With mainstream days of film long gone, one would expect all the disadvantages it had on offer to be rid of for all times, as well. Digital is all about clean, high quality images now. Contrary to such an assumption, however, film has not left our everyday lives without a trace. A trace that is even more noticeable now that photographers got used to the differences between the two “religions”. Now, I say “got used to”, but the truth is plenty of photographers got bored of the sterile digital look and thus would seek ways of livening it up (instagramed anything lately?). One notable featured of photographic film has always been grain. Although, like high ISO noise in digital world, it was a result of increased light sensitivity and as such, an undesirable degradation of image quality, film grain was loved even during the past era of photography. Reasons behind it would make a fine discussion – in short I would say that grain was simply organic and beautiful – but one to be had with a pint of beer in hand and complimented by laughter and warm fire light. Instead, we will concentrate on actually applying film grain, or what is closest to it, with digital photographs. In this Mastering Lightroom series article, I will explain how to add film grain to your images. You will learn how to increase the size of grain, make it rougher or smoother and also hide high ISO noise (or make it more appealing) with it without the need of applying noise reduction.
1) What is Film Grain?
In essence, it is the chemical equivalent of digital high ISO noise, or, rather, the other way around. As film sensitivity went up, the amount and character of grain increased, just as ISO noise levels increase as you push sensor sensitivity to light up. Noticeably, film grain became visible at much lower sensitivities than current digital noise. Certain film of 400 ASA/ISO would already show visible graininess, and producing fine-grain film of 400 value was no small feat. Understandably, there weren’t any ISO 12800 equivalent films. One of the most sensitive films, the wonderful B&W Ilford Delta 3200, rendered so much grain, it would be thought quite unusable by some all-modern, technical quality junkies of digital era who have never been familiar with film aesthetics. Some prefer to see Delta 3200 as 1600 film pushed one stop during development. Think underexposing an image and correcting exposure by one stop in Lightroom with Exposure slider.