I'm sure that this has been covered many times throughout the history of the blog section, but I was so excited over the fact that these images of a bunch of homemade cupcakes taken during a very impromptu office party were accepted.
These cupcakes were made by four trainees (ok, it's more like one of them spent an entire evening baking while the other three pulled a few greens out of their pockets for the ingredients and just watched), and each one of the cupcakes measured around 4 centimeters in diameter. Therefore, I pulled out my SAL50M28 to get as close as possible to these sugary, tooth decaying treats to try to make them look larger than life.
I had a few obstacles:
1) I had no flash set-up in the office.
2) I'm using the Sony a550 that although handles noise very well up to ISO 1600, the amount of artificial light available in the office was simply not enough for me to shoot at the lowest sensitivities (between 200 to 400)
3) Everyone wanted to get their hands on these cupcakes the second they saw them in the pantry.
So, I set the my a550's ISO to auto, set the EV to +1.3 and twisted the head of my flash backward to try to get the best light exposure. What I've failed to remember was that Sony cameras will swing between ISO 200 and ISO 1600 (the higher limit is not adjustable) to get the best shuttle speed. With the DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) set to auto, the camera has set the LV value between LV3 and LV4.
Imagine you are shooting a scene so dim with so much contrast and your DSLR is trying to give you that bright, colorful stock photo look.
The end result was a total disaster. I didn't see the blotchy, colorful chroma noise patterns creeping out of the shadows of both images until Dreamstime sent me a message telling me that there was nothing wrong with my subject / composition, just that my pictures were very very noisy. And they were.
So, following Dreamstime's advice, I downloaded this free image noise reduction software called NeatImage. The installation is a bit odd if you are using a new OS such as Windows 7, but the software seems to be running fine on my Windows 7 32 bit Home Premium. The noise reduction process was fairly direct: You import the image, you create your camera's noise profile using part of the image (at least 128x128 pixels) containing identical chroma and luminance information (not easy to find since most of the pictures we compose do not contain large areas of identical CMYK or RGB values), and you play with the sliders to control chroma noise reduction and luminance noise reduction seperately, decide on how much information you are willing to sacrifice, and then click the "Apply" button to process the image. The finalized image can then be saved as a new file wherever you choose. It is usually not necessary to apply luminance noise reduction because grains actually make your photos look good, whereas chroma noise reduction is usually very helpful in cleaning up color blotches in shadows and grey areas.
For a free software, the noise reduction algorithm runs surprisingly fast (each of my 14 megalpixel JPEG files took less than 15 seconds to process) even on a netbook (1.66 GHz, Intel Atom with 2GB RAM). I can only imagine how much faster the software will run on a real laptop or desktop.
So after a few tries, my cupcake images were finally accepted, and although they probably will end up in the free section one day, I'm happy to have discovered this useful, yet free noise reduction software.
More information on handling noise can be found here.
Happy shooting everyone, and let there be light :)