Every Thursday Danielle and I are planning to go through some of the things we are constantly trying to improve on and ask ourselves why we do this one way, why we do that another, and what our process is. Whether its adding grain to photos and why, or what gear we use, asking ourselves why we use the gear and what purpose it serves in the telling of the story. We would love to hear any thoughts you have about our process, questions or comments you have.
Its always good to question what you do and constantly be searching for the why, and then using what you discover to learn and grow.
Today I was thinking of something I am always searching for finding the best method of, and that is adding grain to images making them look more like film. I thought I would explore our process of adding grain to images for the web. To me, film is the gold standard in terms of color, vibrancy and dynamic range and we love the look of it. One of the biggest things that makes film stand out is its grain and grain structure. Digital images have their own flavor of grain (which is generally called noise) which doesnt have the organic feel that REAL film does.
There are a ton of programs out there like RealGrain and Exposure that have massive sets of filters that can add grain to your images. While I haven't had the opportunity to use these programs yet, I would love to give them a try at some point. For us though, we like to keep it simple and use the filters that are already within photoshop.
An interesting aspect about grain is that grain enhances the apparent sharpness of an image. If you can recall looking at old black and white images from your grandparents attic - you'll notice that those vintage photos look pretty bad-ass in terms of sharpness. The reason is not because of sharp optics, but rather the natural grain that was built into the film stock.
Below is a B+W image I took with the Canon 7d using a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 manual focus lens. At the shoot the wind was blowing, I was moving back and forth trying to get the best angle, and all the while trying to manually focus the lens on her eyes. The image itself (compared to using a Canon lens w/ autofocus) isnt 100% tack sharp, but when when grain is added, the overall perception of sharpness is changed, making the image as a whole look slightly sharper. There isnt any any smart sharpening or unsharp masking added to the image.
Below is the image with grain added using filters in Photoshop. I like how the grain shows more detail as well as has a filmic quality to it. It also gives a feeling of sharpness without adding any specific sharpening filters.
Here's what we do for adding grain to our photos using one of the behind the scenes images from our latest ONE2ONE workshop. Duplicate the layer using "⌘command + J" then Go to Filter> Noise> Add Noise.
Then a sub menu pops up where you can change the amount of grain you want to add to the photo as well as its distribution characteristics. The box will show you your image with a preview of what the grain will look like when viewed at 100% scaling.
I usually try to stick with an amount in 2.5%-9% range. Using 5-9% for black and white images and 2-5% for color images. Also, there is a small box at the bottom and when √ checked 'monochromatic' the grain becomes colorless (which is what you want to set it to) This setting also represents a key difference in digital 'noise' and creating the look of real film grain, where real film grain is essentially monochromatic and digital 'noise' has randomized color hues within it. You can test this by taking a Canon 5d mark II, switching to Live View, cranking up the ISO (anything above 1600 will do) and shooting in a darkly lit room -- what you will find is that the noise structure in the image will most likely have a blue or green tint to it. If you were to shoot on film, the grain (on an individual level) would be essentially look colorless or uniform in color.
Click OK to apply to your image. Eventhough adding grain itself increases the overall perceived sharpness, I also like to add a sharpening filter to the grain itself to give it a little extra boost and make it stand out more on the web.
Go to Filter> Sharpen> Smart Sharpen and open up that dialogue box. Click on the advanced mode button, giving you finer detailed controls. Now you can adjust the radius of the sharpening and the amount. Radius is the amount of "unsharp" masking that the sharpness provides per unit of measurement and the Amount is how strong that effect is applied. We like to keep the radius small (as to match the approx size of grain) and then boost the amount of sharpening somewhere between the mid 50% all the way up to 80% or 90% depending on the image.
If you look at the image, it looks almost a bit too sharp and the grain is extremely prominent...to mute and tweak this a little bit, and gain more control of the overall look, you can how adjust the level of opacity that this layer has over the original, and add more or less intensity of grain to the image. I've found that by tweaking the layers opacity, rather than in the beginning just adding less grain, the look is more on par with what film looks like. But its all about experimenting, sometimes I like to add a subtle amount of grain (2%) and then in smart sharpening boost the radius and percentage up really high to give a different, more chunky look to the grain
Below are the final two images. One the original without grain added, and the second with both grain and smart sharpening on that grain.
BELOW: original image
BELOW: With grain + smart sharpening.
It is fun to play around with the filters in Photoshop and find things that show your unique style and personality through your editing.
- Casey W.