Why Are My Prints Flat and Grainy?

Posted: 07/28/2011

Did you ever shoot a roll of film and have it come back from the lab “flat and grainy” looking?

Is it your camera, the lens, the film, the lab? Here’s FPP’s Mat Marrash with the low-down on this common problem.

above: Birthday Party shot on expired, poorly stored 35mm film

1. The Lens - Many older, pre-1940's older, lenses had no protective
coatings to reduce internal reflections from UV light. This typically
resulted in dreamier and lower contrast images.

2. The Camera - The image posted looks anywhere from 1-2 stops
underexposed. If this wasn't something intentional, and proper
metering was carried out, the meter may be bad/out of calibration.

3. The User - For the same reasons above, shot is underexposed.

4. The Film - If the metering and technique were perfect but just
this roll of film looks too grainy and dull, the film may have been
compromised via expiration or excessive heat damage.

5. The Lab - So assuming all of the above were absolutely cared for,
the film could still be messed up via mishandling at the lab. There don't
appear to be any processing mistakes by the lab, but sometimes if you
have other rolls being pushed/pulled, some rolls can accidentally be
processed the same way. Lab-based scanning can also be a potential
hazard. I find that with my labs, the automated process of scanning
leaves images lacking a full white and full black point. And with anything
of 400 speed or greater, lab scans are always WAY too oversharpened,
to the point at which the grain is over-accentuated.

Long live film :)

-Mat M.


Mat Marrash is the co-host of the Film Photography Podcast


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