What is the “THING”

I have been searching for something for a long time now, probably for at least eight years since the beginning of my degree. When I started, I heard tell of the mystical voice we might one day find if we worked developed and practised our art. At first, we all thought we would find this voice quickly that a style would leap to our aid. As it happens, I think I recognised this “Thing” early on I have just never been able to define it describe it or make work that reflected it. This has been a very frustrating time as I know what this “Thing” is when I see it but it is elusive and even when I can show you a picture that has this secret sauce I can’t describe to you what it is about that image that has the Sauce. Trying to Discover this “Thing” is a bit like drinking Worcester Sauce and trying to determine the original recipe.

For the last few days, I have been Identifying practitioners of both Digital and Analogue arts to help inform my practice of assignment one. During this research, I have found quite a few digital practitioners some that I knew of and some new and in the course of studying their work I have gathered many images in a folder and on Pinterest and for the first time while looking at several practitioners together I noticed something but before I get to that let me show you an image that has the secret sauce hopefully this will help you follow along.


The image above titled Ashlieya Lioness by Jason Hahn has the secret sauce there is something about it that I want to quantify and distil so I can incorporate it into my practice. In fact, all of the images displayed in the previous post about digital artists have the secret sauce to some extent.

Understanding this was the beginning of the revelation, I still can’t fully articulate what the “Thing” is I can’t describe the voice I want to develop but I am a lot closer and I have at least identified one element of it.

Coming back to what I noticed, it can be seen in the title image for this post, to explain that it is a set of 100-pixel x 100-pixel cuts sampled from the pictures I have been studying. The reason I did this was to show as best as I could something they all have in common, they all have a kind of film grain to them.

The following image depicts film grain, the sort we used to get from black and white film and I personally used to love (maybe this is a clue).   

Film grain produced a pleasing texture over the face of the image. This effect was considered desirable so we used to use high iso film so that the grain structure would be more prominent and the effect more pronounced. Film grain is an effect caused by the size of the silver nitrate crystals that grew on the face of the film during the development process.

In digital photography, there is a phenomenon that also comes from a higher ISO, but its cause and effect are very different. In a digital camera, the image is captured on a digital sensor instead of on a segment of film. The digital sensor can be set to read the light at different speeds. This setting is called its ISO and performs the same duty as the ISO speed of the film. However, the effect of high digital ISO is digital noise rather than grain. The result is quite different as can be seen here:

As can be seen, digital noise is ugly, it blocks the image and removes detail, unlike film grain which flows with and enhances the detail and form of the image. What I was noticing in all of the images I was studying had grain in them but not black and white film grain but instead, a colour grain that shifted with the pigment of the image rather than being random RGB pixels like digital noise.

I have always been aware of colour film grain, but it is only during this research that I connected it to the “Thing” or the ingredients of the secret sauce, I quite deliberately say ingredients as colour grain is not the entire story but it does feel like the master key that will unlock the problem. In case you don’t understand what colour grain is here is a sample to compare:

The examples above are of one of my old images I took off some of the texture layers so that they did not interfere with the grain and applied a grain filter from the filter gallery these images show the effect ranging from no grain up to a setting of 6. By the time it reached 6, it started to look like digital noise suggesting a working parameter from 2 to 5 all of which look like grain and get more substantial as more is applied. I will need to experiment with this and with several other methods of adding grain to see which yields the best results, but I do feel I am headed in the right direction.