If you’ve never taken photographs with high-quality black and white negative film, or even the legendary Agfa SCALA black and white transparency film, you’re probably asking, “Why would I want to add grain to my images; isn’t that just like adding noise?” The short answer is “no.” Not even close, in my opinion.
Digital (luminance) noise, while it can give an impression that vaguely mimics film grain, rarely adds to the mood of a shot. Conversely, graininess created from classic film stocks can do just that, without degrading image quality. If you’ve never noticed it or used it before as part of your photography, you can think of grain as being like a thin extra layer of texture that gives everything a more edgy or even rustic look. A lot depends upon the subject in question, whether you’re using color or black and white or other styling, but grain can add impact.
With this in mind, the Lightroom team has added a set of three Grain controls to the Lightroom 3 Beta. The Amount, Size, and Roughness sliders do pretty much exactly what their names suggest. Amount controls the level of visibility, Size controls the diameter of the virtual film grains, and Roughness more or less affects how evenly “distributed” the grain appears to be in my experience.
Generally while you can vary the Amount and Roughness quite a bit, I try to maintain a relatively smaller grain size to avoid the effect of overpowering the scene. That’s if I’m looking to create traditional photographic looks versus a more graphical look. Either way, the beauty of this tool is that unlike other grain plugins or filters that I’ve seen, Lightroom 3’s Grain tools actually do a good job of mimicking real film grain.
Figures 57 show the impact that the Grain sliders can have on an image, one rendered as color, the other black and white. I think if you give these new Grain controls a try, especially with black and white imagery, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with how interesting they can make things look.
Figures 57 The new Grain controls in Lightroom 3 Beta offer photographers a chance to make their pristine, digital files look a bit more edgy and organic.