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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The ISO Advantage

How to use the excellent high-ISO performance of today’s cameras

Labels: CamerasDSLRsGear

This Article Features Photo Zoom

7) Nikon D3, Nikon 24-70mm, ISO 800
7. Shoot From The Car. I shoot a lot of travel photography in some remote locations. I often spend hours, sometimes days, riding in vans and buses to get to the location. Even more frustrating than the long rides are some of the stunning images I watch pass by. Before better ISO/sensor performance, I’d miss these shots, but not anymore. I frequently shoot from the van window on road trips. In Mongolia last summer, we spent many hours in vans driving to different parts of the country. Not wanting to miss a shot, I dialed my ISO up to 800 and got some classic images of a lone horseman riding across the rolling green hills—images I would have missed in the past.

Dealing With Noise
Every camera (and sensor) performs differently in handling noise. Some cameras may have noise at ISO 400, while others don’t produce much noise until ISO 3200. Remember, it’s better to get the shot and deal with noise later than not get the shot at all. How do you reduce noise after the shot? Both Lightroom and Photoshop (and other popular imaging applications) now have tools to deal with noise.

In Lightroom, select your image and go to the Develop module. Scroll down on the right side and click on the Detail tab to list the options here. Below the Sharpening tool are the noise-reduction sliders. Choose which type of noise you need to reduce, and drag that slider to the right. I normally find I need to reduce luminance noise, so I pull the Luminance slider way to the right. Make sure you’re viewing your image at 100% on a high-noise area so you can see the effects. Reducing noise will soften the image, so I normally add a little sharpening after reducing noise.

In Photoshop CS4, go to the Camera Raw window and select the Detail icon (two triangles). Make sure to enlarge your image to 100% to see your progress. As in Lightroom, use either the Luminance or Color Noise slider to reduce the type of noise you have in your image.

For more control and impressive results, try a third-party plug-in to deal with noise. Most of these companies offer a free trial of their software so you can choose the one that works best for you. A few popular ones are Noise Ninja (www.picturecode.com), Noiseware Professional (www.imagenomic.com) and Dfine 2 (www.niksoftware.com).

The next time you find yourself in low light, don’t put your camera away. Just use the ISO Advantage and get the shot.

Tom Bol is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Colorado. Visit www.tombolphoto.com.


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