Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Noise Be My Friend

I was taking snaps around the house the other day with the Panasonic LX3. Usually, with any digital camera I work with the ISO set as low as possible, and exposure set on manual. But, for a change, and because I don't like using flash, I was using the "Programmed" mode in combination with the "Intelligent ISO" setting, which lets the camera choose the ISO rating as a third parameter in the classic "aperture vs. shutter speed" exposure calculation. You can set the upper ISO limit you're prepared to use, and I chose 400 which, for me as a recovering film user, is at the crazy extreme of what I'm prepared to deal with (though the camera will go up to a genuinely whacky 3200).

Anyway. Mostly, I got what I expected i.e. nicely-exposed available-light shots:

Our Christmas Angel
(nice idiotic hat!)

But a few showed unexpected amounts of noise, probably because of underexposure resulting from some combo of minimum shutter speed, maximum aperture, etc. The in-camera JPGs actually did a bang-up job of reducing this, and it was only when looking at the RAW files that I realised quite how much noise there was:

RAW file converted to TIF with SilkyPix (100% crop)

In-Camera JPG (100% crop)

When I started playing around with the TIF files in Noise Ninja, I realised that although I dislike "colour noise" (chroma) a lot, I actually quite like "luminance noise" -- it can be quite a pleasing graphic effect, reminiscent of film grain, and for certain subjects has an appropriate gritty detail (compare the hair in the image below with the JPG -- and, remember, these are 100% crops of 10 Megapixel images).

RAW file converted to TIF with SilkyPix (100% crop)
Chroma noise (only) removed with Noise Ninja

Now, I'm not a huge fan of "alternative processes" as such, but sometimes an image just wants to go in a certain direction, and this portrait of a scruffy guy just cried out for the full-on monochrome nostalgia treatment. The grain and the silvery tones give it that Pictorialist Alvin Langdon Coburn / Julia Margaret Cameron look. Strange to think it originated in the highest-tech piece of kit that I own...

1 comment:

Juha Haataja said...

Noise really fits the subject here, a valuable discovery. In b&w - when the noise patterns are not too intrusive - a grained look may enhance the message greatly.