Review: Trey Ratcliff’s Texture Tutorial

Textured Capitol by William Beem

Earlier this year, I took  a workshop on HDR photography in Tampa taught by Trey Ratcliff and Scott Bourne. Although we went outside to capture some images, I didn't find anything that really interested me at the Tampa Convention Center.  The real reason to be there was to learn how Trey crafts his HDR images.  Before the workshop, I took my first HDR shots while on vacation in Las Vegas.  Some I liked, some I didn't, but I could tell there wasn't really anything magical about them.  Anyone can take multiple exposures, run them through Photomatix and process the result.  There was more to getting results like Trey's, or more importantly, results that I wanted using Trey's techniques.  When the class settled in Tampa, Trey said “there are no secrets.”  He intended to show us exactly how he created his images and he lived up to his word.  Although I would have preferred a better location to shoot some images, I thought that I got what I wanted out of the workshop.  I'm still practicing those techniques to learn how I want to shape my own images, but there is no secret about the technique.

I thought he was also going to go into his texture tutorial a bit at the workshop, but that wasn't the case.  No matter, it was billed for HDR and not textures.  It's taken me a while to get around to it, but I finally purchased Trey's Texture Tutorial last weekend.  He offers several versions, but I opted for the Basic version (i.e., the cheapest one).  The higher priced versions went up to $400.  Quite honestly, I wasn't sure if that provided enough value for me.  For the extra money, you get many more textures (150 vs. 25 with the Basic version) and a couple of bonus videos.  One thing I was glad to see is that you can upgrade from the Basic version if you want to stick your toe in the water first and then upgrade to the full package.

Trey's video shows you how he works through adding textures to multiple images.  After the first image is complete, you know the basic techniques.  There's nothing difficult about it.  Watching him work reminded me of something Scott Kelby mentions at his workshops.  The steps are easy.  You just have to put them together to get the desired result.  Quite honestly, the steps are simple enough that you almost want to smack your head if you didn't think of it yourself.  Trey's work with textures is very much like his work with HDR.  He demonstrates a lot of the same techniques.

The thing that I found most valuable was watching him go through various images and work through the thought process to create something.  He tells you what he's thinking about and why he makes the processing choices applied to each image as he does it.  You'll see him try something, evaluate the result, and then decide.  He may toss it aside, tweak it, or keep it.  To me, that was the true value in buying the texture tutorial.  I got a peek inside the mind of an artist and learned that I can apply the same techniques to my images.

There is something to keep in mind, though.  Just because you use Trey's techniques does not mean your pictures will suddenly look like Trey's.  As you go through the process with HDR or textures, you make decisions along the way based upon what you like or don't like.  Those decisions ultimately build the final image.  You may not make the same choices that Trey would make, and that's OK.  When you watch him work, you see his choices and you may think “Cool, I like that and I approve of your choice.”  That's easy.  When you're there alone, you're in charge of the thought processes that craft the image and you may take a different path.  To me, that's the beauty of learning these techniques.  It's not a step-by-step process.  It's a framework of tools and techniques for you to apply as you see fit.  The results you get are unique.

The image above is my only attempt so far using Trey's texture tutorial.  Along the way, I noticed a few differences between watching and doing:

  • Trey never had any error messages, but I did.  His textures use a different color space than my images.  Be prepared to discovery some minor inconsistencies based upon your settings in Photoshop.
  • Trey makes very bold changes to his images.  Looking at my image above, I was very mild with my application of textures.  I think this is something that will likely change as I get more experience.

Let me add a couple of other observations while I'm at it:

  • Start with a good image.  There may be elements of it that you don't like (blown sky, for example), but a poor photo is a poor photo, even with a texture on it.
  • Experiment!  Don't be afraid to try something because you aren't sure if it will look good.  Try it out and see if you like it or not.  Try variations.  You may surprise yourself.  If not, toss it and try something else.

One part of the tutorial that may not help you with your own workflow was the music Trey played in the background.  It's a collection of music from other parts of the world, but it seems to fit with his overall Travel theme.  There's something a bit charming about watching him present his tutorial while a French version of “Beyond the Sea” (La mer, if you want to search for it on iTunes) plays in the background.  I don't know if all of the songs on his list are identified, but Trey provides his music playlist on his web site.  It may be worth checking out if you're in the mood for something different.

The bottom line is that his basic tutorial is very good and I found the value worth the price.  I'm not sure that I would say the same about the Platinum package for $399, though.  That's partly because I don't know what new techniques he provides in the extra videos, and I'm not sure that the additional 125 textures are worth four times as much as the Basic package.  If I ran into some “found money”, it would be worth it for the convenience factor.  I have to admit that he showed some textures in his video that I liked, but they were not part of the Basic package.  However, I have a better idea now of how to go collect my own textures.  It doesn't hurt that he travels around the world, but I can think of many places around my home that could have similar, interesting textures.  Your opinion may vary, and that's fine.  Make the choice that works best for your budget and sense of value.  I may upgrade at some point, but for now, I found great value out of the Basic package and wouldn't hesitate to recommend Trey's Texture Tutorial.

p.s. This is the same image I posted last Friday without a texture, in case you'd like to compare for a Before and After view.

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