Tag: grain

Experimenting fearlessly with higher ISO settings


When I was an inexperienced photographer, I feared that setting. To me, ISO seemed like the equivalent of unflattering, irreparable noise: the complete opposite of a great photo, especially a portrait. As I familiarized myself with different photography genres, I came to realize the appeal in the grainy shots of film photographers. I even discovered the beauty of adding grain digitally in editing programs like Lightroom. When I dared to increase the ISO number during my own shoots, I discovered that the resulting grain was far from destructive. When it came to cozy outdoor shots taken at night, I found much creativity in purposely creating grain.


ISO 1250

While there are photographers who prefer not to work with higher ISO numbers for understandable reasons (retouching skin in a well-lit environment may be a hassle if the grain is ever-present), experimenting with it is certainly worth a try. When I was just a beginner, I found a lot of comfort in the knowledge that I could take photos whenever I wanted and still produce interesting results. I knew that even if I shot at midnight, my little camera could capture something eye-catching thanks to a high ISO number. It’s important for all kinds of artists – especially enthusiastic, budding photographers – to find creative potential in people and places regardless of weather conditions or time. Here are some tips on how to make the most of ISO.

Consider these points before you begin

Be aware that there are several factors you must consider before you experiment:

  • If you’re shooting for the sake of printing your results later on, keep in mind that extreme ISO will be very visible. If this is the look you’re going for, your photos can be as grainy as you like.
  •  In the editing process, adding a lot of exposure to your grainy photos will highlight the grain and potentially ruin your entire shot. Thus, subtly adding exposure to your images is highly recommended.
  • In relation to the previous point, reducing grain is possible using a number of handy editing programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, and Noiseware. If you plan to edit your shots more, reduce any unnecessary grain first and then proceed to color correct and/or retouch your results.


ISO 4000

Understand your camera’s ISO settings

The ISO settings in cameras may vary, but the general sequence ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 6400. Thanks to improved technology, full frame cameras like the 5D Mark II are capable of capturing great photographs whilst reducing unnecessary color noise, even if the ISO is high. If you don’t own a full frame camera, don’t lose hope! Research your specific camera online and find out what users have to say about its ISO limitations. Even phone photography enthusiasts can benefit from this research. Most importantly, experiment and remember that your creativity and imagination are what matter most. When I first began shooting, I had a very old phone with a seemingly incompetent camera – this didn’t stop me from taking photographs and embracing curiosity. In the long run, persistence taught me to value photography no matter what camera I was using.

// ISO 2000

Embrace your creative side

When it comes to creativity, nothing is impossible. Keep this in mind as you experiment with your camera’s various ISO numbers. Grain can serve as a useful texture; alternatively, it can simply give your photographs a film-like atmosphere. Combining it with other kinds of textures – like dust and scratches – will make your photos stand out. The vintage photographs in the book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs are a fantastic example of dust, grain, and other textures being used to create compelling works of art.

If you’re in a situation where using a flash isn’t acceptable (for example, in a church), or if you simply don’t wish to use one, ISO will be your greatest tool during the shooting process. Similarly, if you can’t use a tripod in a certain situation, a higher ISO will prevent you from taking unclear photographs. A photo with a slight amount of grain is far better than a blurry image. Combine this with a touch of creativity and you’ll find yourself fearlessly experimenting with ISO no matter how challenging your environment may be.
Happy shooting!


How to Adjust ISO in Manual Mode

Becoming a good photographer takes practice, but also requires immense technical understanding. Among the 3 basic pillars to master, along with Aperture and Shutter, is ISO. As a beginner, you most like are shooting in Auto ISO. This is a great starting point to get right out and shoot. After some practice, you’ll want to begin experimenting in full manual mode. This will allow complete control and understanding of your equipment. Even if you plan to shoot in Auto all the time, you’ll want to understand how it works.

On a sunny day, you can shoot ISO 100, shutter speed at 1/100 – 1/125 and f16. This is referred to as the Sunny 16 rule

How Does ISO Work?

ISO controls the amount of sensitivity to light your camera displays. This can range from 100 (least sensitive) up to 25,000+ depending on your camera. The settings increase in powers of two, meaning from 100 to 200, 200 to 400, 400 to 800, and so on. Each increase of the setting is doubling the sensitivity of your sensor. Which means the higher the ISO, the better it will perform in low lighting. Lower ISOs are better for higher amounts of light. It also means the higher the ISO, the more grain you’ll see in your images. But more on that later.

There are a handful of common ISO values, which you can fall back on when shooting in manual mode:

On a sunny day, you’ll want to shoot at or around ISO 100.
On a cloudy day, you’ll want to shoot at or around ISO 400.
If you are inside, you’ll want to start around ISO 800 and work your way up if needed.

In concert photography, I am usually shooting at ISO 1600 – 3200, higher if needed.

Remember, this is all based on your camera’s sensor. Some are more sensitive than others. You’ll need to experiment to see what works best for the image you are capturing. Above is a general starting point to follow when learning manual mode. Use these values as a guide and adjust from there if needed.

This scene is more cloudy than the one above. Here, you should adjust to ISO 400, while adjusting shutter and aperture accordingly to achieve the desired effect.

How Does ISO Work With Aperture and Shutter Speed?

It’s important to understand how ISO relates to Aperture and Shutter Speed. All three interconnect and a change to one affects the others. You’ll need to understand when to change ISO and how to adjust Aperture or Shutter to compensate.

The larger the ISO value means the smaller the shutter speed needed for the image. This means: When in ISO 100, your camera sensor needs 1 second to capture the image. But as you increase ISO, your camera sensor will need less time to get the shot. It increases by a power of two, so from 100 to 200. 200 t0 400, 400 to 800 etc. As this doubles, the required shutter speed halves. So at an ISO of 1600, you’ll need 1/16th of a second to get the same shot as ISO 100 at 1 second.

So, say you are shooting outside at ISO 100 and 1 second and are happy with the image. But, the clouds start to roll in. You’ll need to adjust ISO, but you want to maintain the same image. Increase ISO to 400 and increase the shutter speed to 1/4. You’ll achieve the same image as before, but now you’ve exposed for the clouds. All while keeping aperture the same for both images.

Increasing aperture lets in less light. This means if shutter and ISO stay constant, but aperture increase from, say, 3.5 to 8, the image will be dark. This is because less light is coming in through the lens. If you want to increase your aperture to allow more of the image in focus, you’ll need to increase your ISO. Because you increase your ISO, you’ll need to decrease your shutter. If you want to maintain the same image exposure and focus.

To figure out the correct settings, begin with identifying the desired outcome. Are you in low lighting? Or are you outside looking to freeze the subject? Identifying that outcome will confirm which pillar (ISO, aperture, shutter speed) to set first. If you are shooting low light, you’ll want to start with a low aperture and high ISO. Then you can determine shutter speed. If you are attempting to freeze motion, set a high shutter speed. From there, determine ISO and aperture needed.

If you are unsure which ISO you need, follow the general guideline above. It’s always best to start low and increase as needed. If your shutter and aperture are at an acceptable value, but the image is still too dark, turn up your ISO.

This is a low light image, shot at night. You’ll need to increase ISO, start at 1600 and adjust from there. You’ll need a tripod here, as this will mean slow shutter speeds to maintain the exposure and open aperture.

ISO and Noise

When you take a picture and notice a lot of grain in the image, that is the noise. You will see noise in your image if you are using too high of an ISO setting for the light required; however, too low ISO values don’t always guarantee proper illumination, which can translate in blurry images. For example, the below image, taken at ISO 200, has a lot of imperfections, as the lighting was too dim to allow for a proper exposure under such ISO values. The same image, if taken at ISO 800, looks much better. As I adjusted ISO, I also adjusted shutter and aperture to allow for the same exposure.

Noise can be subjective based on the photographer and type of image they are creating. In some instances, a gritty image is what you are looking for. And you may adjust your ISO for this. It will all depend on your desired outcome. This is another example of why understanding this pillar is important. In auto ISO, your camera will adjust for the perfect exposure. If you do not want a perfect exposure, you need to know how to get there. How to manipulate ISO to achieve this more or less noise is a great skill set to have as a photographer.

The process of manual ISO control will take time. But you will gain a better understanding of your camera. It is important to work towards having complete control over your images. This way, you will understand the appropriate adjustments to make, to get the image you want.

Because of the extremely low lighting, I had to shoot at ISO 6400. Because of the limitations of my camera, I could only shoot at f4 and therefore 1/50 shutter. You can still see a lot of noise in the image, but given the subject, it seems to work ok
Because of the extremely low lighting, I had to shoot at ISO 6400. Because of the limitations of my camera, I could only shoot at f4 and therefore 1/50 shutter. You can still see a lot of noise in the image, but given the subject, it seems to work ok

How to Reduce Noise/Grain in Photography

Image noise is defined as the presence of pixels in an image which does not represent the scene being photographed. Also known as grain, it’s recognizable by the appearance of what looks like dust, spots or speckles over the chosen photograph.

Needless to say, this is very undesirable for a professional photographer, so today we’ll be looking at how you can reduce and even eliminate its appearance in your work.

Causes of Noise

Noise is caused when you take a photograph where the camera could not accurately capture all of the pixels correctly, representing the true colors they should be. Low light levels can cause this because the camera won’t be able to actually pick up the real color properly, causing some of the pixels to be inaccurately represented.


This is easy to spot for the human eye, but not so easy for your camera to pick up on as it takes the shot, although modern technology sometimes offers ‘noise reduction’. With this technology the camera attempts to pick out pixels that are differently colored and surrounded by non-matching pixels, then eliminates them. It works well for getting rid of a lot of the specks but isn’t 100 percent foolproof.

Slow shutter speeds can also cause increased noise for similar reasons, as it allows more light to be pulled into each pixel and can thereby cause distortion in the final picture. Putting the camera into a high sensitivity setting also has the same effect, since the camera can’t actually add more light to the picture than what is naturally present. These settings can instead magnify and increase the likelihood of noise when it might not otherwise have been present.


ISO speeds are another cause of photo noise. ISO is a setting which marks how sensitive to light this particular shot will be and is usually available on an auto setting with modern cameras. The auto setting isn’t perfect though and might not be ideal for either what you’re shooting, or the style you want to shoot it in.

For that reason, many photographers will use a manual setting instead, adjusting the ISO based on how much light is available for their shot. Additionally, lower ISO settings are usually considered to give higher quality pictures, though higher ISO settings are needed if the lighting levels are low, so it’s a tricky balance to strike and there are no hard and fast rules here, other than trying to capture your shots with the lowest ISO settings possible.

Reducing the Presence of Noise in Your Shots

We’ve already covered ISO settings

and how you should be using the lowest possible setting to retain the best possible photo quality. Shutter speeds can often be adjusted in a similar way to make them faster, though this might not always be possible depending on the situation, just as you might need to use a higher ISO setting than you would like to.


The light levels present are one of the hardest things to adjust in many situations, since you can’t ruin a shot of a landscape at sunset by adding a variety of bright lights – this just destroys your photo subject instead.

Protecting your camera from heat and also ensuring there’s no heat or mist between you and whatever you’re photographing can also help to reduce noise, since it reduces distortion. This even extends to storing your camera at a reasonable temperature since heat can distort its sensors and how it captures the details of images.

If your camera has the option to shoot using the .raw file format instead of .jpeg it can be an advantage to switch to that mode instead. Jpeg images already have compression applied to them in order to keep file sizes down and save space, something that can actually increase noise. Raw formats do not do this, not to mention that they are often more flexible when it comes to editing with the use of computer software.


Speaking of software and editing, this is another great tool for getting rid of unwanted noise. Good software will allow you to manually remove noise and match pixels to those that surround them, giving you much smoother finishes when required. This is especially great if the noise is on areas that should appear close to uniform in color, and works very well to get rid of lesser amounts of noise when combined with the previous techniques.

It can be quite time consuming if you ignore the above tips and try to do it all at the editing stage though, so try first to prevent the noise from occurring with our suggested techniques. This way you can get rid of the stray bits using editing software and save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

How to Give Your Photo a Film Look with Lightroom in a Few Easy Steps

Creating images allows me to connect with people and make them feel like they are looking through my eyes and feeling what I feel. Like the title suggest we will be looking at how to get a film look with your images. The reason I like using the methods that I will show you below is because to me the images feel more tactile. I want people to be able to look at it and get a sense of everything I did when I shot it. So today, I want you to feel the atmosphere, the cold and the mood.

1 – Starting Point

I’m starting here in this tutorial, if you want to see the decisions and what the reasoning is behind some of the choices in the Basic panel then check out the rest of the Sleeklens Blog. We can see that it was very foggy, cold and somewhat wet when I took the photo. For me shooting in the fog is one of my favorite times to shoot. I get the moody atmosphere, great textures, and color that sets a somber tone. I did a series of these photos all in the same style and you can check those out on my website. The color is part of getting certain film looks, so if you examine the film looks that you like it will be easier for you to choose your color. Think about the following steps to get even closer to a film look.

Arnel Hasanovic Film Look Tutorial

2 – Tone Curve

To get that film look, one of the first things that I do after thinking about the color is start by adjusting my Tone Curve. Bringing up the black point and lowering the white point will ensure that the white is slightly darkened and the black point brightens up a bit. Moving the points slightly is the key! Moving the points too far up or down can give you way too much clipping and may not result in the effect you are looking for. We are essentially crushing the color and if this is not what you want to go with, then skipping this and maybe using the next step, would be better for you. It is all a matter of taste and experimenting with what you would like your images to look like.

Arnel Hasanovic Film Look Tutorial

3 – Grain

It might be hard to see in these images because of the compression but look at the left side of the image where the white wall is. You will notice that there is grain added. To me, this step is something that makes the photo tactile, something on which you can reach out and touch the texture. It adds a certain personality and realness to images. Changing the amount, size and roughness will give you different looks. Try different combinations, because not every photo will look its best with the same settings. Flipping the Effects module on and off will help you see before and after, which will help you determine the amount of grain you may want to put on. Also, not all grain is created even. There are products and plugins out there that focus on creating effects like grain which might do a better job for your needs and desired looks.

Arnel Hasanovic Film Look Tutorial

4 – Conclusion

Here are a few other photos that were shot at the same time. They got slightly different edits, but what remained the same, was the fact that I did the same steps as above. I moved the black/white points in the Tone Curve module and I added grain to each image. As I mentioned earlier, experiment and try using these tools to help you achieve the look you want and need. Do not use something because others use it. You are an artist and you have taste, so use the tools that help you achieve your vision.

Arnel Hasanovic Film Look Tutorial