Tag Archives: high

High ISO Shooting and Processing Technique

I watched a video on YouTube about a way to process shots taken in low light with high ISOs to improve the noise performance.  I wasn’t particularly interested in the approach until I was down on the shore as the sun was going down and I was using a long lens.  I figured this might be a good time to try it out.  The approach is to shoot a lot of shots.  You can’t have anything moving in the shots for this to work but, if it is a static scene, the approach can be used.

Shoot as many shots as you can.  Then import them in to Photoshop as layers.  Use the align function to make sure that they are all perfectly aligned and then use the statistics function to do a mean calculation of the image.  You can do this a couple of ways in Photoshop.  You can make a smart object and then process it or you can process through Statistics.  The averaging function takes a lot of the noise out of the shot.  If you have lots of images, you can make it effectively disappear.  I wasn’t prepared to make that many shots but I tried it with a reasonable number of images.  The whole image isn’t really of interest.  Instead, I include one of the images cropped in and the processed image similarly cropped to allow you to compare.

Need to Find Another Way Around

The seafront at Cowes moves from the Parade to Princes Green via a path that runs around the Royal Yacht Squadron.  During the races, the cannons that signal the racing are mounted here (along with a lot of ceremonial cannons that don’t get used much.  At this time of year, everything is gone.  With the high tide, that path was a bit gone too!  Th water level was high enough to mean that the path was underwater most of the time.  It might have been possible to run through during the gap in the surges but no one seemed to think it was a good idea.

High Tide Through the Drains

The tide was very high when we got the parade in Cowes.  The water level was just below the street level.  Naturally, there was some swell, even though we were inside the harbor wall.  This meant the water was pushing back up through the drains that normally take water from the street down to the sea.  The water would force itself back up through the drains.  Sometimes it was just a small amount of water but the bigger waves resulted in a bit more flow back out of the drain.  Video is the best way to show this.  The metal of the drain cover had the level of corrosion you would expect for something with this proximity to the sea!

How Low Can You Go?

The high ISO capabilities of modern cameras are a constant source of discussion whenever a new camera comes out.  It was quite funny to see everyone get so excited about the multi-million ISO range on the Nikon D5 when it was announced, only to see that the high ranges were nothing more than moose with a bit of an image overlaid on them.  Not a big surprise but still funny to see how much everyone was going nuts about it before the reality set in.

Consequently, I was interested to see what the new bodies I bought were really capable of.  I have already posted a little about some of the shots I took as the light faded at SFO.  I was shooting with a tripod and a gimbal mount to make things easier but I was also working within the ISO range of the camera.  I went with auto ISO and exposure compensation while shooting in aperture priory and wide open to get what I could.  However, I really wanted to see what was possible so I changed to manual mode, exposure compensation and auto ISO to see what could be done.  Auto ISO is not going to use the extended ranges of ISO.

AE7I2701.jpgAE7I2701jpeg.jpgI don’t know about the Nikon cameras but the Canon cameras tend to have three extended range ISO settings at the high end.  There is the highest ISO setting that it recognizes and then there are H1, H2 and H3.  They don’t name them with the actual ISO settings but you know what they are based on what you see on the camera.  The manufacturer does not label them as normal ISO settings because they do not stand behind them as a capability.  There is a good reason for that.  They are just like the highest Nikon settings.  Useful if you have no option but not very good otherwise.

The same was true with my older bodies.  They had a very high ISO range that was not great but it would do in a pinch.  At the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta I shot an Aero Commander in the pitch black that flew over and I saw stuff in the shot I couldn’t see with the naked eye.  This is with a camera that is ancient by modern standards.  I expected a bit more with the latest generation.  Certainly, there is more to be achieved with what we have now. However, post processing becomes a part of the story.

My first experience with these shots was in Lightroom.  The shots did not look good at all.  However, there was a clue in all of this.  The first view in Lightroom is based on the JPEG that is baked into the raw file.  It looked okay until it was rendering by Adobe at which point it looked a lot worse.  This piqued my interest.  Sure enough, at the extended ISO ranges, the shots looked pretty awful.  Lots of purple backgrounds.  These were not going to be any good.  However, the initial preview had looked good., is this a case of Lightroom not being able to render the shots well?  I figured I should try going to the source.

AE7I2747.jpgAE7I2747jpeg.jpgAt various ISAP symposiums, the Canon guys have talked about how their software is the one that you should use since only Canon know how to decode their shots properly.  They have the recipe for the secret sauce.  Since Digital Photo Professional (DPP), Canon’s own software for decoding raw files, is so terrible to use, I never bother with it.  The raw processing in Lightroom (and ACR since they are the same) is so much easier to use normally and works really well. DPP is just awful in comparison.  However, we are now dealing with the extremes of capabilities of the camera.  The embedded previews seemed better so maybe it is possible that DPP will be able to do a better job.

You can now be the judge.  Here are some pairs of shots.  They are the same shot in each case.  The first is processed in Adobe Lightroom and the second is processed in DPP.  I think it is clear that DPP is better able to work with the raw files when it comes to extreme ISO settings.  The shots certainly have a more normal look to them.  The Lightroom shots look really messed up by comparison.  It doesn’t mean I will be using the extended ISO ranges on a regular basis.  Jumping to DPP for processing is not helpful on a regular basis.  However, if the need arises, I know that I can push the camera a lot further and use DPP to get something that is okay if not great.  This could be handy at some point.

High ISO Raw File Size

On my previous camera bodies I had occasionally shot at very high ISO settings as a result of the lack of light.  I had not paid a huge amount of attention to any secondary effects of doing so.  My current cameras had a work out in some very low light when I decided to test them in some rather unfriendly conditions.  When I was at home, I was running some disc backups and I found I could not get the normal number of files onto a single disc.  A quick bit of investigation and I could see why.  The high ISO shots had a significant increase in file size.  As I understand it, RAW files, while containing all of the data from the sensor, do have an amount of compression applied.  I imagine that the noise inherent in high ISO shots means that the compression is less effective as there is so much variation across pixels.  As an example, a shot at ISO 320 will average at about 22Mb.  The shots at ISO 51,200 are coming in at over 30Mb.  At ISO 204,000, the files can hit 40Mb. That is quite an increase!  Something to keep in mind when planning to shoot in very low light conditions.

Sneak Pass

C59F5630.jpgI have seen a large number of displays by the Blue Angels over the years.  Their display is a good one generally (although the ground portion is a little time consuming in my opinion).  The sequence does not vary much from year to year but it works well enough so that is probably no big surprise.  One of the fun parts is the sneak passes.  The four ship head off in one direction to distract you and a solo jet streaks in from the left at low level and high speed.  This catches a lot of people by surprise.

C59F5638.jpgJust as everyone is getting over this, the other solo jet does something similar from crowd rear to make you all jump again.  The displays that are held over water provide an added option for the first sneak pass.  With no obstacles, the aircraft can end up very close to the water.  This makes things look even more impressive.  Also, the high speeds can result in some impressive vapor formations in the shock waves.

C59F5622.jpgThe Fleet Week display on the Friday had great weather conditions but, surprisingly for the Bay Area, the humidity levels were not terribly high.  Consequently, while the sneak pass had its usual surprise impact, it did not result in any vapor on the jet.  The upside of this was that the optical distortion caused by the shock waves was visible in some shots when a reasonable amount of background was included.  Not what I was aiming for but not a bad alternative.

Interesting Landing Technique

AU0E8322.jpgThis guy landed at Half Moon Bay while we were there.  I have to admit I thought I was taking pictures for the accident investigation at first.  However, he maintained this pose all along the runway until he turned off and apparently had done it earlier.  I guess he had a lot of elevator authority.  However, whether it is a good idea is a very different question.

Congratulations Sara

This piece is a shout out to my niece, Sara.  Sara has just graduated from high school and we got to head across to Syracuse to see her graduate and to help celebrate.

Now she is off to college at Northwestern.  Maybe we will see more of her when she is living just up the street but somehow I suspect she will be finding plenty of other things to do.  I hope so – that’s what college is all about!

Cross Country

My trip to upstate New York had a certain sporty theme to it.  We had a triple header of sports to watch.  Today you get part two!  My niece was taking part in a cross country meet for her high school.  She was glad to be running again after having been out with an injury for a while.

The course was a fun one for spectators but less so for the runners I imagine.  A section lower down the hill was apparently quite damp – one girl lost her shoe but continued without it – and the climb back up to the main viewing area looked like something I was glad someone else was doing.

I only saw Sara’s race in full.  There were plenty of other age groups at different times and the guys were racing as well but I wasn’t there to see them.  Family viewing is what counts.  Here are a couple from the day.  It’s hard to photograph cross country runners since they always seem to be in so much pain.  Most of the pictures involve expressions that I am sure they would not be too grateful about if I were to share them with the world.  I’m a nice guy I guess!

Are you ready for some football?

Devoted followers of this blog (that’s all of you, right?) will know I have had a couple of attempts at photographing football (the American version as opposed to the one that uses a foot to kick a ball). This involved preseason training camp for the Chicago Bears but not a real game. For my first attempt at a live, unplanned action, I did not have a professional game. It was time for High School.

My nephew plays for his high school JV team and they had a game when we were going to be visiting so I took my camera along – like I wouldn’t have done so anyway!  I checked that there wouldn’t be a problem photographing at a school event and was reassured that it would be fine.

First something about the surroundings.  There was a fence around the field that no-one was to enter.  This limited me from some of the things I wanted to do but wasn’t too big a deal.  Second, this game was taking place in October in Syracuse NY.  This is not a combination that you select for good weather.  While I wasn’t bothered about the rain, the lack of light would be an issue.

More of a problem initially was keeping track of what is going on.  When watching football on TV I have little trouble keeping track of how the plays are developing.  Doing it from the side of the field is a surprisingly different experience.  For a while, I could easily lose the ball completely.  A bit of practice and this improved considerably.

When the game started out, there was plenty of light and I could get the shutter speeds I was looking for.  As the game progressed, the light faded a lot.  I kept ramping up the ISO to compensate but it was still a struggle to get a high enough shutter speed.  Eventually the lights came on but they were only some compensation.  Even at the higher end of the ISO range I was happy to try, the shutter speeds were getting low.  Consequently, some of the later shots were as much luck as judgement!

I shot a lot of images during the game.  You don’t get a chance to decide in advance whether a play will be any good.  Moreover, it is hard to see at a given time whether the key components of the shot are there.  I got plenty of shots with some dynamic movement from the players but no visible ball.  Without the ball, they really could be anything.  Off to the trash with them!

I wandered around the field to try different angles.  Starting at the side was fine and I could try some shots along the line of scrimmage.  I could also move up and down with the play as the teams advanced.  Later I tried shooting from both ends of the field.  That provided some quite satisfying angles but you also ran the risk of being at the wrong end when something happened or you saw the back of everything – again, no ball to be seen.

I was not alone on the sidelines.  Several parents of the players were also trying to get shots.  Between all of us, we probably managed to get a fair few that would be of use.  It was fun to talk to them as the game moved on to compare notes on what we were trying to get and what we had got so far.

When I ran through the pictures afterwards, I wondered whether any of them would be useful to the team.  You can see some interesting things about the way players lined up and engaged with the other team.  You also get to record all of the penalties that the officials missed!

I had a great time (and stayed a lot warmer than the rest of the family since I was always on the move).  I would certainly like to try it again although next time it would be nice to have a bit more light to play with.  It was the penultimate game of the season for my nephew’s team I guess I won’t see them play again until next year.  Oh yes, they won so well done Jamesville Dewitt!