To Grain, Or Not to Grain?

YuengLinger

Godzilla needs boxing lessons.
CR Pro
Dec 20, 2012
3,453
1,857
USA
Why do we feel compelled, at times, to add grain to our images?

Is it an aesthetic improvement, or a nostalgic connection to film days?

Do we do it because it is expected, or because we, as photographers, prefer it?

Do those who view our images care one way or the other?

Is it an effect that different generations respond to differently?

Is it still relevant?
 

Sporgon

5% of gear used 95% of the time
CR Pro
Why do we feel compelled, at times, to add grain to our images?
Digital is very flat, especially when printed. Adding a subtle amount of good quality, realistic film grain gives the image a little more texture and depth. All my images are done this way.

Is it an aesthetic improvement, or a nostalgic connection to film days?
So for me it is an improvement, a connection to film days, yes, we are making photographs, but not necessarily nostalgic.

Do we do it because it is expected, or because we, as photographers, prefer it?
I don't think it is 'expected' in any way. Some, many in fact, photographers prefer it, but there are plenty that won't. For many people the holy grail is a totally noise free, flawless, plastic images, and adding grain simulation to an image makes these people associate it with poor quality.

Do those who view our images care one way or the other?
When it comes to the printed image, if I have two side by side, one with a subtle, good film grain simulation and one without, then virtually everyone who's there to enjoy the picture prefers the one with grain. People that are heavily into amateur photography themselves generally don't like it.

Is it an effect that different generations respond to differently?
Not from the printed output, no.

Is it still relevant?
Definitely for those that look at the wood (forest), not the trees. On a tech site like this though I'd say it's a disaster which is why when I post an image I've started to state 'film grain added' otherwise some people's response is " oooh that 5DS is looking very noisy at 100 ISO " ! :)

If you had a poll on this site I'm guessing that 90% would say they don't like it.
 

navastronia

EOS RP + 5D Classic
Aug 31, 2018
655
758
I like it, but I like it subtle, and I get obsessed with how much/how large the grain looks pretty readily, which annoys me. I want it large enough to give a little texture, but small enough that I don't look at my own image and say "that looks grainy." I feel the same way about split toning and other color processes; I can't stand it when it's really obvious.

Basically, I would be better off letting someone else edit my images so that I can't torment myself with how to grain/color my own work ;)
 

zim

EOS 5D Mark IV
CR Pro
Oct 18, 2011
2,109
302
I think you could ask the same questions about vignetting, why would you want to show a lens defect?
Both can be used and missused for artistic effect just as painting has its methods, styles and use of how paint reacts.
Personally i think I've only ever used it for b&w to add texture interestingly for colour I use textured paper or canvas. That probably speaks more to the limits of my imagination, taste and influencers though.
 
Feb 15, 2020
427
296
I have no nostalgia for film and only rarely print my work so find added grain to be totally pointless. If I’m creating an image and don’t want it to look ‘flat’ but instead have some depth or texture, I will use some more dramatic, three dimensional lighting and style the shoot with texture in mind. In some instances I also prefer the look of a ‘flat’ image with soft, almost shadowless lighting and no grain or texture at all.

It’s all very subjective and having a preference for it’s use or not does not make you more or less adept at your craft. Calling flawless, noise free images ‘plastic’ is also a bit ridiculous I must say.
 

Sporgon

5% of gear used 95% of the time
CR Pro
Why do we feel compelled, at times, to add grain to our images?

I've found an image that I took on the 5DII on the coast at Aldeburgh during a remarkably calm and still sunset, and this is one that when printed is very characterless and 'flat' for want of a better description. It is difficult to demonstrate the effect that I want on a 1200 px image on the web, and so I've actually put more grain in this for this small exhibit than I would normally, but hopefully it will give you an idea of what I mean and like in a print. Top one is grain free.

_MG_5851L2-Edit.jpg


_MG_5851L2-Edit-2.jpg

It is interesting that earlier digital cameras from Canon such as the original 5D and the 5DII were more prone to this. The 5DS seems to be more appealing to my eye.
 
  • Like
Reactions: YuengLinger

Joules

doom
CR Pro
Jul 16, 2017
1,498
1,782
Hamburg, Germany
I have never done any comparison, nor have I ever felt any desire to try out grain. Consciously, it only seems to be adding a defect to the image that obscures the real detail in the image. So in a poll without any further reading of this thread, I would have voted for not using it.

But the images by Sporgon do illustrate to me that there may be an unconscious component that may improve certain images, just like vignetting does. With vignetting, I find that very easy to explain, as the eye is drawn towards brighter subjects more easily and the subject is usually not at the extreme edges of the frame.

With the images by Sporgon, I am slightly conflicted whether organic or dirty would be a better description for the feeling the grainy image creates in me. But I have to agree that it is fitting to an extent and certainly may be an enhancement as long as it is suptle enough to not be noticed and therefore confused with noise.
 
Feb 15, 2020
427
296
Lack of printed work is akin to never consummating a marriage.



I am slightly ridiculous

Can definitely agree on not printing often being a sad state of affairs haha.

Thanks for posting that example of no grain vs. grain. Where is your focus point in that image? It's a little hard to tell at that resolution but the two boats on the left look a little out of focus. It seems as though the grain is adding the impression of detail that looks a bit 'smoothed out' in the no-grain image (perhaps accentuated by soft focus or the image processing). Either way, the added grain definitely doesn't hurt the image in this case.

On a slightly different note, one of my pet hates is when beauty and portrait photographers so heavily retouch the skin that all natural skin texture is lost and they then resort to adding grain to give the impression of pores / skin texture still being there. Very strange...
 

Sporgon

5% of gear used 95% of the time
CR Pro
Thanks for posting that example of no grain vs. grain. Where is your focus point in that image? It's a little hard to tell at that resolution but the two boats on the left look a little out of focus. It seems as though the grain is adding the impression of detail that looks a bit 'smoothed out' in the no-grain image (perhaps accentuated by soft focus or the image processing). Either way, the added grain definitely doesn't hurt the image in this case.

Thanks for your comments and observations. This image was taken some time ago, 2013, and I used my 40mm pancake, which is a lens that I would not use for this kind of picture now, because since then I have discovered that it has quite acute field curvature at greater focusing distance, (maybe why reviewers never picked up on it). I think I would have focused on the middle boat, "Vital Spark", I guess in live view, and at f/5.6, so you might be seeing this field curvature. Also as you will see from the screen grab of the unedited raw image, the boat on the left was almost between the sun and the camera, so there may be some diffraction involved too. Not sure if the middle boat is softer than the one on the right.

Screenshot 2021-01-18 at 14.49.13.png
Screenshot 2021-01-18 at 14.52.39.png
 

Sporgon

5% of gear used 95% of the time
CR Pro
But the images by Sporgon do illustrate to me that there may be an unconscious component that may improve certain images, just like vignetting does. With vignetting, I find that very easy to explain, as the eye is drawn towards brighter subjects more easily and the subject is usually not at the extreme edges of the frame.

With the images by Sporgon, I am slightly conflicted whether organic or dirty would be a better description for the feeling the grainy image creates in me. But I have to agree that it is fitting to an extent and certainly may be an enhancement as long as it is suptle enough to not be noticed and therefore confused with noise.
I agree with you that adding grain to the image must not be overly obvious or degrade the image. If it's mistaken for 'noise' or poor quality then it's a fail as far as I'm concerned.

During this wretched lockdown i"ve been going through some old files which is where I found the ones of the boats. This panoramic that I did, from the same evening's shoot, is a better example of what I do, and what I am looking for, rather than trying to get the effect I want on a small 1200px image.

The first image is the full pano. The second is a tight crop from the finished image before any film grain simulation is added. The second crop is with film grain added, but it's too strong. I think anyone would consider this application to degrade the image, at least when viewed at this full size. The third crop is the final film grain simulation, faded back to just the amount I want to add texture without degrading the detail of the image. This prints beautifully - IMHO ;)

_MG_5838-grain blend.jpg

_MG_5838-Pano.jpg

_MG_5838-PanoAgrain.jpg

_MG_5838-grain Bcrop.jpg

Another thing that revisiting these images has reminded me about; they are so much better shot from my heavy studio 058 tripod. I remember lugging it down to the beach from the car.

(I did warn about obscure posts from Sporgon during lockdown).
 
<-- start Taboola -->