Digital Noiseis the ugly underbelly of digital photography!
This is the 5th article in this series on Digital vs Film, about digital grain, or noise. What the heck is digital noise? Aren’t we talking about a camera so wo cares about noise?
Absolutely! But noise, in this sense, is one of these technical terms used in the electronics world. In a film camera, the images are formed by exposing charged silver particles in the film, to light.
So-called fast film, the 400 ISO stuff you use indoors, captures more light because it has more silver particles. But, the downside is you can see these flecks in your final photographs. If you don’t develop or expose your images properly this grain can be quite unattractive. (Although sometimes it can be used quite artistically – not so digital noise!!!)
While the cause is the same with digital, the results is not. If you want to shoot in low light without a flash, you can bump up your camera ISO. It’s something like opting for faster film. However the downside is you’ll see all sorts of specks, or “noise” in your final image.
In film images, grain can be used as an artistic effect, but IMHO, noise in a digital image is exactly that – noise. Not a visually appealing characteristic at all! One reason that noise is ugly and grain can be appealing is the shape of each of these “artifacts”: film grain is typically roundish, as a result of the silver halide particles. Round is a very soothing shape for humans. Pixels on the other hand are square, and pixels are the evidence of noise. Square doesn’t quite cut it in the human subconscious world of the aestheric!
So, if you are shooting in very low light, it’s best to use a flash; or here’s an insider tip: Use the lowest ISO you can, even if your image will be a little underexposed. In Photoshop, or your image editing software, after you open the underexposed image, create a duplicate layer, BUT change its blending mode to SCREEN.” And voila! A perfectly exposed image! Well, not exactly – you may have to do this a few times, but you’ll dramatically reduce the incidence of noise in your final image.
But of course, the best thing is to not have it at all – or as little as you can. With a camera like the Nikon D90, you can use settings in the camera to reduce noise at higher ISOs. With the new Nikon D3, you can shoot as fast as 25,000 ISO with very little noise – as long as your exposure is right on!!!!
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