Category Archives: Noise Reduction

The Fan in the Stands – Shooting in a Stadium

The Phanatic at the Phillies Home Opener
The Phanatic at the Phillies Home Opener

One of my most favorite things to do is shoot baseball games.   I do it for fun, although I am often asked if I am a professional.   I get by with my little Canon 55-250 mm shooting from my seats, the concourse, or even the roof top bleachers at Citizen’s Bank Park.  The past few years have afforded me a ton of opportunities to get some great action shots.  Although sometimes I think my best shots are of the crowd.  The image above was one of my favorites  from this year’s home opener.   The little boy with his arms extended Continue reading The Fan in the Stands – Shooting in a Stadium

Lower ISO Plus EV Makes For Better Images, and Easier Noise Reduction

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I attended the Phillies-Braves game last night in Philadelphia, PA (Citizen’s Bank Park).  I have been shooting there for fun for the past couple of years. and have experienced a variety of shooting conditions.  Lighting comes in to play especially when you are shooting from a distance.  I don’t have the fortune to be shooting on the field so I tend to shoot from my seat or lurk on the concourse.   I try to shoot at 1/1600 shutter speed so I can freeze the action, but to do this during night games I need to shoot at a high ISO.  For professional use this would most likely be a non-starter as the digital noise would add too much “grain” to the image.

I generally shoot around ISO 800-1000 when the night games begin (around sunset), and can get some decent shots especially if the subject is relatively close (<200 feet).  As the sun sets I have to drastically increase my ISO;  usually to 3200, and then the custom settings of H1 and H2 on the 50D which work out to be 6400, and 12800 ISO respectively.  The problem I face is purely digital noise, and the ability to freeze action.  I shoot with a Canon 55-250mm EF-S  f/4-5.6 IS.  It’s pretty good for a consumer grade lens, and since I am not shooting professionally I have held off getting a nicer 70-300 f/4 or the beautiful 70-200 f/2.8…well I also have held off due to the cost as well.

When I started a few years back I found that after sunset I couldn’t get any decent shots because I would have to slow the shutter speed down to 1/1000 or slower which resulted in unappealing blur.  Of course I was shooting in program mode.  Then I decided to try using Tv (shutter priority) mode, and was able to get slightly better results, although when zoomed all the way in at f/5.6 I was still getting the exposure indicator flashing in my viewfinder – not such a big deal as I was able to sufficiently pull it up a bit in processing.  Of course I tried to be selective as to what shots I would choose to do this for as sometimes you could introduce more artifacts – color shifts, and more pronounced noise.

Over the past 6-8 months I have gotten better at reducing noise in Lightroom 3.  Although I will admit depending on the subject it has resulted in some soft looking photos with a slightly painterly look due to the NR smoothing details out.  So back to square one – how to overcome this?  Recently I started using the Nik Dfine 2.0 NR plug-in for Lightroom, and it has performed pretty well.  It analyzes the photo, and finds out where the most likely areas to contain noise are located.  It reads points on the image, and then applies a NR profile to the image which in most cases does a nice job.  Occasionally I have been required to apply some additional points for NR, but the time spent in this part of the workflow has been minimal.  It also seems to produce more pinpoint NR than Lightroom does.  I am able to reduce noise in the areas of grass and dirt on the field, but keep the NR to a minimum on the faces of the people in the stands.  This is key especially when shooting from a distance.  If you are heavy handed in your NR you can effectively render the facial features invisible.

Fast-forward to last night.  I started using exposure compensation over the past few months to expose to the right side of the histogram.  Sometimes this does result in some blown highlights, but it has also been easier to pull the exposure back down during processing, and retain detail than it would be to increase exposure to gain shadow details that had been lost.  The past few games I have attended I shot with +2/3 EV at ISO 12800.  I managed to get some shots, but for the most part details in faces were lacking.

Last night I decided to try something new.  I kept the ISO at 6400 shooting in HQ  jpeg mode, and applied +2 EV, and I think it made a difference.  You can see in the photo below the difference in noise between the 3200 and 6400.  ISO 12800 drastically increases the noise so I kept it at ISO 6400 since I was able to get a brighter image than at ISO 3200 with the same EV.

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I have decided to do some more experimentation with ISO and EV settings combined with a more robust NR process to see what I can come up with.  I may do some tinkering in RAW mode as well to see if I can more selectively boost exposure, and control noise manually.  I have found that the more intimate you are with how your camera responds to light the better your images will be.  Keep shooting!