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Working With The ISO - Book Excerpt - Creative Lighting Tips And Techniques
The following excerpt is from a wonderful new digital photography book, Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques by award-winning professional photographer Harold Davis. The book covers both natural light and studio lighting. However, it is not a cookbook covering studio lighting setups; nor is it a book that emphasizes the pixels over the overall visual impact that a photograph can make.
Each of the photos in Creative Lighting can be used to generate ideas for your own work — how you can use existing light, alter light, or create lighting to make spectacular photos of your own. The author includes the story behind each photo in the book, as well as full technical data about the captures.
Working With The ISO
If your photo is going to look dark and underexposed—and you don’t want it to—the easiest approach to fixing the problem is to boost the ISO, or sensitivity. This is particularly true if the other two exposure controls are up against their limits: you can’t use a slower shutter speed without risking loss of sharpness from camera motion or changing the way subject motion is rendered; and you can’t change the aperture to one that is more wide open without altering the depth-of-field so that your area that is in focus is lost.
ISO is a number on a scale that the International Organization for Standardization came up with. With film, the ISO was determined by the chemical sensitivity to light of the medium.
In digital photography, you can dial up or down the ISO—meaning light sensitivity—of a digital frame in just the way you could have decided to use a “faster” (more light sensitive) or “slower” (less light sensitive) film. The great news here for digital photographers is that you can set the ISO on a per-frame basis: you don’t have to wait to change your roll of film to change your sensitivity. You can decide to dial it up for one shot, then dial it right back down for the next!
No great technical facility comes without a price, and indeed—as I’ve mentioned—most of the craft of photography concerns the cost-benefit trade-offs of making various decisions bearing in mind what is possible. Boosting the ISO for photography in low-light conditions is not an exception to this principle, with the downside trade-off being increased noise—or digital static—as you push the ISO higher.
Note, however, that each generation of digital cameras gets better at shooting at higher and higher ISOs—the capabilities of today’s cameras make possible shooting in some situations that would not have been feasible in the past.
In fact, increased noise is not always bad. There’s a “toothiness” in noise that can make images appear sharper, and in these cases if you remove the noise as part of post-processing your photo can seem unsharp and lose a sense of definition.
In addition, noise can have an appealing aesthetic of its own. Just as photographers came to prize high grain film images for the look of the grain, there are some photographers that go after noise for the sake of the way the noise looks. These “noise pioneers” actually try to increase noise rather than reduce it.
65mm, 1/30 of a second at f/5 and ISO 3200, hand held
I wanted this image of the full moon rising over San Francisco Bay to be impressionis-tic—and almost grainy—so I used an extremely high ISO (3200) and was able to hand hold the shot. The moon was far brighter than the surrounding sky, so I underexposed with the idea of rendering the moon, clouds, and reflection on the water, and letting the rest of the photo go black. This underexposure was an additional source of the noise, which I regard as part of the visual effect I wanted in this shot.
Causes of Noise*and what you can do about them!
Noise is good; noise is bad. For the moment, I’m assuming noise is bad, and you want to remove it when possible. (If you actually want the pernicious stuff, then do the opposite of what I suggest.) The table below shows the most common causes of noise, and what (if anything) you can do about them.
Note that noise as “static on the line” is a fact of physics and digital life, and will always be with us—although often in such minimal quantities that you have to magnify to the pixel level to even begin to see it. Not only are digital cameras getting better at processing noise, so is software that processes shots, such as the most recent version of Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). This means that you can shoot without flash in low-light conditions that would have been impossible in the past.
If you shoot in the RAW format, you actually get two cracks at removing noise—first when you convert your RAW image to bring it into a program such as Aperture, Lightroom, or Photoshop; and then second as part of your post-processing workflow using a plugin such as Noise Ninja.
80mm, 1/50 of a second at f/5 and ISO 3200, hand held
I wanted to photograph my daughter Katie Rose in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) shortly after she was born very prematurely. However, the conditions posed a considerable challenge because of how little light there was. Making matters worse, tripods and flash were not allowed in the hospital ward. So I boosted my ISO extremely high (to 3200) and made a series of photos that would not have been possible with older technology. Although you can see a bit of noise in the final image, for a photo that tells a story, this level of noise is perfectly acceptable.
10.5mm digital fisheye, 15 stacked exposures, each exposure 4 minutes at f/2.8 and ISO 320, tripod mounted
High in the White Mountains of Eastern California, I shot this view of stars over Bishop, California. The composite of 15 exposures (for a total exposure time of about an hour) renders the stars , but left the foreground black.
10.5mm digital fisheye, 30 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 2500, tripod mounted
The foreground was pitch black, and I couldn’t see the proverbial nose in front of my face. To create foreground detail for the image of stars with the black foreground, with the tripod and camera exactly in place, I shot a high ISO (2,500) version of the foreground, exposed to show details.
10.5mm digital fisheye, 15 stacked exposures, each exposure 4 minutes at f/2.8 and ISO 320, tripod mounted. Foreground: 10.5mm digital fisheye, 30 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 2500, tripod mounted
I combined the star circles (top left) and the high-ISO foreground (bottom left) in Photoshop using a layer mask and a gradient. The final, combined image shows the star trails as well as the foreground detail. Without the detail in the foreground, this image would have been too dark to be interesting despite the spectacular star trails.
Since I was only able to get into position after dark, boosting the ISO was the best way to achieve an exposure that rendered detail in the foreground. With modern digital equipment, it was possible to boost the ISO high enough to shoot in almost pitch blackness and maintain an acceptable level of noise.
Although the ambient light levels were extremely low, interestingly the city lights of Bishop, California were bright enough to produce highlight blowout—even though Bishop was quite distant from where I was standing.
Here are the links to the other free excerpts:
• Understanding Exposure
• Overexposure And Underexposure
• Using A Histogram In Photoshop
• All About Aperture
• Working With Shutter Speeds
• Using Exposure Controls with Lighting
• White Balance And Color
• Pre-Visualizing the Impact of Lighting
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Adobe Deals & Special Coupon Offers
Visit the Adobe Coupons & Special Offers Page to see the latest deals from Adobe. Find upgrade options at the Adobe Store. Get up to 80% off at the Adobe Education Store. Find out about monthly or annual subscriptions. You can also download a free 30 day trial of any Adobe CS5 product.
onOne Photoshop Plugins Sale - Plus Exclusive 10% Discount
onOne has launched a big sale that has reduced the prices of every one of their plugins. Visit onOne for full product descriptions. And if you decide to purchase one of their plugins, use our exclusive discount code - PSSPPT06 - for an additional 10% discount. Here's a list of the sale prices (before our 10% discount is applied):
Perfect Photo Suite $299.95 / $149.95 (upgrade)
Perfect Photo Suite 5.5 includes all of the onOne Software products and works with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Five of the products in the Suite even work as stand-alone applications now.
Perfect Resize 7 $199.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
The next generation of Genuine Fractals is still the industry standard for image enlargement. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
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Perfect Layers is the fast and easy way to bring a layered workflow to Lightroom and Aperture. Perfect Layers works with Lightroom and Aperture or as a standalone application.
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PhotoTune $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Getting great color in your images is not as hard as you think. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
Mask Pro 4 $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
For removing unwanted backgrounds, Mask Pro is the Photoshop plugin recommended by Advanced Photoshop magazine. Works as a plug-in for Photoshop.
PhotoTools $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Instantly give your photos the professional look. Works as a Photoshop plug-in.
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Add the perfect finishing touch to your photos or create an album layout design. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
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Nik Software The Complete Collection (Plugins Bundle)
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Color Efex Pro 3.0
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PhotoTools 2.5 Free Edition - Add a professional look to your photos with the PhotoTools 2.5 Free Edition plug-in for Photoshop. Includes 26 professional-grade actions and photographic effects to make your images stand out from the crowd.
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Perfect Presets for LightRoom - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom were designed to help you get the most out of Lightroom.
Perfect Presets for Aperture - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Aperture 3 were designed to help you get the most out of Aperture.
Perfect Presets for Camera Raw - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) were designed to help you get the most out of your Raw images in Adobe Photoshop.
Free Photoshop Templates - Album templates, layouts, backgrounds and edges to save you time in Photoshop.
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