How to Take Perfect Noise-Free Photos Every Time

How to Take Perfect Noise-Free Photos Every Time


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Image noise is a problem every photographer has to deal with. Those tiny dots of color or grain can spoil even the most perfectly composed image, and sometimes it seems unavoidable.

So what can you do?

Whether you want to fix it in-camera, or are happy to dive into Lightroom or Photoshop, there are several things you can do to eliminate noise. And that will help you take sharper photos.

Read on for a noise-free future.

1. Shoot at Low ISO

Noise is most commonly introduced into a photo when the camera sensor’s sensitivity is pushed beyond a level its capable of handling. This happens when you shoot at a high ISO setting.

ISO determines how sensitive the sensor is to light. It’s used as part of the so-called “exposure triangle”—along with shutter speed and aperture


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—that enables you to control the exposure of a photograph.

It’s shown as an ISO value, such as ISO 100, and each time that value doubles the sensitivity also doubles. So, a camera will draw in four times as much light at ISO 1600 as it does at ISO 100.

iso setting

Modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras can shoot with relatively little noise at up to ISO 1600, but get progressively worse above that point. Small sensor cameras and smartphones might start to show noise at ISO 400 and beyond.

To shoot sharp photos, always keep the ISO setting as low as possible. This is easy in good light, while in low light set a slower shutter speed and select a larger aperture first. Only start bumping the ISO to a level beyond what your camera is comfortable with as a last resort.

Also, if you’re shooting in Auto ISO mode, keep an eye on what setting your camera chooses. Many cameras allow you to set a maximum ISO even in Auto mode, so make use of this too.

2. Use Faster Lenses

As we mentioned, setting your lens to shoot at a larger aperture is a good way of keeping the ISO low.

The aperture is the hole at the back of the lens that controls how much light is able to hit the sensor. A larger aperture, indicated by a smaller f-number, increases the amount of light.

camera aperture

Every lens is restricted in the maximum aperture it offers, so switching to one with a larger maximum (often referred to as a faster lens) can be hugely beneficial. For instance, a prime lens with an f/1.8 aperture lets in twice as much light as a zoom does at f/3.5. That’s the equivalent of switching from a potentially noisy ISO 1600 to a clean and crisp ISO 400.

Obviously, buying a new lens


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is an expensive solution to this problem. But if you shoot in low-light conditions often, it is well worth the investment.

3. In-Camera Noise Reduction

All camera software offers in-camera noise reduction. This is applied when you’re shooting in JPEG mode, but never in RAW. Logic states that you should turn this on and set it to the maximum level to get noise free images.

But wait!

In-camera noise reduction can be a rather blunt instrument. It works by smoothing the image to blend in the noise. But it can also end up smoothing out fine details, or giving skin a fake, waxy looking texture.

noise reduction

Experiment with your camera’s settings to find the level you’re happy with. As a general rule, if you post-process your images in Lightroom then keep it set low. Lightroom can handle noise reduction far better. But if you upload your photos directly to Instagram or elsewhere you can afford to set it a little higher.

4. Long Exposure Noise Reduction

Long exposure photos are highly susceptible to noise because the sensor can get very warm while they’re being shot. This causes hot pixels in the image.

Cameras that can shoot with long exposures, especially DSLR and mirrorless cameras, have a long exposure noise reduction option to fix this. What’s different about it is that it usually works when you’re shooting in RAW, too.

Long exposure noise reduction works by shooting two frames. The first is your intended shot; the second is a “dark frame” shot as if you’d left the lens cap on. The dark frame captures nothing but the hot pixels, which the software then uses as a map to remove them from the original image.

This feature does mean your long exposures take twice as long to shoot, but otherwise there’s no downside to turning it on. It can help you create incredible night time photos


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, and it’s good tool for taking sharp pictures.

5. Master Noise Reduction in Lightroom

If you’ve tried to minimize noise while shooting but are still left with some to clean up, where do you go next?

Lightroom. It’s how many professionals gets their photos to look tack-sharp.

The photo editor’s noise reduction tools are simple yet powerful. Similar tools are also available in most other image apps, including Apple Photos, and work in the same way.

There are two types of noise, and they’re tackled in different ways.

Remove Color Noise

Color noise is seen as specs of random color dotted throughout the image. It’s ugly, and you’ll always want to remove it. Fortunately, it’s a trivial fix, and you might not even need to do anything.

color-noise-reduction

You remove color noise by desaturating those random dots. Lightroom automatically applies a setting of 25 on the Color Noise slider to every RAW image, and more often than not that’s enough.

You can increase it if you need to, but don’t go too far or you might start smudging the other colors. On the whole, color noise reduction shouldn’t degrade your image quality in any noticeable way.

Remove Luminance Noise

Luminance noise is random pixels that are brighter or darker than they should be, while still of the right color. Not all luminance noise is bad, as it can sometimes take on the appearance of film grain, giving your image a nice texture. It’s harder to fix fully, though.

Lightroom removes luminance noise by softening the image. This has the effect of removing fine detail, and if you push it too far natural textures will start to look artificial.

luminance

Ultimately, it’s about finding the balance between reducing noise and retaining detail. We’d always recommend prioritizing the latter.

To get started, zoom fully into your image. Then get to work on the three noise reduction sliders:

  • Luminance: This is the main tool. Drag it to the point where you find a good balance between noise and detail.
  • Detail: This allows you to recover some fine detail, but the effect is very subtle. It’s set to 50 by default. Increase it to add more detail, but beware of introducing unwanted artifacts to the image.
  • Contrast: This slider lets you recover some of the local contrast that may been smoothed away by the Luminance slider. A value of around 10-20 often works well.

You can also apply local noise reduction using tools like the Adjustment Brush or Graduated Filter. You get less control on the settings, though, and it only works with Luminance noise.

Once you’re done you’ll probably need to sharpen the photo. This can increase the noise once more. Again, you have to find a balance between the two that you’re happy with.

6. Discover Exposure Stacking in Photoshop

When you’re shooting low light photos on a tripod you can minimize noise by shooting at slower shutter speeds. But you won’t be able to get rid of it entirely.

Photoshop, and other major photo editing apps like Affinity Photo, have an ingenious fix that solves the problem automatically.

exposure stacking

It’s called exposure stacking, and it works by blending multiple images that are essentially identical. If they’re shot together, from a tripod, the only differences will be the dots of noise that are distributed randomly on each frame.

The software identifies those differences as noise, and discards them.

The process for Photoshop goes like this:

  1. Shoot between three and six images (without moving the camera in between).
  2. Open Photoshop and go to File & Scripts > Open Files into Stack.
  3. In the Load Layers box that opens, check the options labelled Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images and Create Smart Objects After Loading Layers then hit OK.
  4. Go to Layer & Smart Objects & Stack Mode & Median.

That should be it.

A similar process is used in smartphone camera apps that have an HDR mode. They shoot multiple frames in succession and combine them. It’s primarily designed to maximize the dynamic range of the camera, but also serves to reduce noise and help you take sharper photos on your phone.

If your phone has an HDR mode


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, use it for lower noise photos.

7. Be Careful When Post-Processing

Image noise is the result of the physical limitations of your camera’s hardware. But it can also be created and exacerbated by poor post-processing of your photos.

Lightening up an image, excessive color correction, and over-sharpening can all seriously downgrade the quality of a photo.

If you want to process your shots, then you should always try to shoot in RAW. RAW files can handle a lot more editing work than JPEGs. You can even shoot them on iPhones and Androids these days, so there’s no excuse.

But the best solution to every photography problem is to get it right while you’re shooting. Start by brushing up on your low-light shooting technique


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, and you’ll be one step closer to producing beautiful noise-free images straight out of your camera.


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5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Mirrorless Camera

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Mirrorless Camera


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Digital SLRs are dead, long live the mirrorless camera! Now I’ve got your attention, there really are some benefits to choosing a mirrorless camera over a DSLR.

Mirrorless cameras are smaller, better at video, and more affordably priced. They also pack in pro-level features, best-in-class performance, and have been designed alongside a new breed of purpose-built video and still lenses.

If you have recently bought a mirrorless camera, or are just thinking of doing so, here are some mirrorless camera tips to help get you started.

1. Buy More Batteries

It’s the achilles heel of the mirrorless system, and while it’s getting better, battery life is still poor compared to digital SLRs. Mirrorless cameras rely on live view exclusively, whether displaying the lens’ perspective on the rear screen or some kind of electronic viewfinder.

That means you’re going to need more juice. Sony’s A7ii-era cameras


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are notorious for their poor battery life owing to the outdated battery design. Fortunately, the A7iii, announced in early 2018, uses a brand new, and much larger, battery that puts Sony in a position of best-in-class.

Despite this, digital SLRs are still well ahead. The A7iii is rated at 710 shots by the manufacturer, while Canon’s 6D mark ii can get over 1200 on a single charge.

If you’re switching to mirrorless, buy more batteries from the very beginning to avoid running out of charge when you least expect it. The Sony NPFZ100 battery pack is a solid option for Sony mirrorless cameras.

Sony Z Series Battery



Sony NPFZ100 Z-series Rechargeable Battery Pack


Sony NPFZ100 Z-series Rechargeable Battery Pack

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$78.00

Most Sony mirrorless cameras can be powered by portable USB batteries


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, just look for the “USB Power Mode” option in your menu. A dummy battery, which fits into the battery compartment and plugs into a power supply, would work too.

Personally I wouldn’t recommend turning down viewfinder or display brightness, or reducing refresh rates in order to save power. I think it’s better to use your equipment to its full potential and carry some extra equipment, but you may feel differently. And if so, that’s fine.

2. Make Use of Your Best Video Features

Many users prefer mirrorless cameras for hybrid and video shooting. Sony’s current APS-C lineup are compact 4K monsters, while the Panasonic GH5 shoots at 400Mbps 10bit 4:2:2 (see below). If you aren’t owning your mirrorless camera’s potential, it’s time to make the jump to 4K


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.

While the digital SLR video scene has stagnated over the last couple of years, mirrorless models have continued to impress with pro-level features. Focus peaking, a feature that highlights the in-focus parts of an image to assist with manual focusing, is standard on most current Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji mirrorless offerings. It helps greatly with video, but also has its uses for still photos.

Zebra stripes (or zebra patterning) is another option you’ll want to scour your camera’s menu for. In order to make it easier to expose your image, the feature highlights the most highly exposed areas of your image. Adjusting the sensitivity makes it even more useful: 100 percent indicates the highlighted areas are overexposed, while 70-80 percent highlights ideal skin tone exposure.

Grading your footage can give it a distinct cinematic feel


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, but to get the most out of it you’ll want to shoot with a flatter picture profile. Sony cameras support a variety of professional “log video” or “flat footage” modes like Slog2 and Slog3 (see above), while Panasonic offers Cine-D and Cine-V support, plus vLog via pricey firmware updates.

There are caveats to using each of these, but learning to use them correctly will result in footage you never thought possible from such a small camera.

3. Embrace Silent Shooting

Silent shooting modes are now common on mirrorless cameras, owing to their dependence on increasingly sophisticated sensors. Many entry-level SLRs still lack this feature, and it can really help you capture moments without feeling like you’re imposing yourself.

Silent Shooting Mode on Sony a6500

Your overall burst speed may drop as a result, but silent shooting isn’t necessarily for action or sports. It’s especially good for street photography and compliments the discrete smaller bodies that have become a characteristic of mirrorless photography.

Assign silent mode to a spare custom mode or programmable button and it’s ready when you need it. Don’t forget to turn off your autofocus beep and light too!

4. Buy Native Lenses (Mostly)

Native lenses are designed to work with the autofocus system in your camera. Previously a point of embarrassment for mirrorless manufacturers, both Sony and Panasonic have claimed the world’s fastest focus-hunting technology with mirrorless cameras over the past few years.

To really take advantage of the progress made, you’ll want native glass. Sigma and budget brands like Rokinon make great lenses, and you certainly shouldn’t avoid third parties altogether, but covering your most-used focal lengths with a native lens will make your life easier. At least, if you’re going to be using autofocus (and you probably should).

Sony A9 with GM 70-200
Image Credit: Jim Makos/Flickr

The GH5 and GH5s hav autofocus problems, and it’s one of the biggest drawbacks to the current Panasonic flagships. Sony shooters using the a6300 or better have it much easier. If you’re using recent Sony cameras with native glass, learn to trust your autofocus—especially for video. Features like Eye-AF make it easy to get tack-sharp focus on your subject, every time.

Sony also uses facial recognition in its cameras, which provides a neat way to prioritize subjects in busy scenes. The company’s latest cameras use phase-detect autofocus (rather than contrast-detect) which is much better at tracking moving objects and great for video work. With the right lens on a modest Sony mirrorless, focus hunting is a thing of the past.

5. Consider Adapting Old Glass

The mirrorless camera is a relatively new device. As such, most mirrorless converts are Canon and Nikon refugees in search of something different. Something lighter, something exciting, and something video-oriented.

As such, you’ve probably still got some of your favorite old glass. Sony doesn’t make enough lenses yet (especially fast, long zooms), and Canon’s fastest and most versatile zooms still dominate the space. In this instance, you might want to consider adapting your older glass.

Modern lens adapters come in a few flavors: manual with no autofocus control, electronic with some autofocus control, and speed boosters. The latter option is ideal for users who are using a crop sensor


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, since it removes the crop entirely allowing you to use the full width of the lens, while letting in more light.

Manual adapters are cheap (around $150), electronic adapters cost more (around $400) for average autofocus performance, and speed boosters can get very expensive indeed (around $700). All of these adapters are cheaper than a decent full-frame prime lens, so they’re all good value if you can get the most out of them.

If you own Sigma lenses, the company offers a mount conversion service for a fee.

Enjoy Your Mirrorless Camera!

Photography isn’t about pondering the best settings for your camera, pixel-peeping, or using the most expensive gear you can find. Don’t be afraid to break the rules either. You can’t learn everything by reading articles like this, but by putting your skills into practice.

So, get out there, and let your mirrorless camera help you fall in love with photography


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all over again!


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5 Photo Management Mistakes You’re Making (and How to Fix Them)

5 Photo Management Mistakes You’re Making (and How to Fix Them)


Whether you’ve been taking photos for one year or 10 years, the chances are you have a huge, unwieldy photo library that is in desperate need of attention. That’s just the nature of shooting digital.

Cleaning up your existing photo library will be a chore, but there are plenty of mistakes you can avoid when organizing new photos in order to maintain a neat and ordered collection.

1. You Leave Your Photos on Your SD Card

You spend the day taking photos, you come home, you’re exhausted, and you tell yourself, “I’ll copy the photos tomorrow.” Except you don’t. And they’ll probably stay there until you run out of space on your SD card and are forced to move them to make space for more photos.

camera with sd card
Image Credit: Tom Pumford/Unsplash

The problem with doing things this way is that you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed with a messy library of photos, and it will probably lead to more of the mistakes on this list.

The Solution: Make the effort to copy your photos no more than 24 hours after you’ve taken them. This way you don’t have to worry about remembering any details related to the shoot.

How to Streamline the Process: While incorporating some automation into your photo management process, this first step shouldn’t be automated.

After the photos are on your computer, you need to take a look at them and cull any that aren’t good enough. Put on some good music, or a podcast, or your favorite TV show, and be ruthless.

Keeping every single photo you take will prove to be a headache when it comes to all things related to photo management.

2. You Don’t Rename Your Files

When you’re transferring your files from your camera to your storage drive, the first thing you should do is rename your files and add any information to the metadata that you don’t want to forget.

Next to tagging your photos, this is one of the most important things you’re going to want to do so that you can easily search for and recognize photos and photo collections.

Renaming your photos will make it possible for you to avoid another common mistake: losing context for your photos. By renaming your files as you transfer them, you’re able to add important context such as location, people, events, or even clients.

The Solution: Immediately after you transfer your photos, rename the files in a consistent manner.

How to Streamline the Process: Using a batch renaming tool


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to make the process easier so that all photos in one collection have identical, serialized names. For Mac users, you don’t have to download any additional software—just use Apple’s native Automator to rename the files in bulk


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3. You Don’t Back Up Your Photos

If you’re keeping your photos in just one place, you’re doing it wrong. If your photos matter to you, you’re going to want to back them up. At least once. No one system is foolproof—whether it’s an external hard drive or cloud storage—so make sure to keep your photos in multiple places.

The Solution: If you take a ton of photos, you should have at least one dedicated external hard drive. In addition to keeping all your photos on an external hard drive that you can easily access, you should also back up your photos to an additional hard drive that stays in a safe place, or to a cloud storage account—or if you want to be particularly cautious—to both.

There are plenty of choices when it comes to backup storage—enough to fill one or two articles over, but the super abbreviated version of choices are monthly payments for a cloud storage account, a one-time payment for an external hard drive, or a combination of both with network attached storage.

How to Streamline the Process: Incorporate the backup process into your original transfer and renaming process. Blocking off a certain amount of time after each photoshoot to do all of these things will make life easier for you in the long run.

You can also automate your backup system so that it really doesn’t take much extra effort on your part:

  • If you’re opting for a cloud storage option like Dropbox or OneDrive, you can link the folder on your computer or external hard drive to your cloud account so your photos are automatically synced to the cloud.
  • If you’re more of a Google fan, try Google Photos Desktop Uploader.
  • You an even double up, and automatically back up photos in Dropbox to Google Drive using an automation platform like IFTTT.

Once you’ve settled on a backup system, chances are you’ll be able to find an automation process that makes your life a little easier.

4. You Keep Your Photos All Over the Place

This is one I’m definitely guilty of. Photos are scattered all over your computers, cameras, cloud storage, and external drives. It’s one thing to back up your photos to several places. It’s entirely another, to have different collections of photos in all those places.

The Solution: If you follow the steps outlined above for transferring, renaming, and backing up your photos in a timely and organized way—you can kiss messy photo collections goodbye.

5. You Don’t Tag Your Photos

Another key way to keep your photos organized is by using tags. Using a tag system makes it easy to find all of your photos related to specific locations, the gear used, the photography or editing styles, and so much more.

tagging photos

So if you want to quickly find all the wedding photos you’ve taken using your nifty fifty, tags make that possible. This makes it easy to quickly create tailored portfolios for clients who want to see work pertaining to a specific look or occasion.

The Solution: In order to incorporate tags into your photo backup system, you’re going to want to either use your operating system’s tagging feature, or you might need to think about a photo management platform


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Adobe Lightroom remains one of the most popular photo management systems


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, with two offerings—Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC, the latter a cloud-based program


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In addition to photo management, apps like Lightroom will give you access to robust photo editing features that give you complete control of your photography.

What Photo Management Mistakes Are You Making?

These are just five of the most common mistakes when it comes to photo management. However, there are plenty more that you can do to personalize your photo management system.

Take a look at your own personal situation and see what works best for you. What works for you now may not work for you in a year’s time. Always keep an eye out for how you can improve your system, look for tips from other professional photographers. And don’t forget to keep taking photos!


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