Grain, sometimes we like it and sometimes we don’t.
If we’re going for a vintage, cinematic look then it might be good. If we’re going for an important wedding portrait, maybe not. We’ll be discussing the latter in this article.
As a photographer, I remember the frustration I felt when I first discovered that some of my photos turned out grainy.
I had spent hours setting up the perfect shot, only to be disappointed by the poor quality of the final image.
But over time, I learned that grainy photos are not uncommon and can be caused by various factors, from high ISO settings to poor lighting conditions.
In this article, I’ll share my tips and tricks for fixing grainy photos, whether you’re shooting on a professional camera or using your smartphone.
So, if you’re tired of grainy, low-quality images, read on to discover how to turn your photos into stunning works of art!
Table of Contents
2 Ways to Fix Grainy Photos
1. On Camera
Nowadays, most cameras have already embedded high ISO NR (noise-reduction) options.
This allows the amount of noise reduction to be set.
So you might want to choose a model that can automatically do it for you or has options that help you avoid grainy pictures.
Besides the previous points, you can also adjust your ISO manually to ensure that your photo will have the proper amount of exposure to avoid unwanted noise and grain in the final photo.
Again, this condition should be a concern if you take pictures in a rather dark environment.
Remember the exposure triangle:
If possible, use a DSLR, not a pocket camera or a small sensor, because a small sensor camera will quickly produce grainy photos.
2. Fix it in Post-Production
Why are my pictures grainy?
The first way to fix grainy pictures is to use the filter feature that is already embedded in the default Photoshop filter which is called Reduce Grain.
For how to use it, you first open a photo with noise, go to the filter menu, then search for Grain → Reduce Grain.
Lightroom also offers a panel to reduce or add grain as well!
Alternatively, you can try using the Noiseware Plugin. Make sure you have installed the plugin first.
This plugin made by Imagenomic has more settings than the Reduce Noise filter. However, you can also choose presets that have been provided (so it’s easier if you still don’t understand).
Before you choose to do everything in post-production, always remember that even though it is relatively easier to be done, more reduction can result in a loss of photo details.
So, keep focusing on applying grain reduction only in necessary places.
Compression can be another reason you may ask, “Why are my pictures grainy?”.
To prevent the appearance of artifacts due to JPEG compression, use “non-destructive” editing techniques for RAW format photos.
If the format is JPG, use the best quality.
To further explore how to reduce grain/noise in photos, we also recommend this video by Chelsea Nicole:
Can You Make A Grainy Picture Clear?
Yes, you can make grainy pictures clear. This can be achieved in multiple ways, including fixing it in post-production or configuring your camera, as we’ve discussed.
What is Grain in Photography?
Grain in photography are spots resulting from the sensitivity of film emulsions (negative) that form an intact image after passing through a chemical process.
With many people clinging to nostalgia, grainy pictures give that retro feeling, and it has even been popular within the indie scene, with hipsters using it to emulate the “reclusive” yet expressive aesthetic of their photos.
The size of the spots forming on this photo will depend on the ISO film. The greater the ISO, the greater the grain.
With this understanding, the grain is only valid in the era of film photography, but the grain in ISO 800 films and above actually becomes the belle of fine art photographers.
This can make a grainy image stand out, where the surface has a metallic-sharp look in lieu of paintings.
Grainy pictures are mainstream now.
Not everything grainy is good, though. With high levels of sharpness, it gives an unrefined look to the picture as it doesn’t fully portray the energy or the brightness of the moment it was captured.
Natural grain can also make specific images blurred and unclear.
Ultimately, you get some excellent types of grainy pictures here, and you lose some quality there.
Overall, here is what you need to know about grainy pictures in general.
The grain is often confused with noise. Noise can be defined as an out-of-place Pixel.
Noise is produced on images that use high ISO, such as ISO 800 – ISO 25,600 and above.
However, this noise is still unseen, therefore most photographers prefer to reduce noise with certain software such as Noise Ninja, or Nik Define.
Even digital camera manufacturers embed noise-reduction technology into the camera.
What Causes Grainy Photos?
Alright, you might be asking, “Why are my photos grainy?” It comes down to your gadget configuration and how you take photos.
1. Using Sensors That Are Too Small
So, the first possible cause for why your photos are grainy might be because a lens took it with sensors that are smaller than what need to be.
The smaller the camera’s sensor is, the more it will increase the possibility for noise and grain to appear.
2. ISO Setting Configured Too High
Another answer to “Why are my pictures grainy?”, might be correlated with the ISO setting.
Contextually, you might experience this more when you are taking photos at night time or when you’re inside a room where the lights are dim.
This one is also connected to the previous point that your ISO and configurations can lead to improper exposure taken by the lens.
This can make way for noises and grains. Try to minimize and make sure that overexposing the photo to the light is to be done in a proper way.
To recap, the main cause of grain and noises as they appear in your photos is improper exposure and can often be found in areas with low amounts of light.
It can be avoided by the right manual configuration to avoid overexposure of light.
With the right use of grain effects on photos, you can make images have more character and look more dramatic.
Check out some photoshop overlays to accomplish this.
In the era of film photography, there were some photographers who deliberately used ASA 400 film and then had it processed at ASA 3200. This technique is known as push processing.
Do not worry though; some photo genres actually highlight this grainy effect such as in pictorials, documentaries, or news photos.
We now reminisce about the era of film cameras with limited ASA numbers because they inevitably had to be pushed into a dark room which lead to grainy pictures as an outcome. This result was always unexpected and more dramatic.
Film grain can add retro or nostalgic feelings to our grainy photos, which makes them more dramatic and melancholy as it portrays the memory as old or timely.
It also can make your photo look mysterious and strengthen its character.
Grainy photos are not always a bad thing to have; they are just not suitable if you want something that communicates refined, tidy, or professional photography.
How do you fix grainy photos on iPhone?
To fix grainy photos on iPhone, you can use the built-in editing tools in the Photos app or download a third-party app like Lightroom Mobile. Some common techniques for reducing grain include adjusting the exposure and contrast, reducing noise reduction, and using filters or presets to enhance the overall look of the image.
What ISO is grainy?
The ISO level at which a photo appears grainy can vary depending on the camera and the lighting conditions. Generally, higher ISO settings (e.g., above 800) can lead to more grain in images, while lower ISO settings (e.g., below 400) can result in cleaner and sharper images.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer servicing the Orange County and Los Angeles areas. He specializes in portraits of individuals, couples, groups and headshots. Nate Torres is also a photography writer and content creator and educates other photographers on portrait photography, composition, editing, gear, and business. You can find his content on his personal website, social media, and YouTube Channel, as well as on blogs such as Fstoppers, Photofocus, and Imaginated. Being a former SEO consultant, Nate also teaches other photographers how to use SEO to grow their own photography business on his educational blog, Shutter SEO.