Grainy Photos and How to Correct Them – Common Problems with Your Photography: Part 4

Grainy Photo

What do you think about the photo above? Look at the background… grainy isn’t it? How many times have you had grains in your photos? In this post, we continue the series Common Problems with Your Photos and talk about Grainy Photos. This post talks about why photos get grains or noise and what you can do to avoid them. 

Grainy Food Photos

Grains make photographs look unprofessional and low quality. Most professional magazines and editors will reject your photos in a snap, no matter how creative your composition is. As a food photographer, grainy photos are not desirable and in next few minutes we will talk about why your photos are grainy, what is causing them to be grainy and how to correct and repair them.

Identifying Grainy Photos

In most photos, identifying this problem is fairly easy. The dots or grains are all over the photo and tell the story loud and clear. In some rare occasions, you may be able to realize that something is missing in a photo, but may not be able to pinpoint why photos doesn’t look good enough.

In those rare occasions, check the darker areas of the photo and see if you are seeing any grains or dots. You may also feel as if the photo is too pixelated or noisy, specially when zoomed in or in large size prints.

Now that you know how to identify that the problem in fact is grainy photos, lets look at the reasons behind grainy photos.

Why Photos Get Grainy

There are several reasons for grains in a photograph. The most commonly known and talked about reason for grains is ISO. In old days, when people used film, a general thumb rule was that grain in a photo increases as the ISO goes up. So, the higher the ISO, the grainier the photo would be.

With digital technology, we understand that there are several other reasons for grainy photos. Here are some known reasons:

  1. High ISO – As we briefly talked, higher the ISO, higher is the amount of grain.
  2. Low light – Photos become grainy if enough light was not available when the photo was taken.
  3. Too slow shutter speed – One school of thought believes if shutter speed is very low and light is low, photos may have lot of grain and noise.
  4. Camera – High-end DSLRs usually perform better in low light and handle high ISO with minimum noise. Same can not be said about low end DSLRs and point and shoot cameras. These type of camera have a small sensor, leading to high noise as effective light getting to sensor is lesser than if it were a high-end DSLR, which have a bigger and better responsive sensor.
  5. Excessive Post Processing – Another reason for grainy photos is over adjustment in post production. When sharpness of a photo is increased, grains/pixels in a photo become more prominent. If this adjustment is overdone, photo becomes grainy in no time.

Usually combination of more than one reasons stated above leads to grainy photos. Avoiding and correcting grainy photos takes some knowledge and experience. Let’s look at how to avoid grainy photos and if unavoidable, how to repair them.

Removing Grains from Your Photos

There are several ways of solving the grain problem in photography. Understanding why grains appear on photos is the first step. With advanced post processing tools like Lightroom and Photoshop noise can be dramatically reduced in post production.

Even though post production tools have become very powerful, taking photos that require almost no post production should be always preferred. For reducing grains in a photo, there are several ways that have proved useful. These include, increasing available light on the subject, buying fast lens.

Let’s look at three main ideas to reducing grains in photos, before photo is taken and in post production. Here are the three ways:

  1. Increase Available Light: If available light is too low, to avoid grain try to increase available light by using artificial light. Use a off-camera flash or strobe light. Do whatever you can to increase light.
  2. Improve Your Gear: Now I am not suggesting that everybody should buy a 5D Mark II, or a $ 4,500 lens. A decent lens with large aperture or smaller f-stops should serve you good in the long run. With a f 1.4 lens, a substantially higher shutter speed can be used more times (than if you were using f 4.0 or f 5.6).
  3. Do Post Processing Right: Even after attempting the two ideas mentioned above, in some cases, you just won’t be able to avoid grains. In those cases, post processing will be a savior. We talked about overdoing post processing and how it affect the graininess of photos. Learn post processing and use it the right way. See the videos below to learn how to remove grains in post production.

This video talks about using Photoshop to reduce noise. In this video the user explains two types of noise usually scene in night photos. View this video to learn some basics of noise and grains and how to correct them

See the photo below and compare it to the one above. Do you see any difference of grain in the two photographs? Tell us in the comment below, what difference do you see.


Grain versus Sensor Spots

A close relative of grainy photos is a spotty photo. There is a big difference, however. Grains on a photo occur mainly because of low light. Spots, on the other hand, are a result of dirty, spotty sensor. We will cover spotty photos and how to correct them in an upcoming photo.

Other Common Problems with Food Photos

Here are other 12 common problems that can occur with food photos:

  1. Overexposed Photos
  2. Underexposed Photos
  3. Wrong Colors in Photos
  4. Out of focus Photos
  5. Shaky Photos
  6. Glare (or Flare)
  7. Vignetting
  8. Red-Eyed Chefs
  9. Wide angle distortion
  10. Spotty pictures
  11. Tilted horizontal
  12. Poor Composition

What would you add to the list above? Which is your biggest problem? Tell us in the comments below.

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  • LaToya S.

    Wow! I know you wrote this post a while ago, but I’ve just discovered your blog. I was searching everywhere on Google today, trying to find out how to fix my grainy photo’s. I even emailed other food bloggers, asking for advice or tips. But to no avail.

    And then, I just stumble upon your blog, and BAM! You have a post teaching us how to fix grainy photos. I have Lightroom 3, but I only knew the basics. As soon as I finished watching the videos you posted, I went on Lightroom and fixed some of my photos. I’m so happy.

    Thank you for this website.

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  • susan

    I love the 3 common problems listed so far…are the rest of the series posted? How can I find the links?

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