Why do we chase 'Grain' in our shots?

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PeterC

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I use medium format because I want to get decent sized prints from my negatives that show my interpretation of the scene in front of me.
The last thing I want on there is grain which to my eye lessens the impact of the shot.
This is the reason that I use chromagenic film rather than the so-called standards of HP 4/5 - Tri X
Grain does not occur in the natural world (if YOU can see it , your spectacles need cleaning!) so why do we almost make it a given that grain should be seen in monochrome work.
Using pigment inks in my 1290 I can achieve a beautifully smooth transition of tone from black to white that could never happen if I had clumps of grain in there.
 

Leon

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Peter - I used to hunt for the perfect smooth mono print, but found that for all the smoothness and creamy qualties of the new generation films and fine grain dvelopers, they had no sparkle. Edges were never as crisp, and tonaly they were unremarkable.

I dont chase grain, but i do strive for visual impact and *life*in my pictures - using older style emulsions and developer combinations has been a way of achieving this end for me. I have tried the c-41 films but havent been overly impressed, but that's just me :smile:

People do things for different reasons, and as long as we (and the people who buy our prints) are happy with the results, why worry?
 

Les McLean

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I had the same feelings about grain in the early days of making photographs. I used large and medium format often with Pan FA and fine grain developers to try to eliminate any evidence of grain. I photographed only landscape and still life but when I decided to make a documentary work about the miners of my home town I struggled to use medium format and invested in 35mm and agonised over the increase of grain in my images. I stuck with it despite the grain factor and gradually realised that the grain was adding an element to the images, in fact I did use some medium format images in the final show and felt that they were too clean and crisp and did not convey the mood of the subject. Since then I have considered the effect that grain would have on the subject that I am photographing and if I feel that the interpretation would benefit from the inclusion of grain I do all I can to enhance the grain in the image. I also now use grain in still life and landscape when I think it appropriate. Delta 3200 and Trigs, developed in Retinal, are the two films that I use when I want grain.
 

doughowk

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Barry Thornton's Edge of Darkness contains a very good discussion of edge effect (acutance), resolution & grain. Increased grain is part of trade-offs we make when trying to create a print that has impact. Fine-grained films will enable creation of high-resolution prints; but they often suffer in comparison to a print with good edge effect.
 
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PeterC

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Good morning Les/ Leon and a lovely day it is too (on Anglesey anyway)
I suspect that all three opinions are correct for each of the individuals.
I suppose we are exceptionally lucky to have so much choice not only in film material but also in capture methods.
The thoughts that led to the question arose from watching a digital demonstration the other day when the operator deliberately added noise to a shot to give a grain effect. Reflecting on this as the day wore on I wondered why he bothered when the shot had enough 'oomph' as it stood. The search for this 'must have' seemed to overcomplicate matters and take away the joy of the final print.
I know my customers gravitate towards the 'clean' prints far more than the grainy ones but then they are mere mortals not photographers who KNOW what a print should look like[:wink:]
 

Ed Sukach

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PeterC said:
I use medium format because I want to get decent sized prints from my negatives that show my interpretation of the scene in front of me.
The last thing I want on there is grain which to my eye lessens the impact of the shot. ...
Grain does not occur in the natural world (if it , your spectacles need cleaning!) so why do we almost make it a given that grain should be seen in monochrome work.

We? What you mean, "We"??

I don't think it is a "given" that grain *must* be used. It *CAN* be used if the photographer, pursuing the elusive goal that ends with the mystical phrase, "It WORKS!".
After all, there is *NO* scene in nature that is totally devoid of color, either - but we have the choice, the "tool in the box", that we CAN use to produce monochromatic - uh - more appropriately - "color-less" images that are "unnatural". Hmm... come to think of it ... who ever decreed that all our work HAD to be "natural" in the first place?

The "large apparent grain" has an effect on the senses - just what that effect is, I can't explain. Something. Neither can I - nor will I, attempt to say where it is, or is not appropriate....

Robert Farber produced a whole series of nudes, using Agfachrome 1000 (color transparency film) "pushed" one to three stops - deliberately seeking, and successfully obtaining, coarse grain - and IMHO, they are some of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen.
 

David A. Goldfarb

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I don't know that we're all trying to eliminate grain at all costs or that the popular audience doesn't enjoy images with grain.

I picked up the current issue of _Vanity Fair_ (June 2004) this month for an article that I was interested in, and I was surprised to see just how many grainy fashion shots there were in the advertisements, both color and B&W. Grain is definitely "in" right now. When the perfectly slick digital image is becoming the norm, grain becomes an aesthetic choice.
 
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PeterC

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Sorry Ed, I am not trying to put words in anyone's mouth but it is probably one of the safer bets you could make to suggest that noticeable grain is virtually an essential for monochrome work on this side of the pond.
Sometimes of course this leads to 'grain for grain's sake' especially for newcomers to mono work.
I take your point on the issue of colour but that too is strange as I think we tend to see history as black and white based on our experience of early news reels and press pictures. This I feel allows us to accept the loss of colour in a shot more easily. Whether it is a similar historical process that encourages grain I do not know but it is certainly interesting to hear the varying points of view.
 

sparx

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It comes down to an extent (as everything does) to personal preferences. On my college course at the moment we are being encouraged to use fast films or push films, not to compensate for bright sunshine or to get fast shutter speeds, but to get grain. Sometimes the finished images works and sometimes it doesn't. I think it is as Les says, it depends on the subject and the statement you are trying to make.
I also add noise (the d*****l equivalent to grain) on a lot of my design work I do and people like it.
 

Jorge

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I dont think that many of us necessarily chase the lack of grain. IMO it has more to do with the image and the printing style. Take for instance Eddie Ephramus work, he makes wonderful landscapes, yet grain is very visible. The same goes for Michael Kenna, many of his photographs show a lot of grain yet they are beautiful. OTOH a Paul Caponigro print with grain would not look as good, IMO. I dont have a good eye for prints that incorporate grain, but I have made a couple of successful images where grain was a mayor component of the print.
 

dr bob

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I have seen images which use grain to advantage. That is, the image is enhanced, to me at least, by the presence of visible grain. Then there are some images, some very recent on APUG, which have extremely smooth tonation and in which grain would be a distraction and therefore objectionable to me. Please note. "...to me". In the latest edition of PT there is an article on wedding photography rendering photos having nothing but grain which I find bad at best. Don't know what "they" are coming to.... I cancelled my subscription last year but am still receiving issues. I hope "they" don't expect me to pay for them.

I try to limit grain. I have never consciously attempted to include it. However, most times when it has occurred, I live with it.
 
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Special occasions not whistanding, I like tiny grain (35mm, 10X enlargements as my standard).
But I will never sacrifice sharpness for lack of grain (as, for instance, with full strenght Microdol-X).

So, I'm always looking for the 'right' balance between the two.

Jorge O
 

Jim Chinn

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The incorporation of grain into an image is no different then the use of different brush techniques or texture of the paint when applied using oils and acrylics.

Grain is just another tool of expression available to the photographer and is often maligned by the F64/ Ansel Adams crowd. But it is one of those characteristics that is unique to the medium and the the right hands produces stunning results. Ralph Gibson is the true master of grain, using the classic combo of Rodinal and TriX for his images from the 70s-early 90s.
Bill Brandt, (one of my favorites) used grain to great effect and a great number of Robert Frank's images from the Americans have significant grain. And also as Jorge mentioned Eddie Ephramus and Les both use grain in many images to produce beautiful work.

By the way, any idea why grain seems to be a much more prevalent tool in the UK and Europe?
 

Ed Sukach

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PeterC said:
Sorry Ed, I am not trying to put words in anyone's mouth but it is probably one of the safer bets you could make to suggest that noticeable grain is virtually an essential for monochrome work on this side of the pond.

Oh. "Essential" to whom?

I recently won "Best in Show" for a nude photograph that I had submitted to a filed of "Marshes" (we have many of those around here), "Boats" and "Fruit".There were two (2) nudes in a show of 174 works - both mine.

Who said it ... "If you really want to be successful, investigate, and find out what everyone else is doing - and DON'T do that."

I remember now ... it was J. Paul Getty.
 

Les McLean

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Jim68134 said:
By the way, any idea why grain seems to be a much more prevalent tool in the UK and Europe?


Perhaps there are more photographers in the USA using large format, and that, together with the Ansel Adams example of large prints showing fine detail and no grain is the reason. Certainly, whenever I've photographed or lead workshops in the landscape in the US I've noticed that most photographers tend to use large format. I remember many years ago using some out of date 4 x 5 Royal X Pan that produced some quite beautiful grain, wish it were still available........
 

Ole

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Ed Sukach said:
Oh. "Essential" to whom?

Ed, PeterC said "...on this side of the pond."

Since he also mentioned the weather on Anglesey, I assume he's on my side of the pond - in Europe, that is.

And he's right - European photography seems to be a lot grainier than (US)American!

Les McLean is probably right in that LF seems to be more prevalent in the USA. Possibly due to the influence of Ansel Adams, or maybe it's a continuation of whatever made AS photographers continue to make daguerrotypes for decades after they disappeared in Europe?
 

David A. Goldfarb

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In broad terms, I think large format is pretty much on the margins in the U.S., but it does seem to be the medium of choice in the fine art field, probably more due to Fred Picker who really produced a major large format revival with his Zone VI camera and newsletter than Ansel Adams who perhaps inspired it in other ways.
 
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PeterC

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Well that certainly opened up a few opinions and thank you to all for the comments. As most things photographic, it seems that there are as many styles and approaches as there are photographers.
Essentially, none of us are right and none of us wrong it is simply each to his own.
 
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