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Adobe Digital Imaging How-Tos: Going Retro: Film Grain

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  1. #35 Going Retro: Film Grain

Article Description

Lightroom 3 provides new styling tools that allow you to add simulated film grain to your black-and-white (or color) photographs, in an attempt to recapture the look and feel of black-and-white film photos. Dan Moughamian shows you how to create this effect.

If you've ever had a conversation with a photographer who makes (or made) a living from black-and-white film photography, you no doubt were told of the mystical qualities of film grain. Unlike luminance noise from a digital camera, film grain is touted as something that can add character, grit, and emotion to a photograph. As long as the grain structure does not get in the way of the details in a composition, I believe it can add a certain character or tangible quality to the subjects.

Lightroom 3 provides new styling tools that allow you to add simulated film grain to your black-and-white (or color) photographs, in an attempt to recapture the look and feel of black-and-white film photos. You can access these by opening the new Effects panel (Figure 35a).

Figure 35a

Figure 35a The new Effects panel provides controls for adding simulated film grain to black-and-white (or color) photos.

Amount

The Amount slider controls the intensity of the grain effect. So far, I have found that an amount between 25 and 40 does a solid job of mimicking the fine-grain quality of professional black-and-white films like SCALA 200x (from Agfa). Figure 35b shows a comparison of the same detail area with Amount settings of 25, 45, and 65, using default Size and Roughness values of 25 and 50, respectively.

Figure 35b

Figure 35b A 1:1 (100% magnification) sample of simulated film grain, using Amounts of 25, 45, and 65 (from left to right).

Size

The Size slider controls the diameter of the individual grains that Lightroom produces. Typically, a value between 15 and 25 produces visually pleasing results (in my experience). Figure 35c shows grain sizes of 20, 40, and 60 over the same detail, using an Amount setting of 30.

Figure 35c

Figure 35c A detail sample of simulated film grain using an Amount of 30, default Roughness of 50, and grain Size of 20, 40, and 60 (from left to right).

Roughness

The Roughness slider controls the smoothness of the grain effect's appearance by increasing or decreasing the local contrast around the grains. The higher the value, the rougher (or less smooth) the grain structure looks. Figure 35d shows the results of adjusting the Roughness settings.

Figure 35d

Figure 35d A detail sample of simulated film grain using an Amount of 30, Size of 25, and Roughness settings of 25, 50, and 75 (from left to right).

Figure 35e shows the same photograph, zoomed out, after the Grain effect was applied. Final settings are Amount 30, Size 25, and Roughness 35.

Figure 35e

Figure 35e Adding simulated film grain can enhance the look or mood of many black-and-white photographs (in this shooter's opinion).