Dealing with Low Light and Noise


Low Light with High ISO equals a lot of noise. Something Photoshop and other packages con recover, to a point… – This image cannot be reproduced without explicit written permission from Jeff Watkins Photography.

In the many years I have done theatre, someone has always brought a camera, and after a couple of years, I was one of them. It was only for the memorabilia and I never had a thought, at the time, of taking it any further. Now I am looking through all these old shots and I see how far I have come. This is from a play I did back in 2008. On the left is the original photo and on the right is the slightly adjusted version I did just before writing this blog.

You can see the poor white balance and speckled effect which is the combined effect of an inappropriate colour setting on the camera and a high ISO in a low-light situation. For readers who may not know, ISO is a measure in a camera that relates to the sensitivity of the film. In early 35mm film based cameras, the film itself was made to have different levels or reactive sensitivity to light, and was measured using an International Standard. ISO stands for International Organisation of Standardisation.

In modern day digital cameras, ISO represents the digital threshold that is processed by the sensor and on board software. It basically equates to the same as film but each camera does use slightly different sensor technology and processing software, so not all cameras will produce the same result. Post processing can minimise a certain amount of high sensitivity noise, but there are limits to the best software. As you can see in the photo set above, trying to reduce noise after the fact has a few cons such as the loss of detail and resolution. The right image may look good as a smaller image, but up close it has become pixelated and some of the edge details are lost.

ADDENDUM: If you look closely to the chair in the background, you will see the effect of noise adjustments. The print disappears from the page.

Another lesson that took a long time to sink in was the power of RAW. I won’t cover that in too much details (you can click the link) suffice it to say that it records every little bit of detail that can make post-production so much easier. Back then, I had no idea. These days, I won’t shoot in anything else.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with Low Light and Noise

    • For me as I take a lot of theatre work, I can’t afford to. If it is partcularly bad, then probably I would. You an still get better results with photo that have a little noise, then an sharp flash result. Then again, there are a variety of diffusers on the market that diminish the total light strength providing more “ambient” light. This means you can take clearer images using lower ISO settings. It can be tricky getting the timing right however. In my experiences, flashes can be very temremental, which is why I prefer not to use them.

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