If an image is so boring that you notice the noise, it’s a boring picture. Robert M. Sammon, Sr
Well, my friends, that has happened to me on many occasions, most recently while I was photographing bald eagles from a boat in Alaska with my 100-400mm Image Stabilization lens. I just couldn’t get close enough to the birds with that lens.
I wasn’t bummed out, however, even though some of the folks on the trip were getting full-frame shots with their 800mm lenses. I knew there was a quick fix in Photoshop that could get me similar end results.
For those of you who have found yourself in the same boat, so to speak, here’s the fix. You can use the same basic concepts in Photoshop Elements and other digital-imaging programs.
Here’s my original shot. The magnificent eagle fills only a small portion of the frame. What’s more, because I was shooting at ISO 800 due to the low light level very early one overcast morning, there’s a bit of digital noise in the shadow areas of the image. Noise, by the way, shows up more in shadow areas than in highlight areas.
On a side note, I always try to shoot at the lowest possible ISO setting for the cleanest possible shot. In Alaska, I was handholding my camera in relatively low-light conditions. I needed the ISO 800 setting to get a shutter speed of 1?500 sec. to freeze the action of the bird in flight and to prevent camera shake at the 400mm setting on my 100-400mm lens.
My first step was to open the image in Adobe Camera Raw and to zoom in on the most important part of the image: the eagle. The latest versions of Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom and Apple Aperture do an amazing job of reducing digital noise like never before.
When it comes to digital noise, there are two kinds: Luminance noise, which is basically grayscale noise, and Color noise, which shows up as blotchy color pattern in your pictures.
In this screen grab, I reduced the noise a bit more than 50%. I’ve found that if I reduce the noise more, images tend to look a bit soft.
Reducing noise in Photoshop is an option, too. Go to Filter > Reduce Noise. Now, go to the Advanced setting and select the Blue channel. You’ll want to select the Blue channel because most noise shows up in that channel. If you still need more noise reduction, you can reduce noise in the other channels.
Now that your smaller segment of an image has reduced noise, it’s time to upsize your image. However, you simply can’t change the height and width to the desired size and press OK. You need to do a bit of work to get there. You want to use what’s called the Upsizing Step Method. Basically, you increase the size of an image by only 10%—one step at a time until you get to the desired size. Before you press OK, you need to select Bicubic Smoother when you Resample your image. Don’t miss this step. It makes a big difference.
Another option is to use Genuine Fractals by onOne Software (www.ononesoftware.com). Genuine Fractals uses its own unique method of upsizing an image—to 1,000%! I haven’t upsized an image that much, but I can say that this plug-in is amazing.
If you still notice some noise in your picture after your upsizing procedure, fear not. Here’s a quick fix for reducing or eliminating the noise—actually hiding the noise.
In Photoshop, go to Filter > Convert to Smart Filter and then select Gaussian Blur. Zoom in on the most important part of the image, and apply a small amount of blur.
Because you selected Convert to Smart Filter, you can use the filter as you would an Adjustment Layer and a Layer Mask in Photoshop—painting out the blur over the subject, the eagle, in this case. The idea here is to think and work selectively, which is my number-one tip for working in the digital darkroom.
Another method of hiding the grain is to use a filter to make a picture look more like a painting, one in which everything in the frame is soft. Here, I used CrispStyle in Topaz Clean from Topaz Labs. Everything is soft, so our eyes aren’t searching for grain or sharpness.
Here’s the original file from which I made my CrispStyle, greatly cropped image.
The next time you find yourself with too short a lens to capture the shot you want, take it anyway—and remember, you have options in the digital darkroom.
Rick Sammon, teaches stuff like this at his workshops. He also teaches you how to get better in-camera pictures. Check out his work at www.ricksammon.com.