Dealing With Low Light and High ISO

Many photographers that are shooting for the micros often are concerned with relation to situations where there is low light and a high ISO is required. I've heard artists ask if they should just skip the image altogether and are frustrated with relation to low light situations. Here are the options that I've used to help me get around the situation:

1) Use a tripod and a lower shutter speed at 100 ISO.

2) Shoot at a high ISO and bracket up (over-expose) by about 2 stops, then bring the exposure down when processing the image. You will get less noise this way.

3) Shoot at high ISO, then process in Neat Image. You'll be surprised sometimes what you can save. If that doesn't work, reduce the size of the image to hide the noise (a big option at the micros).

4) Process for noise using the following actions in Photoshop:

a) Open Image

b) Image> Mode> LAB Colour

c) Channels palette-select channel “a”

d) Filter> noise> Median 3 pxls-

e) Select channel “b”

f) Filter> noise> Median 3 pxls

g) Select channel “lightness”

h) Filter> Noise> Despeckle

i) Image> Mode> RGB Colour

then, sharpen the image using the following actions:

In PS go to Image>mode>Lab mode and convert your RGB image to lab mode. Then in your channels palette click the lightness channel and the image will become black and white. You can then apply a small amount of USM (unsharp mask) to the image.

The guidelines that a popular RM site allow for this are: Amount 0-100%, Radius 1-2 pixels, Threshold 0-4 levels.

Don't ever try to sharpen a soft image taken in low light by using unsharp mask or other conventional sharpening techniques straight on the image. It won't work - trust me and believe me. The results will be bringing the attention to noise and distorted pixels

I have a couple of images in my portfolio here that were shot hand held at 3200 ISO. An example is this image

Shot at 3200 ISO with a 50mm f/1.8 handheld at f/4. This was taken at a telecommunication network switch - flash was not allowed in the room (it disrupts telecommunication traffic) and bright lighting was not allowed. There wasn't enough room between the network racks to set up a tripod and I didn't own a monopod at the time.

It is possible and it is worth refining your low light techniques especially if the image is unique! Take a chance!

Photo credits: Wysiwygfoto.

Your post must be written in English

December 15, 2007


Ed, these are great suggestions! Can I translate it into Estonian in my blog? Of course with reference to your portfolio.

September 14, 2007


Good tips. I have one to add:

September 13, 2007


Ahh, it's a nice reminder on how to take pictures in difficult situations. The challenge and creative thought process is often a reward. Thanks!

September 13, 2007


Great info and advices. Thank you thank you thank you :].

I have Canon D350. I use Neat image for every picture. Also, I read an article year ago about over - exposing technique. Since than I developed a habit to over - expose. It takes more time to process RAW but after converting to TIFF 16bit and filtering with Neat Image I get clean images. I think I am a little bit paranoid about that noise ;].

Great info about PS technique. I will try it one day for sure. Also I wondering about sharpening limits. Now with this article you put every thing in places.

September 12, 2007



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