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STOPPING BIRDS IN FLIGHT MOVEMENT BY BUMPING ISO - PART 2


In Part 1 of this discussion, we found that it's best to try and get a shutter speed of at least 1/2000th of a second to try and freeze an animal moving, espeically birds in flight. To obtain a fast shutter speed, it's okay to bump the ISO up a good bit, even as much as 800 during the day and even more as the sun is setting where I have gone as high as 6400 for a sunrise or sunset shot.

Here, in Part 2, we go over the resulting consequences of higher ISO and how to get rid of any noise it introduces to a shot.

During my 2013 northern lights workshop series, one person had a concern about using a higher ISO as she had some photos that even with a lower ISO had a bit of noise in the sky, even with shots taken during the day. We pulled out her computer and with the photo in question we played around with some post processing and much to her amazement the noise disappeared and she went happily along her way knowing she could go back to a lot of nice shots and with a tweak here and there have some even better results.

The image below was shown in the last Digital Corner but is a perfect example of how we can eliminate noise. This was shot at ISO 6400, 1/5000, -2/3 EV. When shooting at sunrise and sunset with nice colors in the sky I like to under expose to both get a little more shutter speed along with helping saturate the colors more. This shot is the final result after doing a little bit of work in Adobe Camera Raw, my program of choice.

bosque sunrise snow goose flight photo


Luminance is a feature found in both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom that will help eliminate noise created due to the use of long exposures and / or high ISO. Besides these two programs, plug-ins from Noise Ninja and Nik also work well. In ACR, the noise reduction features are found in the Detail section, which conveniently contains both Sharpening and Noise Reduction. In Lightroom the Detail panel is found in the Develop module. The first thing to do upon entering this page is to increase the image size to 100% so that all work is shown at the full size. Most noise is not visible at screen views less than this.

Apply Sharpening to your liking before using Luminance. When sharpening a photo that has a bit of noise, I will increase the Amount slider until a bit more noise starts being added then I stop. I then do the same with the Detail slider. In the Noise Reduction section, drag the Luminance slider until the noise disappears and then back it off a little bit. Adjust the Luminance Detail slider to preference. This is where things get a little touchy as using too much Luminance Detail has a tendency to interfere with the sharpening done previously. It’s worth seeing how far the Detail sliders can be pushed to decrease noise. If there’s any color noise, dial up the Color slider until that disappears.

We’re trying to avoid two things: too much noise in the pixels (some is okay, as long as it is not color noise), and sharpening impacts that produce visible halos at the edges of subjects.

With color noise reduction you may introduce saturation issues, color blending, and other problems related to the color values within the image. With luminance noise reduction you can dramatically reduce the level of detail and perceived sharpness within the image. So noise reduction is best applied to the minimum amount necessary to get acceptable results.

Tip: Once you determine the Luminance Detail setting for any given camera and ISO value save those: pick Save Settings (in the tab name bar), select as a subset Detail, then save these under a name like 5DIII_ISO2500. Next time a convert from this combo is done use Load Settings and it should be fine. Even with loading settings like this, it’s best to do a 100% view evaluation to double-check but more often than not the settings will work fine.

Below is the screen shot of the Sharpening and Noise Reduction panel after the adjustments were made. Some adjustments to Saturation, Vibrance and Clarity were also performed. After the screen shot are the before and after showing a bit of noise in the top corner of the image and then after the adjustments were made. The results here are not quite as evident as they will be on your own computer but knowing how to reduce the noise will help save a lot of images for you in the future.

florida roseatte spoonbill photo

bosque sandhill crane photo

florida snowy egret photo

The less light there is and the sharper you want the image, some experimenting can take place, especially if you have a newer camera body that's capable of handling very high ISO. Wanting to see what my 5D Mark III body could really do at extreme ISO, I went as high as 6400 while in Bosque and the shot below shows that it does quite well at that high level. I could have gone a bit lower as the shutter speed was 1/5000th but the detail that resulted showed it was more than worth the extra shutter speed. Lots of birds in flight techniques will be discussed during my two workshops to Bosque del Apache later that year. There are still a couple of spots available if you're interested in seeing what you can do with birds. The Florida trip in late March also has space as well.

As you can see, there is no perfect answer for for the first part of the conversation, but with what cameras can do now, I would say it's safe to use most any camera at around 400 or 500 ISO in order to get as fast of shutter speed as possible, preferably at least 1/2000th of a seccond. You can never have too fast a shutter speed when it comes to freezing the movement of wildlife. Part 2 will talk about any resulting noise that comes with using a higher ISO and how to get rid of it. Detailed step instructrions will be covered.


bosque sunrise snow goose flight photo
12 image panorama - exposure set for gold trees in foreground