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In Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography, Ben Long outlines a full, shooting-to-output workflow geared specifically toward the needs of landscape photographers, with a special emphasis on composition, exposure enhancement, and retouching. This course also covers converting to black and white, using high-dynamic range (HDR) imaging techniques to capture an image that’s closer to what your eye sees, and preparing images for large-format printing. Learn to bring back the impact of the original scene with some simple post-processing in Photoshop. Exercise files are included with the course.
Throughout all of this talk of brightening and darkening images there is one important caveat that hasn't been mentioned. Sometimes there is a price to pay for brightening an image, and that price is noise. Some images actually come out of your camera with noise. Here's one right here, and if are not familiar with noise, this should make it pretty obvious what noise is. Less ugly noise sometimes just looks like film grain. Noise like this looks like little colored specks all over the place. There are two different kinds of noise; Luminance noise, which changes in brightness, that just look like film grain, and Chrominance noise.
And this image has a combination of both Chrominance noise being color splotches, sometimes they are big sometimes they are speckling patterns like this. Noise is simply a function of the electronics in your camera, just as if you turn up the amplifier on your stereo, you'll hear more noise and your music, that hissing sound. Same thing with your camera's electronics. There is noise alongside the signal of the image information that's passing around inside your camera. Fortunately, with Camera RAW 6.0, which is the Camera RAW that's included in Photoshop CS5, Adobe has included some new really wonderful noise reduction technology.
And here in the Detail tab, you'll find the noise reduction controls. So as I mentioned there are two types of noise. They give us controls for Luminance and Color noise. I'm going to zoom in here to around 50%. Now, one thing about noise. It's very easy to zoom in to an image and see this and go, well, this image is just useless. But bear in mind when you are looking at an image at 100%, you're looking at individual pixels. On an 8 or 10 mega pixel camera, a single pixel is a teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny little space.
In a print, particularly a small print, like a 4x6 or even an 8x10, you're never going to see an individual pixel. So lot of the noise in your image is simply going to be sampled out when the image is sized for a final print. So don't go too nuts when you see noise in an image, or any defect in an image at 100%. Nevertheless, this image is noisy, and this would show up in print. So we're going to do what we can to reduce the noise using the Noise Reduction controls. We're going to start with Chrominance noise, and I'm just going to slide this, and already you can see most of the Color noise disappearing.
And it's kind of about all you have to do for noise reduction in Camera RAW. Color Detail helps you preserve detail in your image while you're reducing noise, and this is always the balance you're trying to seek with noise reduction technology of any kind. As you reduce noise, you sometimes soften the image, and so these Color Detail sliders help you preserve more detail on your image. There is still a little bit of, if you kind of squint your eyes or revert your eyes a little bit, you'll see there's maybe some Magenta noise, a big patch on it right there and some here, and there is some green kind of big splotches.
The chances of those showing up in print are pretty small actually, so that's done a good job on our Chrominance noise. Now let's look at the Luminance noise, and Luminance noise is something you really can only judge at 100%, but again, bad Luminance noise at 100% doesn't mean bad Luminance noise in a print. I'm going to drag the Luminance slider to the right, and that's done a very good job. It's just taken the edge off the noise. I can play with Luminance Detail, again to control the balance between the blurring that is eliminating the noise and the overall softening of the image that results from that, and I can increase the contrast that's left behind.
So it's kind of mostly just a process of balancing these sliders until you get a level of noise reduction that you'd like. So zooming back out to full size, even a full size there is a pretty dramatic difference in this image, but let's zoom back in here and do it before and after. This is before, and this is after. So Photoshop is done an exceptional job in reducing the noise. Now, whether this is the right level of noise reduction or not, I can't say until I print the image. If my goal was to output this as an electronic file for e-mail or something, then I could go through the process of sizing it the way I want, spitting it out and seeing if my noise is okay there.
But if my ultimate goal is printing of a certain size, I need to do a test print to determine if my noise Reduction has been effective. You are mostly going to get noise troubles in low light images, if you're using any kind of modern digital camera. For example, here's an image shot strictly by the light of a full moon in Monument Valley, very late at night. And this was shot at ISO 1600 on a Canon 5D Mark II, and if I zoom into 100% here, you can see that even at ISO 1600, the camera is still doing a very good job of keeping noise down, but it is there.
When assessing a camera for landscape shooting, noise response is something you really want to take a look at, particularly if you have any intention of shooting in low light. But even shooting in just dim light, like at dusk where you'll have deep shadows, those shadow areas are going to be more prone to noise, so you want to try and find a camera that can handle them well. You shouldn't be seeing any noise at bright daylight with just about any camera. If you are, there is a chance that you have set the ISO too high, so you need to get it back down. As I mentioned before, noise reduction is often something that you do in concert with sharpening, and that's why the Sharpening and Noise Reduction controls in Camera RAW are side-by-side, and we will be taking a look at sharpening next.
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