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The word grunge was coined by the writer Paul Ramball and it refers to the sub-genre of alternative rock originating in Seattle in the 80s. However, over time, the term grunge became intertwined with visual arts.
Grunge has become a popular trend in graphic design and photography nowadays, probably because it provides a strong contrast to the simplistic and minimal look of the Web 2.0 and so-called Apple’s aesthetic. Grunge is characterized by its organic, realistic and rugged look that feels weathered and raw.
Grunge look can be applied to both portraiture and landscape photography, which makes it very versatile.
The following 10 tips will help you add a grunge vibe to your photographs in post-production:
1. Create and incorporate textures
Grunge is all about those powerful gritty textures! In case your photos lack interesting textures, you can still incorporate them in post-production. This is not a complicated task! When handling textures, you need to use only a few tools — simple shapes, blending modes and layer masks. You can draw or paint textures by yourself or take photos of eye-catching textures that you’d like to use in your grunge images.
Textures create great contrast and give photographs a real-life feel!
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2. Download textures
In case you’re not capable of making textures that you’d like to use in your grunge images, don’t worry! There are plenty of textures you can find via the web and some of them are free to use.
Pay attention to 3D textures and metal textures, since they look great in grunge photos.
3. Add noise and grain
Adding a certain amount of grain to your photos will make them look weathered and they might resemble old film photographs. This kind of vintage effect will probably suit your grunge photos, so give it a try.
There are many apps that can help you add grain to your photos if you’re not too much into Photoshop and Lightroom. Great examples of such apps are Fast Retro Camera and Step.
4. Understand curves adjustment
Adjust the curves of your photo is a relatively simple but powerful way to change the entire atmosphere of the photograph.
You can start by fading the highlights in your photo and emphasizing the shadows. This step will bring a certain ’’underground’’ feel to your photo and will work great with portraits!
5. Add a photo filter
Photo filters are a subtle way to change the mood of your photos. You can match the colours of old film photographs if you know how to use photo filters properly.
Old films often have a prominent pink hue because of colour fading. What has actually happened is that two of the three colour dye layers (cyan and yellow) have faded, leaving magenta the prominent hue.
You can increase the density of magenta colour in your grunge photos for this ’’pink effect’’ – it looks best between 7-14%.
6. Add a gradient map
If you never use gradient maps in your photo editing routine, grunge photos might be the perfect occasion to experiment with gradients! For starters, you can select the gradient preset with purple, green, and orange.
Gradient maps look best when used with layer blend modes such as ’’screen’’ and with the opacity of roughly 25%.
You can adjust the colours in your gradient map to emulate different film types – it’s possible to achieve a warm or cool look, depending on your preferences.
7. Adjust vibrance settings
You can also experiment with vibrance adjustment in your grunge photos. Reducing or increasing the vibrance and saturation can add an unexpected twist to photos and improve your visual storytelling.
Reducing the saturation will add the vintage analogue look to your images while bumping up the vibrance will help you retain the sharpness of the colours.
8. Experiment with b&w conversions
Converting your image to b&w won’t necessarily make it look gritty and raw, but if you combine b&w with additional effects such as noise or gradients, you can end up with a rather unique grunge vibe.
You can also try to replace black tones with brown and white tones with yellow in your b&w grunge photos. This trick will make the images appear less polished and rougher!
9. Add Gaussian blur
You should use Gaussian blur sparingly because you certainly don’t want your images to look obviously blurry – the key is subtlety!
Gaussian blur can be used for blurring parts of an image (like backgrounds or unnecessary distractions) and for softening the edges of a layer mask – it gives you many creative options that you can incorporate into your grunge images.
10. Try out various presets or apps
If you’re not confident enough when it comes to your Photoshop skills or if you post photos primarily from your phone, there are various apps that can produce amazing grunge effects.
Snapseed is one of the most popular apps for such effects and it’s free as well.
Besides Snapseed, other well-known apps for grunge photography are PicGrunger (specialized for grunge effects), Mextures (great for applying textures and light leaks) and Pics Art Photo Studio (it comes with a great range of in-app features, tools and filters).
In case this wasn’t enough for you and you feel like you want to dig deeper into the grunge aesthetic, you can find some interesting tips and tricks at the following links: