How to work with grain in your photos while preserving a natural look that works for Licensing

Grain is everywhere, but when it comes to commercial photos, a little goes a long way, and it’s important to strike a balance between trendy and timeless. The post How to work with grain in your photos while preserving a natural look that works for Licensing appeared first on 500px.

How to work with grain in your photos while preserving a natural look that works for Licensing

Kodak Ektachrome is back, and so is T-MAX P3200. Last year, FujiFilm rolled out a new monochrome film, Neopan 100 Acros II, to satisfy demand from millennial and GenZ consumers. Some call it a “comeback,” and others call it a “renaissance,” but one thing is clear: the “film aesthetic” has returned.

It’s not just for old-school film photographers, either. As trending hashtags like #LooksLikeFilm and #GrainIsGood can confirm, even digital photographers are embracing the look. Popular overlays replicating the effect of 35mm and 8mm film can be added to any photo with the click of a button.

Grain is everywhere, but when it comes to commercial photography, we find that a little bit goes a long way, and it’s important to strike that balance between trendy and timeless. Let’s take a closer look at how—and when—to use grain in your Licensing portfolio.

Here’s the difference between grain and noise

The issue with grain is that, when used inappropriately (or overused), it can be mistaken for noise. Grain follows the structure of the film stock you use; a savvy photographer will be able to tell the difference between, say, Kodak Ektar 100 and Kodak Portra 800 just by examining the texture under a loupe.

Digital noise, on the other hand, can come from not having enough light and pushing your camera to take an exposure that’s outside its limits, resulting in a lesser-quality photo. Grain can give your photos texture and character, but noise can produce banding, make your otherwise sharp photos look fuzzy, and mess with your colors.

Noise is one of the top reasons for image rejection; it degrades the quality of your photos, and it makes them less commercially viable. Grain is a useful tool, but if you apply so much that you end up with a distorted or unnatural-looking photo, the image could be rejected for Licensing for the same reason.

Below, you’ll find our top four tips for managing noise and using grain in a way that’s appropriate for commercial photography.

Shelter Among The Stars by Somewhere Down The Road on

Tip #1: Shoot at the lowest ISO possible

Our top tip for combatting noise is simple: choose a low ISO setting. We’ve touched on the “exposure triangle” in our articles about aperture and shutter speed, and ISO is just as important as those other two settings for getting a proper exposure.

In digital photography, ISO refers to your sensor’s sensitivity to light, so if you’re working in low light conditions, you might have no choice but to increase it. Whenever you increase it, however, you’ll also increase the noise in your images. It’s a balancing act, but once you get into the habit of keeping your ISO as low as you can manage, it’ll become second-nature.

Your ISO settings will change based on the lighting conditions and the size of your sensor, but in general, if you’re shooting in daylight, there’s no need to use an ISO higher than around 200-400. At night, an ISO of around 400, 800, or 1600 should do the trick if you use a tripod, a wider aperture, and a slow shutter speed.

As a general rule of thumb, shooting at a low ISO will give you more flexibility, and more flexibility means more commercial appeal. Buyers can always add the “grain effect” to photos that were shot with a low ISO, but you can never get back the quality you’ll lose when you get into those high numbers.

Note: Your camera might have a built-in High ISO Noise Reduction option, so take advantage of it.

Monk by Efemir Art on

Tip #2: View your photos at 100%

This tip is one of the first you’ll hear from experienced Licensing Contributors: view and edit your photos at 100% resolution. Even if a photo looks sharp at a lower resolution, you’ll be able to spot any excess noise when inspecting it up-close—and buyers will too.

Before your photo can be accepted for Licensing, it will be analyzed at full resolution. Pay special attention to darker, shadowed areas, where noise can become an issue. Any artifacts and imperfections will need to be removed, if possible, which brings us to our next tip.

Tip #3: Resolve any noise issues in post

Luckily, cameras are getting better at shooting at higher ISO settings, and at the same time, post-processing software is making it easier than ever to fix imperfections and noise issues. Keep in mind that shooting in RAW format will help you preserve as much detail as possible once you’re editing behind the computer.

The choice of software is up to you, but Photoshop and Lightroom both have handy noise reduction tools/sliders. If it can’t be fixed with an all-rounder app, you can always use noise-specific tools like Neat Image, DeNoise AI from Topaz, Nik Dfine by DxO, or Noiseless by Skylum. Noise reduction is important for commercial photography, but remember not to overdo it, as too much noise reduction can sometimes result in an unnatural effect.

Snowed In by Roland Taylor on

Tip #4: Keep your edits minimal

Much of the grain we see today doesn’t come from film stocks but from presets specifically designed to mimic the appearance of film. These filters are understandably popular; they give digital photos that warm, “lived-in” look we love to see in old photos. This effect does have a place in advertising, especially as more brands tap into “nostalgia marketing” and vintage-inspired visuals, but too much grain can limit the commercial potential of your images.

Here’s why: image buyers can easily add presets and effects to photos, but they can’t take them away once they’re applied. By keeping your photos as natural and clean as possible—with lots of detail, color, and tone—you give buyers the freedom to edit the images according to their needs and tastes, and you open yourself up to a wider audience of potential clients.

In the end, the use of grain in Licensing comes down to subtlety. You can use it to convey romance and recreate those retro vibes, but remember that brands crave photos that feel crisp, authentic, and true-to-life. Artsy images with heavy grain might shine on a gallery wall or pop on your social media feeds, but they won’t necessarily work as commercial stock photography. When applying grain, remember to use a light touch and keep the end-user in the back of your mind.

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Creative self-portraits at home

Licensing Contributor Dahyembi Neal gives tips and tricks to creating beautiful creative portraits that you can take at home using a few simple lighting techniques. The post Creative self-portraits at home appeared first on 500px.

Creative self-portraits at home

This tutorial is part of the “No Place Like Home” Campaign. We’ve partnered with some of our to create these “conscious living” tutorials and Quests to encourage you to pick up your camera, maybe learn a new skill, and continue to do what you love despite these difficult times.

This tutorial was created by Dahyembi Neal, a top Licensing Contributor based in Chicago and Milwaukee, USA. She specializes in authentic portraiture.

The Quest associated with this tutorial is sponsored by Brevite. Learn more about Brevite here.

Let’s see your creative portraits! Practice your self-portraiture and then submit your photos to the Creative Portraits at Home Quest and you could win a Roamer II Backpack by Brevite.

Without access to a studio, models, or the outdoors, we have to adapt and become creative when we think about how we can dynamically stage shoots from home. This can feel somewhat limiting, however, enhancing your self-portraits is not as difficult to do as you may think.

What you will need:

  • A camera, any kind will do
  • A tripod, or somewhere stable you can position your camera
  • A self timer, wireless remote, or a program that allows you to view your camera through your computer or mobile phone such as EOS Utility
  • A window for natural light, one or two lights, lamps, and material that you can use as a softbox
  • A reflector, or material you can use to reflect light such as aluminium foil or white paper
  • A sheet or textured fabric, you can use an interesting texture from a shirt or curtain to help spice up your backdrop
  • Household materials such as saran wrap, aluminum foil, or glass objects that you can use as props

Getting started:

For this series of at home portraits I used my Canon Rebel T5I with my 18-55mm kit lens. You do not need a professional camera to take fun portraits at home, you can use whatever is accessible.

I mounted my camera on a tripod, but you can also use any steady surface, such as a table. I then connected my camera to my computer using a program called EOS Utility. This allows me to see myself on my computer screen, since I don’t have access to my viewfinder. You can also use a similar tool on your mobile phone—most camera brands have apps in the iOS and Google Playstore. I would highly recommend using one of these tools because it will help you when trying to position yourself within the frame.

Helpful Resources:
The Best Camera & Lenses for Different Types of Photography
The 50 Best Photos Taken With Canon Cameras

Lighting your portraits at home:

Natural light:

Natural light can give your portraits a soft glow. It is a great light source to use when you don’t have any available lighting equipment or accessible lamps. With natural light, you have a little less control over where it is directed, so paying close attention to how you position yourself within the frame is important.

A reflector is a great tool to use to help direct natural light and ensure you are adding light where it’s needed. The reflector will help bounce light onto areas of your face that may appear dark, providing you with a more evenly lit portrait.

If you don’t have access to a professional reflector, you can substitute white paper for it. This will softly bounce light onto your face. You can also use a mirror or aluminium foil, which will directly reflect a stronger light onto your face.

One light setup:

Using one light will create a more dramatic self portrait. I would encourage you to use something that will help diffuse the light to give a softer and more even lighting on your portrait. You can use a softbox to do this, or incorporate a fabric lampshade, which will work similarly to a softbox.

I set the light at eye level, directly in front of my face to help fill out the lighting on either side. I then incorporated a reflector to help fill out and light the underside of my face to achieve even lighting.

Two light setup:

Using two lights allows you to completely fill your portrait with light. The set up is a little different from a one light setup. When using two lights, I positioned them both above my head.

It’s always good to use a reflector when you can, because it will bring light to areas that may not be lit as well. In this case, I used a reflector to light the underside of my face.

Self Portraits by Dahyembi Joi on

Flash or external flash:

Most cameras come with a built in flash, or if you have an external flash lying around, this could be a good time to test it out. External flashes are more powerful than built in and can give a nice burst of light, but a built in flash will also work perfectly in this situation.

This is not a technique I use often, but is something that can produce some fun results that are on trend with the ‘disposable camera’ or ‘Polaroid’ aesthetic.

Self Portraits by Dahyembi Joi on

Styling your shoot:


You can use almost anything as a backdrop. Many of us may feel somewhat trapped when using our homes as backdrops for fresh work, however, you can really use your imagination to spice up your portraits.

I used a sheet for one of my backdrops, but I also played around with textured, silky shirts to see how it would work with my portrait.

I have a backdrop stand from my professional shoots but if you don’t, you can simply tape your makeshift backdrop to a wall, or hang it over a shower/curtain rod for a similar look.


Props are a great way to add extra dimension to your self portrait and get creative with what you’re shooting. I first used a teardrop gem. This distorts the light and can sometimes cause a rainbow to appear as the light shifts through the prism.

If you don’t have access to a teardrop gem, you can use alternative glass objects to distort your portrait. Glass with any type of bend in it or shooting through a glass filled with water can also add interesting distortion to your image.

Next, I used plastic wrap. Plastic wrap (or Saran wrap) can provide a haze and blur to your portraits. It can also sometimes mimic the effects of fine art lenses, adding dimension to what you are trying to shoot. Depending on how much you stretch the plastic wrap can also determine the range of distortion on your photo. Play around with it until you get your desired outcome.

Self Portraits by Dahyembi Joi on

Watch as Dahyembi walks you through her lighting set up for creative portraits at home:

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