Is Noise Always Bad?

Chris Stegner

TPF Noob!
Dec 27, 2007
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Ft. Thomas, KY
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I was just cleaning up some drives, trying to get organized, and ran across some images I shot of a Balloon Glow a couple of years ago. After processing the RAW file I opened in PS and it appears to be rather noisy. Looking at it at 100% it's not so bad.

I have seen comments here saying that photos are showing to much noise. Sometimes I don't even notice it till someone comments on it.

So to my point... I know we should avoid noise, but in this case I think I have a nice capture here, does the noise really ruin the photograph? And secondly, have you ever run into this yourself? You generally like an image, but it has some noise in it. Is it a "Keeper", do you dump it right off the bat?

Here's the image I'm referring to:

Whatever noise is there doesn't really jump at me. If you are bothered by the noise, you can always do a quick run through noise-reducing software.
Uh.... what noise?

This photo has noise ;) ...


D40, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/60

And, no, noise is not always bad. Like film grain, it can add character, particularly to monochrome photos and certain subjects or categories like concerts.

I don't think it matter as much as you seem to be worrying about it. The artistic value and elements of photo (composition and lighting, mainly) are more important than the technical ones (grain/noise, resolution).

Put it this way: I have a technically perfect and clean image, but it's artistically boring and uninspiring, I'll throw it away. But if I have the perfect artistic capture and it has ISO-3200-on-the-D40 noise characteristics, I'll still keep it.

For example:


D40, ISO 3200, f/1.8, 1/5

It's noisy as heck, but the noise makes this photo.

[horn tooting off ;)]
No, we are artists and we have an artistic license. However, I was always trained that if your art is a little off what you are going for, you better make it way off. An example of this is that I used to blow glass in college and if a piece I was working on was not perfectly straight up then I would go ahead and make it really crooked. Just my two cents. Nice shots, I alwasy attend the Albq. balloon fiesta and love the night glow.
I think its important to remember that the camera has limits as to what it can do in a given situation for a given effect and with given support gear (lens, flashes, reflectors etc...)
If your in good lighting or have the means to boost local lighting (flash) or direct more light onto your subject (reflector) then you should be able to avoid having to raise your ISO in order to make a good exposure unless your really looking at very small aperture shots.
If your in poorer lighting and cant boost local lighting levels then your going to have to use the higher ISOs - at what point this becomes a problem for you is something for yourself to decide - normally a shot has to have a lot of noise to really show it at websize images where even a light noise reduction and effectivly remove the whole lot (remember images are generally around 1/3 or smaller, of their fullsize on the net). Also printing will remove a lot of noise from a shot as well so experiment and see where you noise limits are with your camera. But do remember that there are times when your going to break that rule - that is when you want the scene before you taken no matter the cost of noise in the shot

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