Trade Tricks: In The Dark

Digital noise is perhaps the Achilles heel of digital photography, but it doesn’t have to be. Noise happens when not enough light reaches the image sensor. The less light that falls on the sensor, the more noise will be found in your photos; higher ISO settings may exacerbate the problem.

There are ways to mitigate and correct for digital noise. Getting your exposure settings right is a must when shooting in low light. Many newer cameras incorporate some kind of noise-reduction system, but these solutions aren’t always enough.

Battling Noise

First, get the best exposure possible. When you’re struggling with low light, you don’t want to resort to increasing the ISO very high, as noise increases along with the ISO. You can go up to about ISO 400 with some cameras, but noise characteristics vary from sensor to sensor. The safest range is under ISO 200, with lower settings preferable.

The best way to get more light to your sensor is by using a fast lens, with a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8, ƒ/2.0 or something even larger, if available. Fast lenses tend to be pricier and larger than their slower counterparts, but are worth the investment if you plan to do a lot of indoor or low-light shooting without flash.

Another way to get more light to your sensor is to add light to the scene. Flash is one way; continuous lighting is another, though the latter is a more labor- and planning-intensive solution. Many people prefer not to use flash because it often kills the ambient light, but if you’re shooting in the dark, you may need to compromise.

Software Remedies

When you’ve done your best to eliminate or at least reduce noise at the time of capture, and you’re still stuck with it in your image, software like Nik Software’s Dfine 2.0 plug-in may be the answer. Photoshop has a decent noise-reduction tool, but it’s limited, and for the best results, a specialized noise-reduction plug-in like Dfine 2.0 gives you much more control.

One of the most exciting developments in photo software in recent years is Nik Software’s U-Point technology, which Dfine 2.0 intelligently deploys. U-Point powered Control Points allow you to isolate adjustments to specific areas of an image rather than applying adjustments globally. No tedious selections are required with U-Point technology—just drop a point onto the image, adjust its radius with a simple slider and the software does the rest.

Within Dfine 2.0, Control Points are a significant benefit because noise reduction involves some degree of blurring and loss of details. Using Control Points, you can limit this only to the areas and objects that need it without affecting sharpness in noise-free areas of the frame. You also can control the amount of noise reduction in neutral tones separately from color noise with sliders on each Control Point you place. Like all Nik products, Dfine’s user interface is clean and simple. There’s no steep learning curve, so you can get the results you want fast.

Armed with these tips and noise-reduction software like Dfine, there’s no need to be afraid of the dark. Estimated Street Price: $99. Contact: Nik Software, (619) 725-3150,

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