Are you looking to add more texture to your photographs? Or maybe you want an image to have a more significant emotional aesthetic? Adding film grain to a digital photograph in Photoshop is a great way to achieve these effects and more!
Today I am going to tell you how to add film grain to your images. It is a straightforward Photoshop technique that can take under 5 minutes to complete. I have photographed many different films, so I will show you how to get the most realistic film grain out of Photoshop.
What Is Film Grain?
Film grain is a texture that comes from film photography. Grain is caused by small metallic silver particles used to capture a photograph.
Different ISO films have various sizes of grain. With lower ISO numbers having smaller grain and higher ISO numbers having more prominent and more noticeable grain.
As a rule of thumb, the less film grain, the better in film photography. This is because film grain sacrifices image quality. Photography is an art form, though, and film grain aesthetic has a unique and vintage feel. This is why many photographers choose to shoot with a grainy aesthetic.
Film grain is similar to digital noise. As digital noise is computer-made, its aesthetic is too ‘digital’ to add a new quality to your photograph. Film grain is organic and often springs to mind classic point-and-shoot photographs we would have seen of our parents.
Differences Between Film Grain and Noise
To make the difference between grain and noise clearer, I will describe it simply. Grain is in the texture of the film. You will see inconsistent patterns when looking at the film closely. Noise occurs in digital photography when a sensor doesn’t have enough information to fill particular areas. This will then lead the camera to add visual artefacts to these areas.
So this tells us that grain is inherent in film photography. In contrast, noise comes from a deficiency of something (usually light).
Why Add Film Grain To A Digital Image?
Adding film grain to a digital photograph is almost going against the progression of photography. It’s incredible how technology has progressed so far, yet aesthetics from the technology’s weaknesses are still sought after.
The organic texture of grain adds sentimental value to images. I think this is because we see old photographs with a similar aesthetic. Therefore, film grain adds a timeless feel to your pictures.
A film grain effect also makes the image seem more textured and tactile. You, as a viewer, can almost imagine holding the print in your hand as the film grain is similar to the texture of the paper.
How To Add Film Grain In Photoshop
Now I will take you through a step-by-step method of adding grain to your digital photographs.
Step 1 – Prepare Your Image
As always, make sure to duplicate your background layer.
Now, let’s go to the top toolbar in Photoshop. Go to Layer > New > Layer.
You should now see the same dialogue box like the one below. Rename your new layer to ‘film grain’ so it’s easy to distinguish from the others. Now go to the Mode dropbox and select Overlay. Underneath, click the box that says Fill with Overlay neutral colour.
This is now how your layers panel will look.
You have the menu button on the top right of your layers panel.
Click this, and you will get a dropdown menu. Here, click on Convert To Smart Object. We are converting this to a smart object layer to edit any adjustments after they have been set.
To be sure your ‘film grain’ layer is a smart object, it will have this little icon over the thumbnail.
Step 2 – Adding the Grain Effect
With the ‘film grain’ layer selected, go to the top toolbar and find Filter. In Filter, go to Noise > Add Noise.
Now you will get a dialogue box like the one below that comes up. Here it is up to you how much grain you want in your image. I have gone quite extreme as an example. Make sure you select the ‘Gaussian’ box instead of ‘Uniform’.
After applying this filter, this is how your image should look.
Now you will be faced with this simple dialogue box. I would suggest having a radius between 0.5 and 1 Pixel wide.
With the Blur and Noise filter applied, this is how your image should look.
Step 3 – Refining Your Edit
As we have made the ‘film grain’ layer a smart object, we can go back and adjust each of the filters. I think there is too much grain, so I will double-click on the Noise filter.
This will bring up the dialogue again, where I can reduce the amount of noise in the image.
After applying this, I am happy with my edit and the subtle film grain effect.
Now you know how to add grain in Photoshop! Follow these instructions, and it should take you under 5 minutes to do for the first time. The process will quickly become second nature the more you do it, so get practising.
If you want to refine your film grain further, study old film negatives and the visual effect they produce. Then, go back into your file on Photoshop and edit your Noise and Blur filters to see how close you can get to the same effect.
If you want to experiment with other effects to add to your photos, check out The Preset Collection we have!