In my never ending search for that “special” photographic look that sets me apart from the competition, I recently discovered that overexposing film increases the grain and adds a vintage pictorial look to my images. So I wanted to explore that look further. To that end, I wanted to find out if this film grain can be copied in the digital world using Adobe Lightroom. So I went out and shot a few rolls of film and shot the same images with my digital camera. I used the same lens and F stop for each image. (Well, almost the same F stop. I made a few mistakes but it was close enough for my purposes)
I used Kodak TMax 100 film (because that’s what I had) in my Nikon N90s body. And I set my Nikon D750 to native ISO (ISO 100) to insure clean noise free images were produced, so all my “film grain” would be exclusively produced in Lightroom.
These are the results:
These are the things I learned while producing this video: Grain in film is real. Film images are made of grain. Grain in the digital realm is a layer over the digital image. So digital grain is an additive on top of a digital image.
Summary: The film grain from slightly over exposed TMax 100 (up to 7 stops) seems pretty easy to copy in Lightroom. But if you push film to extreme overexposure, (which not many people are going to do which is what makes it special) Lightroom can’t seem to copy it. The grain from extremely overexposed TMax has such a vast randomness in size, contrast, and structure that I was unable to copy it. I think probably the biggest hurdle was the softness and contrast of the grain structure. Extreme film grain seems to be unique the film.
- Nikon D750 (Full Frame digital Body)
- Nikon N90s (Film Body)
- Nikon 85mm f/1.8D
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8D
- Kodak TMax 100 film
- Film was developed with a fresh batch of Kodak D-76
Feel free to pixel peep a few of the images on my Flickr account. You may see a slight difference up close but generally speaking, customers don’t pixel peep, and prints should minimize those slight differences.
Disclaimer: This is a learning experience for me. If you do similar tests your results may vary.
About the author
Bill Lawson is a former full-time professional photographer now hobbyist photographer based in Havre de Grace, Maryland, USA. Although he’s been shooting for over 30 years he still considers himself a newbie in the world of photography. You can find more of Bill’s work on his website, and follow him on YouTube, Instagram, and Flickr.