Grain. Use it or lose it?

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I have a question about grain in black and white photography- primarily black and white prints.
I grew up with grain. Heck, I got interested in photography because of the chemistry of grain (long story).
But to me, grain is different than noise. It looks different, it adds different feelings.
In some, but not all, of my black and white works I try to keep grain, which means adding grain in post. I have spent a lot of time and money over the years with presets and testing so the grain is appropriate for the film type I have chosen.
I was sitting back and thinking- which is usually dangerous for me.
I have had many more comments over the years about the grain detracting from the image than adding to it. In fact I have never, not once, had anyone say anything positive about grain. I have had several comments like, "too bad it is grainy". These are usually images I added the grain. Now I am talking about mild grain-HP5 or PanF. Maybe triX 400. Not iso 3200 grain that looks like boulders. Call it artistic grain.
I am presently going through a batch of portraits in black and white. I like a little bit of grain, but I am now wondering if it is at all worth the time and effort. If I stop adding grain I can guarantee no one will notice, except me.
How are you handling it in your own work?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I learn a lot here.
gary
 
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It depends on the target audience for me.

if it is for clients, the final images are shot to spec. Sometimes they are looking for a specific aesthetic and that requires images to looks certain way. They may be looking for a vintage film look or a stylized look that only grain in an image can satisfy.
In those cases, I do what is required of me.

for personal stuff,I process to my liking - for at the end of the dayI’m shooting for me first and everyone else second.

I like grain in film, depending on the stock. I post process the film simulation the same. I’ve invested in the Fuji system, not only because I like the cameras and lenses, but their in camera film simulation engine is great and gives the capability of some very film like processing.

move also bought into DxO filmpack5 for the same reason.

at the end of the day, do what makes you happy.
 
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Gryphon1911, thanks. Pretty much my thoughts.
My work is for me, but the prints are starting to get some traction locally- especially big prints. As you know, you never know which ones someone will like. I have tried explaining grain, and showing examples with and without, to interested parties- and they either do not care or they like the non grain better. Never once has anyone else picked/ liked even subtle grain.
I guess I sometimes tire of rowing upstream. But at the same time I still listen to vinyl records.
I am coming to the , sad to me, conclusion that grain is an added step that few like or understand, and more see as a distraction or problem.
gary
 

Butlerkid

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I think it really depends a lot on one's background. I never did dark room work. Didn't shot with B&W film. I have no appreciation for grain.

My main experience with photography - especially digital processing - has been the minimization of noise.

Grain? Never saw a need to add it.......even now with my B&W's. Never missed it.

Never noticed the prescence of grain in @gschappel images probably due to the small jpgs posted here. Maybe if I saw them in person and as a large print, I would appreciate the grain. Or perhaps I wouldn't notice it then either! LOL!

All that said, I DO think a photograph should have some degree of "texture" (?) that is appropriate to the subject. Somethimes it is micro-contrast, sometimes residual noise, sometimes grain, or ????
 
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When the people are complaining about the grain, are they viewing your prints?

If not, I wouldn't be concerned. That's because all but a relatively very few people including those who participate in photography forums that view images online have ever studied the master photographers that made photos prior to the digital age. The people that fit that profile, frankly, don't have an informed opinion when it comes to grain. Moreover, thanks to the obsession with eliminating noise as a style of digital photography, people that see the grain either mistakenly think it's noise or they dislike it because the look of grain is too similar to the look of noise. I would even venture to say that no more than 1% of people participating in online forums regularly visit photography displays at museums or photo galleries, partly because the people living in rural areas often don't have reasonable access to them.
 
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To me, it's an artifact of an earlier era

To me, it's an appealing characteristic of an earlier era.

Time and technology march forward.

Marching forward doesn't mean past technologies are eliminated. Indeed, there's not a single photo technology that ever became mainstream that isn't being used by photographers in niche markets and hobbies today. Thank goodness for that!
 

Commodorefirst

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I have seen a change through the past decades. Before 2000, grain seemed more in vogue, and when shooting film Prior to 2002, seemed to be understood by our clients, unless color landscapes. Once digital took hold a few years later, it seems to be completely reversed. However, unless spec for clients I always say art is your vision first. I still add grain on some shots that focus more on lines and shapes and sometimes add blur too.
 
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Early digital cameras had lots of noise. Did you find that appealing?

When that noise was used artistically, yes, it was very appealing. I've even digitally added noise to color images. I'm apparently not alone in doing that, as so many software applications provide that capability. The very first version of Photoshop had it and the latest version still has it today.
 
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When that noise was used artistically, yes, it was very appealing. I've even digitally added noise to color images. I'm apparently not alone in doing that, as so many software applications provide that capability. The very first version of Photoshop had it and the latest version still has it today.

Just as a matter of curiosity, if you had never seen film images with grain, do you think you would still find it appealing in digital photographs?
 
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if you had never seen film images with grain, do you think you would still find it appealing in digital photographs?

I have no idea because I can't know about hypothetical situations never encountered. However, I've always leaned toward being open-minded about the creative aspects of life as opposed to the documentary aspects, so I wouldn't be surprised if I liked the artistic characteristic that grain adds to a digital photo even if I hadn't seen it in film photos. People that lean toward the documentary aspect of life when viewing a photo understandably wouldn't like grain or noise because those characteristics weren't in the physical scene being photographed.
 

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I have no idea because I can't know about hypothetical situations never encountered. However, I've always leaned toward being open-minded about the creative aspects of life as opposed to the documentary aspects, so I wouldn't be surprised if I liked the artistic characteristic that grain adds to a digital photo even if I hadn't seen it in film photos. People that lean toward the documentary aspect of life when viewing a photo understandably wouldn't like grain or noise because those characteristics weren't in the physical scene being photographed.
Not sure about that description of "documentary". Objects in the real world do have texture. Even very smooth objects. I see it more as the character of the texture in an image that each individual photographer considers during processing, not the genre of photography.
 
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Not sure about that description of "documentary". Objects in the real world do have texture.

True, but objects in the real world don't have noise or grain. To accept either as a characteristic of texture in a photo is to lean if only a slight amount toward the creative aspect of photography and away from the purely documentary aspect.
 
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I see it more as the character of the texture in an image that each individual photographer considers during processing, not the genre of photography.

The more I think about that, the more I agree with you. That's because all the characteristics of film photography including prints made on paper that changed over time can be reasonably well emulated in digital photography and some photographers make that happen.
 
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With my B&W images, as one of the last steps in processing, I'll add a little noise (grain) to a grey layer in the softlight or overlay blending mode. Amount of noise is quite small 5-10% (gaussian/monochromatic) and to which guassian blur is then applied 3-5%. Then using a darks Lum Mask apply the noise more into the shadows than in the highlights.

Even though the 1st step in my processing is to remove noise, adding noise back is my last step in B&W processing. Not sure that I can pinpoint it, but it just seems to bring the image together. The amount of noise/grain is very subtle. I can see, or think I can see the diff in both the print and on the screen, but would probably not be able to tell you, if I didn't know that the diff was due to the added noise.
 
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We could argue this point ad infinitum, but there is no settling it because it's clearly a matter of personal preference. There is a quote, I think attributed to Gandhi, that goes "...never try to argue a person out of something they were not argued into in the first place."
 
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Like so many things in art, there obviously is no right answer. I am a science guy, I do not like unanswerable questions.
I think personally this is coming to a head for me- as I am in a bit of a photo slump right now, and thinking too much. Trying to find my way back. Shows cancelled, travel cancelled, football curtailed. One big project done. One book submission done and accepted. Nothing really on the horizon. I can't even get myself to sit down to edit the last football game of the limited season. So I am doing other things and thinking about photography. Probably thinking too much.

I actually like a little grain- I mean a little- and on the right images. Maybe it harkens back to a simpler time- at least in my eye.
Sometimes, a little grain also makes things look sharper, graphic lines a little more defined for some reason.
But, like my vinyl records, I think it is lost on the population that did not grow up with grain and films.
I do notice in movies, it they want a romantic scene they often put on a vinyl record- even though many in the audience have never heard or seen one.
I am trying to simplify my workflow as much as possible. I am no longer sure the work I put in- separate layers, masks- to add grain is worth the effort. Especially when the non- artistically trained audience sees it as a flaw.
Bummer
I usually only add grain to my portraits and some grungy landscapes. I doubt if I have ever posted any of those here- so my work here is likely all without added grain.
Along those lines, I do agree, if they have their nose pushed up to the glass looking to see grain, they are not really looking at the work. At that point, the image may have failed.
gary
 
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Gryphon1911, thanks. Pretty much my thoughts.
My work is for me, but the prints are starting to get some traction locally- especially big prints. As you know, you never know which ones someone will like. I have tried explaining grain, and showing examples with and without, to interested parties- and they either do not care or they like the non grain better. Never once has anyone else picked/ liked even subtle grain.
I guess I sometimes tire of rowing upstream. But at the same time I still listen to vinyl records.
I am coming to the , sad to me, conclusion that grain is an added step that few like or understand, and more see as a distraction or problem.
gary

Tastes change. Right now, in your circle, clean "modern" looking images might be what everyone wants. In other circles, lomography, the lo-fi look is in and often encouraged.

Even shooting film is surging back somewhat, especially in medium format film.

You never know. In a few years, or the next fashion cycle - gritty, grainy film looks might be the next hot thing. Remember when "The Dave Hill look" and "overbaked HDR" was the rage?

HDR is still around, but the extremes in direction have faded....but all it will take is for one ad campaign or "influencer" on a hot social media platform to revive it.

You sound a lot like me, where you shoot mainly for your pleasure, but keep your ear to the ground and keeping a finger on the current pulse. That's a good thing and I often learn a lot trying to emulate the current styles. Firstly, is it something for me? Is it something that makes sense to offer to potential clients? Is it something I can adapt and transform into something that is more me and fits within my style?
 
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