Going with the Grain

One of the things those of us old enough to have shot film remember is the impact the choice of film and the processing had on our photographs. The size of the crystals of the silver halide on the emulsion was a measure of how much light it would take to make your image.  Smaller, finer crystals took more light and so were “slower”.  The finest portraits and landscapes were shot on ISO 25 film. Journalists and home photographers needed film that was more suited to a variety of light conditions, so ISO 100, 400 and up were the common film speeds.   For a lot of shooters, the graininess served as another element of the composition, adding grit and a layer of texture to the final images.   You can still hear or read about the merits of Ilford vs. Kodak Tri-X or some other favorite film. One of the criticisms of digital imaging is that the pictures are too sterile.   Luckily there are tools which can help bring back some of that additional character.   NIK Software(R), the makers of SilverEfexPro, did a masterful job in recreating in the software the exact specifications of some of the most popular film types, and they add new ones with each update.Since this post is all about grain, I figured this would be a good base image to use.


I used the same black and white conversion for all three images.  The first picture represents Kodak 32.  It has lots of grains per pixel and the edges between them are very soft.  This makes for smoother transitions and crisper photos.


The second picture emulates a film I used to shoot a lot in college—Kodak Tri-Ex 400.  It really starts to show some darkening and noise. 

Finally, I created a custom film structure, it is really pushed to have big grains in order to show just how far you can push the process.

Each one of the controls allows you to stretch your artistic controls just as if you were working back in a darkroom.  The major difference is if you mess up here, just cancel and start all over again.  If you like the results, then you can save it as your own preset and use it again later.