Simple Texture Photography

As has been mentioned before on here, part of the CG process that I really enjoy is creating custom texture sets. I think it’s a rewarding process anyway but it makes a lot of sense as a CG artist to create your own texture library that you know you can fall back on.

All textures begin life as a photograph of course and the higher res you can get on the initial photography the better. I like to keep a look out for interesting textures whenever I’m out and about but lugging a load of camera kit around with you everywhere you go isn’t really an option (especially not when you’ve got 2 kids and a wife who frowns at you whenever the camera bag comes out!). Fortunately pretty much everyone carries a camera round in their pocket these days and I reckon the humble camera-phone is a perfect tool for this particular instance.

Let’s get some stuff out of the way first though; this is a camera-phone we’re using so you can forget huge resolution (although there is a workaround for this that I’ll go into shortly), focus can be iffy, there’s no manual mode and you will be working with jpegs as opposed to RAWs. However, if you’re just shooting interesting textures as you find them it doesn’t really matter too much if some go a bit wrong. Another advantage of shooting with a camera-phone is that every image is geotagged, so if you mess a really good texture up or you need to shoot a high-res one with a big camera you can easily find where it was shot and go back there.

The other issues we mentioned; iffy focus and no manual control, can be tackled by just making sure you tap the screen to focus then check it before you start shooting and purchasing some of the other camera apps out there that do offer (a bit) more control. However these apps will have one important thing missing that we need for the high-res workaround.

I’d been trying to think of a way to get better res out of the images taken with my phone; initially I thought of just shooting lots of images from close range but then the thought occurred to me, why not use the panorama tool to create one long, close image, that way you get much better res and can grab huge textures in one shot. Another thing this is good for is ‘unwrapping’ cylindrical objects (trees for instance), you can just start your panorama in one position, walk around the object and presto, instant unwrapped texture!

Ok, ok, so it’s not quite ‘instant’. For a start it can be a bit of a fiddle to capture properly, my first attempts had a lot of wobbles and repeats in but, with a bit of practice, it gets better; the trick is to move slowly and keep the arrow in the centre line…do that and you can get a pretty clean image. You will also need to edit the edges to create a proper tile, but you’d need to do that whatever image you use. I’ve included a shot I took at the weekend around a tree, the ground was slightly uneven so there are some repeat patterns but these could be cloned out easily; this one was just another test and, if I were actually using it, I’d have done a few more circuits of the tree at different heights. Still, not too bad, to get that resolution (21MP) out of a phone! If you’d like to have a look at the full res version click here to download it.

It should be blindingly obvious that you’re not going to get textures that can hold up to ultra-close renders at 8k; however for anything up to middle distance the images you grab with your phone will do just fine and your life will be (relatively) frown-free!

Has anyone else tried this method? Be interested to see the results if so.

NOTE: The phone I’m using is an iPhone 4S that shoots images at 8MP (3264 x 2448px) which is quite measly compared to some of the Android/Windows based phones. I’m using the standard camera software; as mentioned above there are other camera apps but these tend to focus on normal photos and don’t have panorama modes. There are dedicated panorama apps but none of them seem as suited to this task as the Apple one; I’ve been on the lookout for one with image stabilisation but haven’t found one yet (so if you know of one please mention it in the comments). If image wobbles are an issue you could break out a tripod and a dolly…but that then kind of negates the whole ‘quick and easy shots with a camera you put in your pocket’ thing!