever.

But what if you wanted to introduce texture into onscreen photos and give them a look you can almost feel? This can be achieved in Photoshop and other editing programmes. Sometimes it’s nice to lose that clinical appearance and give photos a bit of snap, crackle and pop.

How Digital Overlays are Created

To create a digital overlay in photography, you need two digital photos and some photo-editing software that supports layers. Most sophisticated programmes do support layers, including Photoshop, Paintshop Pro, ACDSee Ultimate, or Affinity Photo. Even free programmes such as GIMP will work.

One of the two photos you select for digital overlays will depict a textured surface. The material could be anything, from brickwork to wood or a piece of crumpled paper. The texture in this photo forms the background of the main image. Digital overlays work best when the main subject is simple, because you want the texture to come through and not be lost in fussy detail.

Why not check out some creative posters online for inspiration? You’ll quickly get a feel for what type of picture might work well with another. It’s even possible to place a painted artwork in the background of your main subject to achieve a painterly look.

It’s easy to create digital overlays. You copy and paste or drag and drop one image onto another. This automatically creates a layer in most compatible software. You then adjust the effect with an opacity slider and/or the blending mode. The two blending modes typically used for this technique are “overlay” or “soft light”. When the overlaid image looks right, you flatten the layers and save your new photo.

Ready-Made Textures

To create a digital overlay, you don’t necessarily need your own library of textured photos. All you need is the main picture that you want to texturise. You can download textures from free stock photo libraries or from Flickr if they have a Creative Commons license. Add these textures to your own photos!

Some photo-editing programmes such as Photoshop CC and Affinity have a built-in connection to stock photos you can use in projects. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you shooting your own backgrounds, so the picture is 100% yours. The critical thing, though, is the conception of the final image. The art of the digital overlay comes from you, the creator.