Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Low Light Photography and Digital Noise

When Daniel and I first decided to author this blog, we really didn't anticipate the amount of work that would be involved. Mind you, this work would be in addition to our full time jobs, our part time jobs (both photographers), and our duties as husbands and fathers.

Something had to give. I think we were a bit ambitious in our early planning by trying to post two times a month.

So, from here on out, Daniel and I will post when we can!

A topic that I've been thinking a lot about lately is shooting in low light and dealing with digital noise in images. I have been a member of several internet forums over the years (that's how I learned photography) and have long read about how to minimize digital noise or grain when shooting in low light. Noise is often the result of one of two things: 1) shooting at high ISO values (ie, 1600, 3200, 6400) or 2) underexposing an image and trying to 'push' the exposure in post processing.

Many people advise to avoid setting their ISO values to such high numbers for fear of 'your photo will be all grainy'. You'll read that you should use your flash to avoid the grain. And while this is true, you can shoot at lower ISO values with a flash (because you are forcing more light onto the scene), you will often change WHAT THE SCENE ACTUALLY LOOKED LIKE.

As a photojournalist, I strive to maintain the authenticity of a scene, moment, expression, etc. I WANT the scene to look as it did when I took the photo. For example, if the room is dark and only the TV is on, I WANT my photo to be dark. So if you want to keep your low light scenes 'real', you really only need a fast lens (ie, a prime lens that has a wide aperture such as the Canon 35L f/1.4 or Canon 50mm f/1.4) and the vision to shoot with your ISO above 1600!

Another thing to consider when shooting in low light is your shutter speed. Again, if the scene is dark AND you already have your ISO cranked up, you might be forced to use a slower shutter speed (ie, 1/10th, 1/25th). If you are shooting a wide lens and your subject is static, you shouldnt have a hard time keeping the camera only takes a bit of practice.

The following examples were shot in extremely low light with slower shutter speeds. Notice, there is a decent amount of 'noise' or grain in them. In fact, I even ADDED some grain in photoshop :)

Movie Night: The only light in the room was the TV. 1/30th, f/1.4, ISO 3200

Movie Night II: Again, just the TV, in our very dark basement. 1/25th, f/1.4, ISO4000

Homework: Only light was the small lamp in the photo. 1/60th, f/2.8, ISO3200

Wii: Only the TV as a light source. 1/40th, f/2, ISO3200

Book Time: One of my all time favorites. Taken with just the light from under the bunkbed. 1/80th, f/1.6, ISO 3200

I really feel like the use of flash would have DESTROYED these images. So, turn your flash off and crank your ISO up! Preserve the authenticity!



  1. Was just thinking about this blog a couple of days ago Chuck, and wondering what ever happened to you guys :)
    Nice post. Great images.

  2. only discovered you a few months back and put you on rss feed justincase you ever showed up again!

  3. Thanks for posting again! I've read all your posts on this blog at least twice and I find it really inspiring. So thanks again and hope you find time to write new great articles in the future.

  4. Stumbled upon your blog couple of months ago and had been checking almost every week since then for new posts. Welcome back! You have great images here and wealth of photography information. Thank you and keep posting such great pictures and articles.

  5. i really like these images, their simple yet interesting.

  6. I found your site some time ago and bookmarked it. I loved the explanation you were giving for each of your images. I'm glad you are back and will be posting from time to time. I wish we had digital when my kids were little.

  7. no words said, just kept seeing the images....
    have all these been taken by a leica ?

  8. Low light photography is one of my favorite choice. You can prove your creativity in this areas. But to get better result you must follow some low light photography techniques. Here are some tips. Hope it will be useful to you.

    "Pro Tips for Low Light Photography"

  9. I've been thinking a lot about nose and low light work so the timing of this post (of me finally reading it) ouse perfect. But I still struggle tree with it as I find the grain so distracting. It could be because of my own struggle with technical proficiency but I really love crisp images. How do you maintain the crisp look in editing?