Using high digital ISO to mimic film grain.

I’m going to share with you a method I use to create a reasonably effective film grain look with digital files. Yes there is software that can do this and some of them do a pretty good job but not always and why not use what you have.   Lightroom for instance provides the ability to add grain to an image but it does this across the entire image without regard to exposure which is not the way that film looks I’m sorry to say Adobe. 

To begin with here is an image I shot at ISO 3200 with my Pentax K7  1/8000 sec and f2.8, even though the image has been down sampled you can still see the digital noise that will become our “film grain”.

I then take this file and use the in camera processing to make these adjustments.

Custom Image Monochrome/Filter Effect Red/No Toning/

High Low Key Adjustment (here you can effect the image’s overall brightness while maintaining the highlights and shadows)

Contrast +2 (the film I’m trying to mimic is more contrasty than the digital capture)

Highlight Contrast -3/Shadow Contrast -4 (Here we want to reduce some of that contrast we just added but only in the shadows and highlights)

Set sharpness to zero as we already have a grainy image and we don’t want to over emphasize this and create something unnatural.

We also want to ensure that High ISO noise reduction “NR” is turned all the way off just prior to processing the image.

And the resulting image made to mimic Kodak PX125 otherwise known as Plus-X

And a 100% crop (There will be some compression due to the reduction in file size for the internet)

This is just one example of what can be done but it all started with taking a RAW image shot at high ISO.

And a few more examples

and a detail from the above image shot at 1600 ISO and processed in a similar way.

 One final note, you may have noticed that I mentioned I shot that first image at 1/8000 of a second at f2.8 at an ISO settingof 3200.  As sensors improve there is less and less noise at higher ISOs so this technique may not work as well into the future.  If for instance it took an ISO of 6400 to achieve this result I would already have to stop down the lens to F4 as my shutter is limited to 1/8000 of a second as are most high end DSLR’s.   In this case I’ve created a situation where I’ve overridden the noise reduction technology but that too may not  always possible. Have fun and experiment.

 I used this technique back in December of 2009 to create this set of images Bellingham


2 Responses to “Using high digital ISO to mimic film grain.”

  • Nikhil Ramkarran Says:

    This is fantastic Wallace. I think I shock a photographer friend speechless the other day when I told her I add grain to most of my photos 🙂

    This technique certainly adds quite a lot of authenticity to the grain, but unfortunately, given my workflow and my severe time constraints I am unlikely to be able to put it into practice. This will definitely be bookmarked just in case I get the time.

  • Wallace Says:

    Nikhil, it seems like more work than it is. I don’t recommend leaving the ISO that high but if you have an image you want to convert the Pentax in camera B&W conversion is great and better than anything I’ve seen on any other camera. I have some plus-x in an Olympus OM-1 right now so I will be able to do a better comparison when I get that finished and processed. Thanks

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