How to add Grain with the Effects Panel

How to add Grain with the Effects Panel

This post was updated on September 3rd, 2020

Learning Adobe ® Lightroom

Last time we explored how to use the Effects Panel of Adobe ® Lightroom to add a Vignette to a photograph. This time we learn how to add Grain with the Effects Panel, to give your image that analog film appearance.

What is Grain?

Grain is a small structure of silver halide, the primary photosensitive substance of the analog film, that becomes visible in enlargements. Opposed to the noise of digital photographs, which is a type of visual distortion created by signal enhancements due to high ISO values or positive Exposure correction in post-processing, Grain is a characteristic of analog film.

Of course, with the introduction of digital cameras, the Grain created in analog development is no longer part of the image. Digital cameras create, therefore, a clean looking image.

Why would you want to add Grain?

  1. You had to remove a lot of digital noise from your photograph, which now looks artificial. If you add a little bit of Grain, you will be able to get a more natural look. This fix could be useful for portraits, where you do not want your model to look like a plastic doll. It could also enhance a foggy landscape.
  2. To achieve that distinct analog film appearance, you should add Grain. 
  3. You would like to hide small imperfections, most likely to be used for portrait photography.
  4. You would like to create a fine-art photograph.

What to be aware of when adding Grain?

The finer the Grain that you add to your picture, the higher the resolution of your photo.

Rough Grain can destroy some of the structures in your image and reduces the resolution of it.

The Sliders of the Grain Section

Grain Section of the Effects Panel

Amount Slider

With the Amount Slider, you can control how much Grain is added to the photograph. The more you add, the more the result is going to look like a higher ISO film. 

Notice that you have to add some amount of Grain before the other sliders are even activated.

Size Slider

With the Size Slider, you have a chance to control how large the Grain is that you are adding to your image. While bigger Grain means that it will be more noticeable, it also reduces the visible detail in the photograph.

Roughness Slider

This slider controls how far raised the Grain appears from the image. The more you increase the Grain, the rougher the texture is going to look.

How to get the best results for added Grain with these sliders?

Start out with a rather large Amount of Grain, then adjust the Size and Roughness Sliders, before making your final adjustments to the Amount Slider. This is a process of dialing force and back. You will have to check your results in between by adjusting the Amount Slider, to find the perfect setting. You might even find a setting you like, then do something entirely different and come back just to change the settings all over again. 

While a lot of large, rough Grain might look overdone, a smaller amount of large and coarse Grain might be the solution.

Adding Grain to a photograph – Example

Let’s see what some added grain can do to this photograph of the Dyavolski Most.

Dyavolski Most without added Grain
Dyavolski Most without added Grain

Since this is a long time exposure of 25 seconds, there is close to no detail in the faster-moving water. Adding some Grain might put back some interest in the water without removing too much of the bridge’s structure.

First step – Amount Slider

First, I will add a lot of Grain with the Amount Slider, while leaving the Size and Roundness Sliders at their default settings. I do this so that the following changes to the Size and Roundness sliders become apparent.

Adding a large Amount of Grain - Effect Panel Settings
Adding a large Amount of Grain
Dyavolski Most with lots of reasonably small, rough Grain
Dyavolski Most with lots of reasonably small, rough Grain

Now, this is obviously not our end-result. If you click on the image to view it in large, you will notice that this is far too much Grain. But it will help us getting the next settings right.

Second Step – Size Slider

Now I will adjust the Size Slider’s settings. The size of the Grain should not be so large that it removes the fine structure in the bridge, but large enough to make some impact in the water.

So let’s see what this image looks like with a size 100 grain.

Grain Settings in the Effects Panel
Grain Settings in the Effects Panel
Effect of adding lots of huge Grain to a photograph
Effect of adding lots of huge Grain to a photograph

Ouch, the bridge looks out of focus. So my chosen Grain is definitively too large. Let’s see what we can get with a smaller grain.

Grain Settings in the Effects Panel for smaller Grain
Grain Settings in the Effects Panel for smaller Grain
Effect of adding lots of smaller Grain to the photograph
Effect of adding lots of smaller Grain to the photograph

That is better; however, the bridge looks still a little washed out. Though, when we later adjust the Amount Slider again, it might be the sweet spot. How do I know? Well, I had a short look at it 🙂

Third Step – Roughness Slider

Remember the Roughness Slider determines how much the Grain is sticking out of your image. Let’s have a look at the extremes first.

Extreme Roughness Setting in the Effects Panel
Extreme Roughness Setting in the Effects Panel
Dyavolski Most with extreme rough Grain added
Dyavolski Most with extreme rough Grain added
Settings for very smooth Grain in the Effects Panel
Settings for very smooth Grain in the Effects Panel
Dyavolski Most with a lot of very smooth Grain added
Dyavolski Most with a lot of very smooth Grain added

Even a roughness value of 0 has some subtle effect here on the water. But a value of 100 is definitively too much. So here is the big question, would I rather like a very subtle change, or would I want the Grain’s roughness to make an impact on the water?

Considering I chose a long exposure with the blurring effect on the water in the first place, I want to go subtle on this photograph. So I am going for a Roughness Slider setting of 35. This setting has some visible impact on the water but almost none on the bridge. Precisely what I am looking for.

Settings for a lot of small, smooth Grain
Settings for a lot of small, smooth Grain
Dyavolski Most with a lot of rather smooth, small Grain
Dyavolski Most with a lot of rather smooth, small Grain

Final step – Amount Adjustments

Now I am making my final adjustments to the Amount Slider. So, this is a photograph shot at ISO 200. If it were taken with a film camera, it would show some grain, maybe, but not that extensive. A little more clarity to the bridge would not hurt us either.

With these two things in my mind, I am opting to go for a smaller amount of Grain. Pushing the Amount Slider back to 36, give the water some structure without taking away too much from the bridge.

Final settings to add some small, smooth Grain
Final settings to add some small, smooth Grain
Reducing the Amount of Grain added led to this result
Reducing the Amount of Grain added led to this result

All trademarks and copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

I am in no way affiliated with any of the products used in this post-processing process. I do not receive any kind of compensation for this article, it was neither offered or asked for.

THIS BLOG ARTICLE “How to add Grain with the Effects Panel” IS NOT AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED OR SPONSORED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED, PUBLISHER OF ADOBE ® LIGHTROOM

All photos taken by Wiebke Schröder/Lille Ulven Photography.

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