Tips for Using the Lightroom Texture Tool

Tips for Using the Lightroom Texture Tool - Mastin Labs

You might have noticed that Lightroom's May 2019 update came with a new toy. Nestled just above the familiar (and somewhat dangerous) Clarity tool is a new slider labeled "Texture." If you're like me, you saw it and immediately started sliding it back and forth on different images just to see what the thing does.

As fun as new toys and tools are, I'm a bit wary of anything that manipulates sharpness or the finer details of an image. We've all seen photos from photographers who clearly went ham with the Clarity slider and sent the images out into the world believing that the detail was to die for. If we're honest, we have all probably been that photographer before. I know that I have. And I learned my lesson: BE WARY OF ANYTHING THAT MANIPULATES SHARPNESS OR TEXTURE!

Still, Adobe saw fit to add an entirely new tool and captured my curiosity. While casually sliding the tool back and forth on different photos, my first thought was, "This is kind of just... Clarity light," but I now believe that the new Texture tool is much more finessed than its clunky counterpart, and I want to put it to the test and see where it shines.

According to Adobe, the reason for the addition of this new tool comes as a response to a large number of requests by Adobe customers asking for high-quality skin retouching in Lightroom. In its early phases, the Texture tool was called "Smoothing," though they eventually made the slider work in both the positive and negative. Since the conception of the tool was based around skin smoothing, let's first test it there.

Skin Smoothing with Lightroom Texture Slider

Before we jump head-on into this, I'd like to offer a little advice: Get to know this tool extensively on your personal images before ever considering using it on a client's photos. This is the type of photo adjustment that can be very easily overdone. 

Now, we can't simply just drag the Texture slider left or right and call it a day. This applies a global adjustment. While this might be okay for some images, it's not going to fly if we aim to smooth only the skin. Take a look at the differences in global adjustments.

The -100 Texture does make parts of his skin look nice, and while it doesn't entirely give him the plastic look of a Snapchat filter, it does make him look like he's in a dream sequence in 7th Heaven. So, in a word, no.

Taking the slider to +100 Texture poses its own pros and cons. It pops his eyes nicely, gives greater texture to his hair and beard, and also the background, foreground, and his clothes. It's bordering on crunchy, really. It's just too much.

We'll need to apply a local adjustment. For this, click the little brush icon just under the histogram or simply press the ‘K' key.

This toggles the brush toolbar. There are several ways to go about this, but I recommend dragging the Texture slider to -100, adjust the Feather to somewhere between 75-100, and the Flow to 50 or below. Your brush size is up to you and to what is appropriate for the image.

Brush over the areas you'd like to smooth. Because you're using a lower flow on your brush and a feathered edge, you can be quick about it. Just avoid the eyes, lips, and other things that should remain in detail. Once you're satisfied, press ‘return/enter' to finalize the adjustment, and the ‘Y' key to see the before and after versions.

Positive Texture with Lightroom Texture Slider

Now, let's see if we can use the positive side of the slider to make some specific details stand out.

Select the brush tool again. (K) Slide texture all the way to the right. (+100) The other setting should be the same as before.

I painted over the iris of each eye, avoiding the whites, and lightly added texture to both his hair and beard. Below are the before and after images.

I've found the positive texture to be readily useful in other types of images as well. In areas of images where texture already stands out, adding just a little more with the brush and texture tool can be a nice little pop. Below are a few examples of other uses of positive texture. In all cases, the texture was applied locally with a brush.

In the first example, more texture was applied to the material on the face of the subject. This application worked very well and helped to make the face behind the material all the more apparent.

Positive texture brushed onto material over subjects face. 35mm Kodak Portra 160. By Chris Daniels

Next is a backlit subject with a soft focus. The sun shines through her hair nicely, and some added texture to the ends of her hair allows it to pop out just a bit more.

Positive texture brushed onto ends of hair. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

Following is an image with the subject next to crashing waves. I ran the texture brush along the crest of the waves, causing the breaks to catch the eye.

Positive texture brushed onto waves. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Ektar 100 preset

Another great use for the negative texture is enhancing blur. The image below was taken with a slow shutter speed, allowing the moving water to blur. Using the brush tool, I applied the negative texture to the already smooth water, smoothing it further.

Negative texture brushed onto water. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Kodak Gold 200 preset

All in all, I'm excited that Adobe has added this new feature. Though I think it could be easily abused, it has some fantastic uses. I'd encourage you to do some experimenting with the texture tool yourself. The critical thing to remember is not to overdo it. Err on the side of too little. As you can see in many of the examples here, a subtle change can make a big difference.