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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...

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.
  • Along with the development of digital camera technology, many DSLRs use high-resolution technology to reduce noise at high ISO values. 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.

2 Ways to fix grainy photos

1. On camera

Nowadays, most cameras have already embedded high ISO NR (noise-reduction) options. This allows for a set amount of noise reduction.

So you might want to choose a model that can automatically do it for you or has options that help you avoid grainy pictures. In addition to the previous points, you can also adjust your ISO manually to ensure that your photo has 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. If you see a lot of noise, lower your ISO. If the image is too dark, choose a slower shutter speed and wider aperture.

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 Reduce Grain filter feature, which is already embedded in the default Photoshop filter. 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, which Imagenomic makes, 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, 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?”. Use “non-destructive” editing techniques for RAW format photos to prevent the appearance of artifacts caused by JPEG compression. If the format is JPG, use the best quality.

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 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 reason your photos are grainy is that a lens took them with sensors that are smaller than necessary. The smaller the camera’s sensor, the more likely noise and grain will 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.

3. Exposure

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 cause noises and grains. Try to minimize this and ensure that overexposing the photo to the light is done properly.

To recap, the main cause of grain and noises appearing in your photos is improper exposure, often found in areas with low amounts of light. The right manual configuration can avoid it 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, some photographers 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 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 led to grainy pictures. 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.

In conclusion, 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.

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