“Drake Wood duck” by Robin Conover, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
EF 100-400 mm with a 2x converter at 800 mm,
ƒ4.5-5.6 L USM lens ISO 2000, ƒ6.3 at 800 second, Gitzo tripod
I have to admit to you all that I don’t know everything about photography, and I wouldn’t consider making that claim. I try to simultaneously keep up with ever-changing technology while remaining true to how I learned the craft. With the slide film I used for the first 15 years of my career, I had to take photos like I wanted them to appear in print with only a few options of changing anything with the exposure after processing the film.
Today, it’s a never-ending learning process just to keep up. With the continual advancements in equipment, software and just general technology, I doubt there is anyone out there who could claim they know it all.
Depending on what new photographic aspect I’m focused on at any particular time, I sometimes give myself an assignment for the day. It helps me focus my creativity and technical abilities to either create or try something new and different.
On this particular day, I knew where to find some waterfowl and thought they could provide excellent subjects. I wanted to push myself and my equipment with a higher ISO setting than normal for me so I could try out a new software — Topaz Labs DeNoise AI.
Because I learned to always shoot at the lowest ISO possible to keep the image from being too grainy or noisy, I struggle to make myself use higher ISOs. The films I once used generally ranged from ISO 50 up to 400. On rare occasions I used Kodak’s 3,200 TMAX black-and-white film to photograph sports.
ISO has a direct relationship to how much light is needed to make a correct exposure. A higher ISO speed requires less light but, in turn, increases the noise and decreases the amount of detail that can be reproduced from a slide or a negative.
Today’s digital cameras generally handle higher ISOs beautifully, and new software is making it much easier to decrease the noise in any image. In layman’s terms, a higher ISO allows a photographer to use a faster shutter speed, which can freeze the action of quickly moving subjects like birds. The tradeoff is that the higher the ISO, the more noisy the image will be. This means you can see the pixels if you look closely or make a large print.
I set up my camera with a 100–400 telephoto and put on a 2x converter. This guaranteed I would have to use a high ISO because a converter requires more light. I used a tripod to keep my movement from shaking the camera.
After initial processing with Adobe Bridge, I proceeded with DeNoise AI. I have to say that it felt a bit like cheating. As with any technology, it’s easy to overuse it and make an image look fake. I slightly overprocessed this image, making the water look too smooth to me — but the wood duck is much sharper and less noisy than in the original.
As I said, it still feels like cheating to me, but I am impressed with the results. Maybe I should view it more as expanding my skill set with new software. It is also exciting to me that the craft of photography is ever-changing. Looks like my “continuing education” won’t end anytime soon.