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Supersize Me

Does this sound familiar? You get a great shot of a subject, but the subject doesn’t fill the frame. You want to make a cropped enlargement of the subject, but you think that upsizing the smaller portion of the frame will result in a soft, noisy and pixelated image.

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.

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