It’s Time We Stop Complaining About Noise at High ISOs


The year is 2014, and we as photographers have been bred to believe notions that have come from the film days and early days of digital photography. When film was king, photographers would try to not shoot with film above ISO 400 when publishing their images. And in the earliest days of digital photography, the same thing happened. But then something happened: the high ISO output became better and better. There were articles saying that ISO 1600 is the new 400.

And they were right. But at the same time something else happened. Software manufacturers started to come up with ways for you to fix that high ISO noise or even embrace it to make an image look beautiful.

The year is 2014. And we’re still bitching and complaining about high ISO noise despite the fact that the process of creating an image doesn’t stop when the camera’s shutter clicks and cocks itself back into position. In fact, it never stopped there even back in the film days. The photographer would go into the darkroom and spend time developing, pushing and pulling, or working with the images. And today is no different.

But something else has happened.

Modern image quality is so good that people sit there in awe over images from a phone. Do you realize this? A phone–with a super small sensor that creates lot of image noise when compared to a DSLR or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.

So what does that say about the rest of us?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica XE product images (6 of 10)ISO 4001-30 sec at f - 2.5

It’s time to stop complaining about High ISO noise and start using your creativity to embrace it or make it look good. Photography is an art form. It isn’t something that was designed to be looked at in labs and you probably aren’t a photographer that looks at images in labs for a living. If you are, then that’s cool. Do what you do. But instead of just sitting there and complaining about a problem, do something about it.

Quit being just a photographer and start being a creative. Make your images better by embracing the noise of your camera in your editing. There are so many different ways to do it. To add value to this post, we’re going to list a bunch of ways to make your high ISO images look better.

– Turn them into black and whites

– Add more grain in Adobe Lightroom

– Nerf the noise if you want with software

– Add a vignette and make it look better

– Find the colors that are the most noisy and nerf their luminance levels specifically. Or in the case that the noise is purple, desaturate the purples or nerf the luminance specifically

– Lower the contrast in your image and selectively boost the saturation of specific color channels to make it look better

– Don’t boost the clarity or sharpness unless you’re converting to black and white. That can never end well if you think that there is high ISO noise that is particularly bothersome to begin with.

– Try out a preset and work with the image from there.

– Don’t push the white balance and tinting too far in one direction or the other. It will create color noise. And if you really want that color, then start to work with the color channels.

– Don’t ever underestimate what Sepia tones can do for you.

Now go out there and start embracing the high ISO noise.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.