Simulate Film Grain Using Photoshop’s Camera RAW Filter

In this tutorial we’re going to look at how you can simulate film grain using the Camera RAW filter in Photoshop. I’ve also produced a separate tutorial explaining an alternative approach to adding film grain in Photoshop using Layers. This is another approach you might like to consider which is a little more complex but offers additional control, not available in the Camera RAW filter.

Simulate Film Grain with Photoshop Camera RAW

In this video tutorial we look at how you can use the Photoshop Camera RAW filter to simulate film grain in your digital photos. Following the video you will find a complete tutorial walking you through the steps.

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The Camera RAW Filter

If you shoot your photography in RAW format and process your images using Photoshop, it’s quite likely you have already used the Camera RAW. Camera RAW is an application which Photoshop uses to convert RAW files into images. But, Camera RAW can also process and apply affects to regular images such as JPEGs and TIFFs.

In this tutorial we will be using Camera RAW to simulate film grain in two ways:

  1. We use Camera RAW to simulate film grain as part of the RAW conversion process.
  2. Alternatively, we can use the filter in Photoshop after the RAW conversion process has completed. This is something that a lot of people don’t realise is possible.

Either method works well. Which is best for you will depends on your workflow and intended purpose for the finished image. One piece of advice that I can offer is to think about your intended processing to decide when to add the grain effect. Here’s two alternatives as an example.

Image in the Photoshop Adobe Camera RAW module showing the film grain simulation in the Fx section

If you will be reducing the resolution of your image significantly, for example to display on the internet, its best to add the film grain simulation after the image has been resized. Reducing the size of an image with grain can reduce the grain effect.

If the image is going to be enlarged, this will also enlarge the film grain which might then appear too strong. That is unless you will be making a large print which people will view from a distance. This may require you enlarge the film grain to ensure your viewer notices the effect.

Adding Film Grain During RAW Conversion

Here’s the process to simulate film grain during RAW conversion. You can use the same approach to process and apply a grain effect to any image file. Later we’ll explore an alternative approach to this.

Opening the Image

It’s possible to open any file in Adobe Camera RAW using the following steps in Photoshop.

  • Open Photoshop but don’t yet open your image.
  • Select “File | Open As…” from the menu. This displays the open dialog where you can navigate to and select the file you want to add the film grain to.
Opening the image from Photoshop in Adobe Camera RAW
  • To the bottom right of the dialog, just above the Open and Cancel buttons you will see a drop-down list. In this list set the file type to be “Camera Raw”. The Camera Raw file type supports a range of image formats including TIFF, JPEG, PSD etc.
  • Find and select your file using the dialog. You can then click the “Open” button and the image will now open in the Camera RAW application, rather than directly in Photoshop.

Using the Effect Tab

  • Once open select the “Fx” tab which contains the Grain effect adjustment which we can use to simulate film grain. You can also apply any other adjustments using the controls in the other tab, but we will ignore this for the tutorial.
Applying the film grain simulation in the Fx tab of Adobe Camera RAW
  • In the FX Tab you will find the “Grain” panel over to the right. This has three settings you can apply to the image. Use the Amount slider to control how much grain is added to the photo. Size controls the size of the individual grain effect. As you increase this to higher levels you will find the image also softens. The Roughness adjustment helps prevent the grain pattern from appearing too regular. Moving the slider to the right can help improve the appearance and similarity to film grain.
Using Photoshop to simulate film grain - Side by side comparison of the image with and without the film grain simulation
  • When you’re satisfied with the adjustment click the “Open Image” button. This closes Camera RAW and opens the adjusted image in Photoshop. Be sure to use the “Open Image” button rather than the “Done” button. The Done button causes the changes to save but doesn’t open the image.

An alternative approach which possibly offers more flexibility and control is to apply the Camera RAW filter to a new Photoshop layer.

Applying the Camera RAW Filter to a Layer

The approach is very similar to that described above except you apply the adjustment as a filter. Here are the steps.

  • Open the image in Photoshop that you want to apply the grain effect to. Now continue to either step 2 or step 3 below.
  • If you haven’t applied any adjustment layers to the image, create a duplicate image layer from the background layer. You can do this by pressing Ctrl + J (Windows PC) on your keyboard or Cmd + J (Mac).
  • If you have applied other adjustment layers to the image, rather than copying the background layer you can create a new Stamp Layer. Do this by pressing Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E (Windows PC) on your keyboard or Shift + Option + Cmd + E (Mac). The Stamp Layer is a new single layer that’s a duplicate of all the other layers in the image combined.
  • Click the Filters menu item and select the option “Camera RAW Filter…” from the menu.
  • The Camera RAW filter will now open the selected layer.

You can now apply your changes in the Camera RAW filter as described previously.

The benefit of using this approach is that you can convert your new layer to use Smart Filters before applying the Camera RAW filter. Converting the layer for use with Smart Filters means Photoshop retains any adjustments you apply in the Smart Filter. This allows you to reopen the filter and tweak your adjustments in the future.

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This tutorial has presented a couple of ways you can use to apply a grain effect to your photos in Photoshop. Both use the grain feature of Camera RAW but in different ways and allow you plenty of flexibility depending how you will ultimately publish your photo.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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