It seems as though we spend so much time, effort and money to find the highest definition cameras and the sharpest lenses. We aim for low, or no digital noise (aka electronic noise – usually caused by signal amplification at high ISOs within the camera processing magic). We get the highest resolution of camera we can find and the lowest f-stop capable lenses, so we can shoot at lower ISOs. You may shoot in raw rather than in JPEG to help reduce digital noise too.

We try to produce the best quality images and prints we can. So why would we want to then go and add grain back into our images?

black and white child photography with noise by Emma Wood

Well, first-off, you don’t have to do this at all. Timeless images do not have to have any grain and some people prefer the smooth buttery look in their images.  Adding grain comes down to personal choice, there are no rights or wrongs, it’s entirely your own individual preferences.

However, with the evolution of digital photography comes a steady increase in resolution and a cleanness that wet-paper images just didn’t have years ago. Real-world images can have lots of noise introduced during processing: film grain, scanner lines, CCD noise, paper texture, and just about anything else you can imagine that is involved between the manufacturing of the camera-film and the hanging of the print in the darkroom.

Computer generated images, on the other hand, can appear almost too perfect. In order to create a similar feeling, and similar mood, to wet-paper prints, when using digital technology there are processing techniques that can be applied.

There are various different ways of adding grain to your images. In Photoshop I find the most effective is by using the texture grain filter.  The filter gives you multiple choices for using different kinds of grain and it’s nice and simple.

before adding grain in post processing by Emma Wood

To access it select ‘filter’ on the selection panel at the top of the screen:

Filter> Filter gallery > Texture > Grain

Next, click on the grain type dropdown menu to see the options.

There are a few, but I tend to stick with ‘regular’ if I’m using this method to add grain to my images.

The intensity option controls the strength of the effect and the size of the grain; the lower the number, the more subtle the effect will be.

The ‘contrast’ option allows you to adjust the tonal range of your image, on a scale of 0 – 100.

If you don’t want to change the contrast in your grain effect, just leave the slider at 50.

I don’t usually use the contrast slider but if I do, I don’t change it by more than about minus 10 to plus 5 (40 – 55).

after adding grain in post processing by Emma Wood

And a side by side comparison:
before and after of adding noise in post