Most photographers, including myself, spend most of our time ensuring our images are as clean and free as possible from noise/grain. There are occasions, however, when you may want to add grain to simulate a old-style film effect to add a vintage and textured look to your image. In the ‘old’ pre-digital days this would be achieved by using a ‘fast’ film with a high-sensitivity ISO rating.
Firstly you need to find a suitable image, this isn’t going to look very good on a landscape photo. We want a black and white art-style photograph, either a suitable portrait, or a subject that will benefit from this type of aesthetic. It’s also good if your black and white image has strong shadow areas to maximise the look. For this tutorial I’ve used an image that I captured in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain.
There are a number of ways to add film grain in Photoshop. You can simply go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and specify an amount and you’re done, but we want a more refined method that offers us more control. A far more effective way is to do it via a separate layer, which we will then adjust and blend to exactly our needs.
To begin, create a new layer, change the blending mode from Normal to Linear Light in the top-left of your Photoshop layers palette, then go to the edit menu and fill the layer with 50% gray, see screenshot below.
We then add the noise/grain by going to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Once you’re in the add noise dialog box, add an amount of 11%, and also make sure the Gaussian and Monochromatic options are ticked, then hit OK. By default the effect will be too strong, but we can rectify that by reducing the opacity of our grain layer to get the exact feel that we want.
Let’s is a look at our final image — I reduced the opacity to 28% to get the results you see below.
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