Grainy pictures are mainstream now.
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.
Not everything grainy is good, though. With high levels of sharpness, it gives an unrefined look for the picture as it doesn’t fully portray the energy or the brightness of the moment it was captured in. Natural grain can also make certain images blurred and unclear.
In the end, you get some good types of grainy pictures here, and you lose some quality there. Overall, here is what you need to know about grainy pictures in general.
What Is A Grainy Picture?
In the book, “The Visual Dictionary of Photography published by Ava Academia, page 135”, it is mentioned that grains are spots resulting from the sensitivity of film emulsions (negative) that form an intact image after passing through a chemical process.
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.
The grain is often being 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 DLSRs 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 with digital camera manufacturers, they embed noise reduction technology into the camera.
Can You Make A Grainy Picture Clear?
Yes, you can actually make grainy pictures clear. This can be achieved in multiple ways, including fixing it in post or configuring your camera lens.
What Causes Grainy Photos?
Alright, you might be asking “Why are my photos grainy?” Well, it comes down to your gadget configuration and how you take the photos.
1. Sensor issues → You’re using sensors that are too small.
So, the first possible cause for why your photos are grainy might be because it was taken by a lens with sensors that are smaller than what it needs 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.
How to Fix Grainy Pictures?
Nowadays, most cameras have already embedded high ISO NR options.
This allows the amount of noise reduction to be set. So you might want to choose such a model that can automatically do it for you, or has the options that help you avoid grainy pictures.
Other than the previous points, you can also adjust your ISO manually to make sure 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’re taking pictures in a rather dark environment.
Combine this with lower shutter speed to evade more light exposed to your picture to make sure the grain and noises are in minimal appearance.
If possible, use a DSLR, not a pocket camera or a small sensor, because a small sensor camera will easily produce grainy photos.
Fix it in Post
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 that is called Reduce Grain.
For how to use it, you firstly open a noise photo, 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, that more reduction can result in loss of photo details.
So keep focusing on applying grain reduction only in necessary places.
Compression can be another reason for why 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 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 amount of lights.
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 in a dark room and lead to grainy pictures as the outcome. This result was always unexpected and more dramatic.
Film grain can add retro or nostalgic feelings towards our grainy photos, which make it 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, it is just not suitable if you want something that communicates refined, tidy or professional photography.
Nate Joaquin Torres is a portrait photographer based in Southern California. As a photographer, Nate loves testing different photography styles and gear to expand his skill set. Outside of photography, Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. Nate is also the founder of Imaginated.com, DEEP IN THE MIX, and Blue Hour Candle. Connect with him on Instagram.