Have you ever taken a look at your Disney Dark Ride photos, or park/resort photos you took at night or in low light, and noticed grainy dots in your photo? What you’re seeing is image noise – these little unwanted off color dots that you don’t want. These little dots are the visual equivalent of static on the radio.
Every image contains some amount of noise – the question is whether or not you notice it. And if you do, what to do about it becomes important. Sometimes you can’t do anything, and maybe you’ll use the graininess to your advantage. But that gets into a sense of artistry and creativity that I don’t really possess.
As camera technology advances, noise will become less of an issue, but we’ll probably always fight some amount of image noise.
Because of ride vehicle movement, you end up shooting at a higher ISO than you’d otherwise like, or your photos would be pretty dark, and you’d see very little of the scene. The trade off, though, leads to more noise in your photo than you want. Ideally, you’d be able to stop, set your camera on a tripod, set a low ISO, long shutter speed, and capture the image. Obviously that’s not an option on any of the dark rides. Having said that, if any of you know Cast Members who’d let me slip them a $50 to sneak through and set up a tripod at ever scene….just kidding. Or am I?
Since we’ll have to deal with noise in our photos, what can we do to reduce the noise, or “hide” noise?
First off, no matter what camera or software you use, try to shoot in RAW format. If you’re using a DSLR, there’s a very high likelihood you can shoot in RAW format rather than shooting .JPG. Think of a RAW file of your image as the unabridged photo – you can do a lot more with it in post processing, rather than using a .JPG format file, which is like the abridged version of your image. RAW files contain much more information than .JPG files.
A downside to RAW file format is the files get really big, so you can run out of room on your camera’s memory card. So you’ll need to get the files off your card more often, or carry more memory cards. No worries there, because storage media prices have dropped a bit over the last few years. And once you have the photos off your camera or card, you’ll need to store them, but those files take up a fair amount of real estate on your hard drive. It may be a good idea to get an external drive for storing (and for sure backing up!) your photos. There again, external drive prices aren’t that bad for pretty big storage options. And there’s cloud storage, but uploading, downloading, and backing up files can take a lot of time and use a lot of your internet bandwidth. If your kids are spending too much time on Netflix, run a series of massive uploads/downloads – that’ll shut down the streaming (ask me how I know).
If you’re shooting in .JPG format – not to worry. You can do the same things as I’ll do here, but just like any good advertisement disclaimer language, individual results may vary. Anyway, for this photo, I’m going to use a combination of Adobe Lightroom (still using version 5.7.1!) and Noiseless Pro by MacPhun. I could use the two programs separately, but one really great feature of Noiseless Pro is that it runs as a plug in inside Lightroom.
Here’s a photo from our last trip. I had three problems – stuck Manual/Autofocus switch (so the camera operated in Autofocus only) the bigger problem – me. And the last problem was equipment. I was shooting with my kit lens, and really, those lens types can’t get you the pictures you want on dark rides, at least from what I can tell.
I love this scene in Pirates of the Caribbean. That scene, like those in many other dark rides are, well, dark. But that’s also not how the scene looks as you go through.
I shot this on my Pentax K-x at f5.6, ISO 6400, 1/50 sec. About the only thing I got right there was the shutter speed. But I wanted to see if I could improve the photo. And you can, depending what software you use, by bumping things like exposure (and as it turns out, lots of other settings). And that’s where the noise will show up. Sure enough, check this out:
This is how it looks when I apply the “Auto Tone” Lightroom preset. The good news is I can see what’s in the scene. The bad news is there’s WAY too much noise, or the image really is fine and you had a few too many when drinking around the world at EPCOT last night. Maybe not – this is because I shot at ISO 6400. Should’ve tried 3200, among other things. But hey, it’s not as if I can just hop in the car and run back over to the park for another try at it. Trust me when I say I’ll be ready next time, whenever that is.
I’ll save you the rest of the Lightroom work, but here’s the photo after I’d done everything I could with it:
Not too bad, really, considering the circumstances. But I wanted to see if I could do more. Enter Noiseless Pro. Here I decided to open the file while in Lightroom. This takes me over to Noiseless Pro, where I can start editing. As far as I know, Noiseless Pro will open RAW files for most cameras – I’ve used it on Pentax and Nikon RAW files, so I’ve had no problems there.
Noiseless Pro opened the file, and after processing, selected the “Strong” noise reduction algorithm shown at right. But you don’t have to stick with that – you can step it up, or down, depending on what you’d like to try. Here, I went with “Extreme” because I know I have a lot of noise, and really I’m just curious to see if this software can dig me out of the hole I dug for myself.
Check out the split screen – on the left, it shows the zoomed in image as it came from Lightroom, and on the right, the image after applying the noise reduction I selected. Pretty good, considering.
Now I’ll zoom out and see how this looks. Notice the line running vertically – you can use that slider to see the before and after, and even reposition it from the split screen default. I think I like this one better than what I had in Lightroom, so I’m gonna keep it. When I click “Apply” at the upper right, it’s going to save what I’ve done.
After going through all this, I have the option of not keeping any of the changes I’ve made – and another great Lightroom feature is the edits you make are non-destructive (your original photo file stays the same) and you can go back and start over. Here, Noiseless Pro will save the file as a .tif and send it back to Lightroom.
Here’s the final file, exported from Lightroom as a .JPG:
I’ll leave the final verdict to you, but the time and money spent was worth it just to make something better out of this and some other shots from that trip. Noiseless Pro is $59.99 as a stand alone program, but MacPhun has bundled their products into a Creative Kit that’s $149.99. I own two other MacPhun apps, and I can tell you firsthand everything I’ve bought from them is first rate.
I hope this helps you work on your noisy photos! But at the same time, I’m always looking for suggestions on other methods I can use to improve my photography and post processing. Please send us your tips!