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Adding a Film Grain Look

One complaint you hear from traditional film photographers is that digital images look “too clean.” That’s probably why plug-ins that add a film grain look have gotten so popular. The workaround we used to use was to jump over to Photoshop and use the Add Noise filter, which didn’t do a terribly bad job, but in Lightroom 3 there’s a now dedicated feature that brings more realistic film grain effects without having to leave Lightroom.

  • Step One: The film grain effect is popular when processing B&W photos, so we’ll start by converting to black and white. In the Basic panel, click on Black & White at the top-right, then increase the Recovery amount to 100 (to bring back some sky), and the Clarity amount to +75. In the Tone Curve panel, choose Strong Contrast from the Point Curve pop-up menu
  • Step Two: Now, go down to the Effects panel (to really see the grain, you’ll first want to zoom in to a 100% [1:1] view). The Grain Amount slider does what you’d imagine—the higher the amount, the more grain is added to your photo (go easy here—I don’t generally go over 40 as a maximum, and I usually try to stay between 15 and 30). Here I moved it over to 34.
  • Step Three: The Size slider lets you choose how large the grain appears. I think it looks more realistic at fairly small size, but if you’re working on super high-resolution images, you might want to bump it up a bit. The Roughness slider lets yw ou vary the consistency of the grain. By default, the noise pattern looks pretty consistent, so the farther to the right you drag the Roughness slider, the more it’s varied. But I gotta tell ya, when you increase it too much, it starts getting really contrasty and kind of funky-looking, so I usually leave the Roughness amount at its default setting of 50.
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