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Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 12:32 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Once upon a time, photographers used this material called "film." It was a sort of chemically-coated stuff that was sensitive to light and you put it in a camera, much like our modern cameras, except that instead of reading back the picture files, you exposed the film stuff to light, and then "developed" it by submerging it in more chemicals which caused pictures to appear on it. No one's sure how: we think it may have been the work of pixies.

But in any event, this "film" thing came in a huge variety of sizes, sensitivities, color balances, and so forth. One interesting thing about it was that the chemicals on the film were particulate: they were made of little grains of stuff. (Possibly "pixie dust.") The bigger the grains, the more sensitive the film was to light (because it was more likely that a photon would hit a larger grain than a smaller one) but when the pixies developed the picture, the larger "grains" were more distinct than smaller ones and caused a certain amount of what we now call "noise."

"Aha!" you may be thinking. "This sounds sort of like what happens when I use the 'ISO Equivalence' setting on my camera!" Excellent thinking, and quite correct. Well done. In fact, our "ISO Equivalence" settings are derived from a comparison of the sensitivity of the sensor at a particular setting to the "ISO Number" of the film material. History may not repeat herself, but she often rhymes.

Now here is the thing, gentle reader, here is the thing:

Many of history's greatest photographs were created on this film stuff. And, because of the primitive nature of the chemistry involved, often the noise caused by the grain size was quite large and noticeable.

But nobody minded.

Or at least, not much. Because a good photograph is a good photograph and a great photograph is a treasure unto the ages. Yes, it would be nice if the picture was a little sharper and a little less noisy, in some ways. But in other ways, it gives an image character, definition, reality. And in other ways, it's just not important at all.

Now in our modern era with near-total control of almost unlimited amounts of light, digital signal processors, and other blessings of technology, everyone seems to expect every image to be sharp, noise-free, and perfect in all other ways.

This is foolishness.

Sometimes, it is just too dark, or the light available too uncertain. Sometimes, the subject is just moving too fast. We cannot change the laws of physics: the light available is the light available, the speed of the subject is the speed of the subject. Perhaps one day we will have interpolative technology that will turn our cameras into as much image generator as image recorder, but today is not that day. Nor, most likely, is tomorrow.

Do not bemoan image noise, dear friend. Do not dismiss a beautiful image because of mere grain. Consider it in context. Do you discard La Giocanda because her paint is cracked and flaked? Do you marvel the less at Stonehenge because cruel Time has strewn its mighty plinths like so many dominoes? No, at least, not if you have the soul of an artist, or any human sense of wonder.

So let us, by all means, make our images as well as it is possible to make them. But let us not demand the impossible, nor require perfection defined as sterile, plastic images with edges that could cut diamond. Consider each image in its own light, if you will, and judge it on its power to please the eye and engage the mind.

Thank you.
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Re: Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 01:49 PM   #2 (permalink)
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That was a pretty damn good rant!

Robert

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Re: Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 02:02 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Thank you.

I was ranting as much at *myself* as at anyone else: I am printing some pictures from the fashion show I shot last week. One or two of them are quite good, but I keep catching myself thinking, "Too bad it's so noisy, it looks like crap."

No it does NOT look like crap! It's a good picture!

Well, maybe it could be better. But the mere fact that I had to shoot at ISO 800 equivalent, and therefore my pictures are a little grainy, does not make them bad pictures! I need to get past that. And to anyone who disagrees, nyaah. Nyaah, I say.

M
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Re: Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 02:30 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Maybe we need a "Show us your NOISE and GRAIN" thread. ;-)
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You want noise?
Old 02-03-2006, 02:38 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I got'cher noise right here... ISO800, UV light and some reflectors.



It got bad reviews but I like it just fine.

Chip
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Re: You want noise?
Old 02-03-2006, 02:41 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I like it too. I just tell people that I'm doomed not to be understood in my time. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/crazy.gif[/img]
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Re: Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 08:48 PM   #7 (permalink)
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As someone who is still feels an infant in this business, I have often wondered the noise aspect of many photos.
I've been told my winter photo has too much noise for the "istock" stock photo website. I never have recieved what I call an honest answer when I asked them about it.
When I print to 16x20 size I see no noise but I do see snow falling.
I've sold a few prints to individuals so I figure I did something right. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/crazy.gif[/img] [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/confused.gif[/img]

I do get confused about the whole noise issue. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/confused.gif[/img]
Nikkon FM2/ ISO 200/ f5.6/ 1/60/ no tripod
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Re: Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 09:04 PM   #8 (permalink)
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OK... so wait... the compact films turned to compact flash, and the pixies turned to pixels? Is that it???
[img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]
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Re: Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 09:27 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I'll bet the iStock people are referring to the JPEG compression artifacts in the digital file. It's nicely exposed shot at ISO200, no reason why it would have noise unless it's in the deep shadows.

Chip
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Re: Today\'s Rant: On Noise and Perfection
Old 02-03-2006, 10:13 PM   #10 (permalink)
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[ QUOTE ]
I'll bet the iStock people are referring to the JPEG compression artifacts in the digital file.

[/ QUOTE ]
I couldn't get them to give me an exact reason, so I'm not sure.
If I remember right I sent three different ways up to 300 dpi at a size of 14x11, so I don't really know. I quit sending anything to them, guess I'm doing something wrong. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/confused.gif[/img]
I'm thinking about rescanning the original neg. and doing some things different. Now that I know a little more than at that time. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]
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