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Join photographer and teacher Ben Long as he describes the tools, creative options, and special considerations involved in shooting with a DSLR camera at night or in low-light conditions, such as sunset or candlelight. The course addresses exposure decisions such as choice of aperture and shutter speed and how they impact depth of field and the camera’s ability to freeze motion.
Ben also shows how to obtain accurate color balance in tungsten and fluorescent lighting situations, and how to postprocess the images in Photoshop to remove noise caused by higher ISO settings. He also demonstrates accessories that can greatly expand your low-light photography options.
All through this course I've been harping on about oh, you don't want noise, you don't want noise! Probably at this point the only thing worst than hearing me continue to talk about noise is facing bad noise in your images. Fortunately, Photoshop and most other image editors have noise reduction tools. Now you shouldn't count on these as a substitute for being intelligent about your ISO choice, but if you do end up with images with bad noise, you can often greatly reduce the noise through some careful application of noise reduction software. I've an image here. This is a JPEG file.
I know I've been telling you to shoot RAW, but this is a JPEG file from an SLR in 2000 or 2001 or so; storage was expensive, so I couldn't shoot RAW. Anywa,y this is a JPEG file, and here's a case where before we adjust white balance we need to do an exposure adjustment because the image is so dark I simply can't see. So I'm going to go ahead and beef up my Exposure slider here until I can begin to even see the image, and now I can a better idea of what my edits are. This is the case where I'm doing the edits out of my normal order simply because I have to. I'm going to try and cool the image down, but because this is a JPEG file, I don't really have the white balance latitude that I would normally have.
Already, you can probably start to see this is noisy image. This is one reason I picked a shot from 2000; cameras were much noisier then. You're going to see a fairly exaggerated amount of noise, probably something much greater than you would ever find on a modern SLR, or even a modern good-quality point-and-shoot camera. I think you're also going to see it's kind of amazing how much detail you can pull out of a really dark shot. So I don't want to take this white balance too far this direction, because I'm starting to get weird blue highlights and lots of strange color, but he's still too red. Very often in low-light shots you're going to--even if you get white balance corrected, you might still have people that are just a little too saturated.
I often find with low-light images it's good to just dial in some desaturation. Already his skin tone is looking more natural. So white balance is not the only way to get better skin tone. Careful use of saturation can be another good way. If you want to desaturate places in your image but leave the skin tone how it is, you've got the Vibrance control, and lot of different image editing applications have this now. Aperture has something called Vibrancy. Lightroom of course has the same Vibrance slider here. It's basically a skin-tone- protected saturation control.
It will alter saturation in the image but for the most part leave typical skin tones alone. So he's looking better here. I'm going to increase the contrast a little bit. I find that a lot of times in an image that's this low light--let me undo that edit real quick. He's low light, which meant in this case kind of flat light, it just, the image is a little dull. It lacks a little pop. Dialing up the Contrast is going to help. It means I'm going to lose some detail in the shadows, but I don't care. It's really necessary to get an image that's got a little more depth. It also means he's turned a little more red again, so I'm going to dial the saturation back a little bit farther.
Now let's think about noise. I'm going to zoom in here to 100% and when I do, you can see, as I get closer, it's really chunky in here. There's a lot of noise. The good news is it's not a typically unfriendly noise; it's mostly luminance noise, meaning mostly changes in brightness, speckly patterns all through here. There's a very tiny bit of chrominance noise, and I don't know if you'll able to see this on your screen but I'm seeing colored spots all over his forehead here, a little bit on the bridge of his nose. They are magenta.
Typically the chrominance noise that you're going to get is going to be either magenta or green and they are large splotchy patterns. In Camera Raw, I have a few different noise-reduction options. If I click here on the Detail tab, I have Sharpening controls and I have Noise Reduction controls. Now we've not looked at these Sharpening controls. These are unsharp masking controls just like you'll find in Photoshop, but they're not quite as strong. They're meant to just do a little bit of sharpening. They're very good tools. They're definitely worth looking at, as you explore more sharpening options.
Right below those are Noise Reduction controls and these are not grouped together by accident. The way Noise Reduction works is it's going to apply a lot of very controlled blurs to our image to try to hide the noise that's in there. Well, blurring is going to have an impact on sharpening. So when we're doing noise reduction, we're trying to balance getting rid of noise without softening our image too much, and so that's why these tools are grouped together. You can see I have three sliders that say Luminance because they are targeted at luminance noise, and then I have a couple that are targeted at color or crominance noise.
I'm going to start with the Luminance slider. It's currently at zero, so I'm going to no noise reduction here. I'm just going to dial it up and see what happens. Maybe go up about a third of the way. Wow, and right away I've got far less noise in my image. If I uncheck the Preview button, you can see there's before. I slid that Luminance slider and there's after. So it's really taken a lot of that noise out there. Notice too that the Preview button, when I unchecked it, it didn't go back to the very original image. It didn't undo all of my tone and color corrections. This is a great thing in more recent versions of Camera Raw that it only previews the current tab, which is really nice.
Now, I've got this Luminance Detail slider here. This is just giving me a finer level of control of how much detail is visible. So this is kind of a way of balancing sharpness with luminance noise reduction here, just with these two sliders. I can play with these, and this is really just about personal preference. Mostly I'm watching his eyes. I want to be sure they stay sharp. So I'm using his eyes as a measure of when I have sharpness okay. I'm using just his cheek right here to see what I feel about noise reduction.
Then I've got Luminance Contrast, which is a localized contrast adjustment that can put a little bit of texture back in. Texture, of course, is a function of contrast. Where I have more contrast, I have more texture. If I slide this back to 0--again and you're looking at reduced version-- I'm seeing a very smooth patch of skin here. As I increase Luminance Contrast, it gets a little bit of natural looking texture back in but doesn't get noisy again. Move on down to the Color sliders here. I'm looking at these magenta swatches up here.
I'm just going to drag this to the right, and they're gone. I'd like to say there's some finesse to using that tool, but there's really not. I slid it to the right. That's about all there's to it. I can dial up Color Detail or down on this image. It's not going to make any impact at all, because my color noise was so minimal to begin with. I haven't had a real loss of detail in here. If you're working with an earlier version of Photoshop--this Photoshop CS5--if you're working with an earlier version of Photoshop, you're not going to have controls that work this well. Adobe re-wrote the noise reduction engine in Photoshop CS5, and I think you can see that they've done a spectacular job.
Noise reduction in the new Camera Raw is fantastic. If you're using the latest version of Lightroom, you've got the same noise reduction tools. If you're using an earlier version of Photoshop, this might be a reason to upgrade, the noise reduction is so good, particularly if you have an older camera. If you don't want to do that, if you like the version of Photoshop you have, you could consider going with a third- party noise reduction plug-in of some kind. Noise Ninja, Neat Image, these are all very good tools. They're just extra money. I would really look into maybe I'll take that money and pay for an upgrade. Especially if you're thinking of buying a new camera. If you're using an older version of Photoshop, you may have a Camera Raw that's not going to work with the latest cameras.
So that's the basics of noise reduction. As you can see, it's very simple. If I want now to go in and work on the sharpness of the image, I could do that here or head on into Photoshop and use my Smart Sharpen filter like I saw earlier and maybe some masking to constrain it to particular places. Noise will vary greatly depending on the camera you have and it will get much, much worse of course as ISO goes higher and your exposures get longer. As you experiment with these controls, I think you'll get a better feeling for how they're going to work with particular circumstances.
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