Tag: RAW format

Capturing images with less Digital Noise

In this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to talk about an issue with which all photographers are well familiar, or they should be – if they capture their images under high ISO settings and low light conditions.Digital Noise – What is it, and best practices for reducing the effect of it. Let’s first talk about what Digital Noise is. (please follow the links for more in-depth technical reading)As you may already know, today’s cameras come equipped with two different sensors – CCD and CMOS. Although they function differently from each other, both of them produce digital noise. The CCD, the more expensively produced sensor, handles noise slightly better, compared to the CMOS, which is cheaper to produce. However, the CMOS requires around 100 times less energy to operate. In order to keep the technical part short, as it can take a long time to cover this topic in depth, I will just mention that – both types of sensor accomplish the same task – capturing light and converting it into electrical signals. During this process, varying under different conditions and settings, different types of digital noise is produced.By the way, I did not begin this post with the intention of showing you how to use Photoshop actions or filters, but instead to show you a practical way of working around this issue well before it is time to start editing your images.So, what steps do we need to take towards capturing images while reducing digital noise?Camera: full frame cameraHaving already mentioned the types of sensors found in today’s modern cameras, the very first thing I would do if I was just getting into photography, is to think about buying a full frame camera (more expensive option – but if your goal is to become a professional photographer, it is a must have). If you click on and read some of the info contained in the links provided above, you’ll find out that the size of the sensor makes a world of difference to the overall image quality – not the pixel count, as many people think. File Format: RAW file format opened in Adobe BridgeThe next step will be – setting my camera to capture images only in the High-Quality RAW format. If you are serious about the photography you do, the best way to go is shooting in RAW – this way you’ll have significantly more data captured on your files, to work with later in Adobe Bridge or Lightroom. Camera Mode: manual settings cameraNow, after we have purchased our cameras and have them set to capture images in RAW format – the very next thing we need to start getting into the habit of is to not use our cameras in Auto mode. You, as a photographer, need to be in full control of the camera when taking pictures, not the camera taking control and leaving you with whatever it thinks were the best settings for the particular situation, especially regarding the use of ISO, aperture and shutter speed.Tripod: tripodNext up is, have your tripod or monopod handy for situations where it would be most useful. Depending on the subject and style of the photography we do, very often we’ll need to use tripod or monopod for longer shutter speed, instead of cranking up our ISO settings. This is particularly helpful if the subject of our photographs is static scenes or objects. However, when we need to capture scenes with moving objects and capture them sharply, not in blurred motion,  then we really can’t avoid using higher ISO settings.Speedlights: speedlightSpeedlight – If the scene you’re photographing is too dark, especially with regards to the level of ambient light, the proper use of Speedlight will help you lift up the shadow areas, overall illuminating the scene. This will result in a lot less visible noise. You can perform your own small experiment by photographing the same scene with the same ISO settings, once without a flash, then again with the flash, comparing the results. Lenses: lensesUsing fast lenses, with a wide aperture, can also be added to our arsenal in the fight against the digital noise. Fast lenses will allow you to capture the image in low light situations with lower ISO settings. For example, you can set up the aperture of your lens to F/2.0, or less if you have this option,  which will allow more light to come through the lens and be recorded by the sensor.

 

And finally, at this point, we are ready to open our images in Adobe Bridge or Lightroom. We use these two versions of software as our main portal in accessing all of the data that we managed to capture in RAW format and then move on to making further refinements in Photoshop.

I have provided two snapshots bellow of how the Sharpening/Noise Reduction options work, which is a very simple but powerful way to edit your uncompressed RAW images. I won’t be going in depth over what every slider does, as it is quite self-explanatory.  However, I will say that when playing with the sliders in an attempt to reduce noise, make sure to double check your changes by zooming in on a specific region of the image. For example, zooming in on an area of shadows, where noise is very noticeable, using that as the main point for your adjustments.


Image with heavy digital noise – Default RAW settings, inside Adobe Bridge.

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Image with heavy digital noise – Noise reduction applied.

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Shooting in RAW – An Introduction to Professional Work

The best explanation I’ve ever gotten as to why I should always shoot RAW was this:

Imagine you’re baking cookies. RAW files are the equivalent of a big sheet of cookie dough. Photoshop is the oven and the final JPEG are your small, individual, finished cookie. A good cookie depends on the cookie dough so without it, how could you bake? You now understand that RAW files are the basic structure of your soon to be completed image.

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However, there are some real technical advantages to shooting in RAW.

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Shooting RAW gives you very large files, which allow more room and compression when editing.

Shooting RAW also allows you to record all of the data from the sensor. This allows you cut out the part where your camera physically processes the image when it is in JPEG mode. This gives you better editing capabilities and versatility that your camera would not be able to achieve on its own.

RAW also means brighter images. Cameras measure brightness through “bits”. Where JPEG records roughly 256 levels of brightness or 8 bits, RAW mode has the ability to shoot in 12 or 14 bits which are anywhere between 4000 and 18000 levels of brightness.

That difference is substantial in any future adjustments you make with exposure, shadows, contrast or brightness.

Sometimes you’re going to be in low light settings or somewhere that is really bright or may simply have goofed up your settings causing the picture to be underexposed or inversely, overexposed. All the information that shooting in RAW will give you, allows dramatic recoveries in under or overexposed images without hits to the quality of the image.

For example, take this original file:

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One of the first things you notice is how dark the photo is. Parts of the face are a bit too shiny while others have deep shadows, also some of the colors would look better if they were a little more vibrant.

Shooting in RAW allows me to manipulate everything in this photo – brightness, highlights, colors, exposure, shadows, contrast, etc. The end result looked like this.

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While the finished product is certainly a testament to the wonders of Photoshop, the contrast between the beginning and end product are the result of the original file being RAW.

As you can see, I showed you here the before and after which highlights another wonderful feature of shooting RAW.

My original file has not been altered. It remains the same and untouched. However, every edit I make creates instructions on how the new JPEG file will be saved. Worry no more about losing images, accidentally ruining them or saving them without being able to make changes. This way you can do different things with the same file without duplicating the image and slowly losing quality over time, as you would with JPEG files.

This brief overview should help you understand and hopefully convince you to try shooting in RAW. For more information, check out this video on all the technicalities of RAW mode.

Hope this helps and happy shooting, y’all!