Night photography post-processing: Save your test shots

Through the lunch truck -- by Joe Reifer

Through the lunch truck — by Joe Reifer

I’ve been preparing for next week’s night photography workshop at Paul’s Junkyard, and found the image above while putting together my post-processing demo. In the past, I’ve covered how to develop night photos in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. The all new post-processing demonstration for this workshop will primarily focus on making subtle adjustments to tone, color, and sharpness in Photoshop. These techniques will help workshop participants learn how to finish their images for web or print.

Notice anything different about the night photo above? This image is an ISO 6400 test shot from a Canon 5D Mark II. Noise reduction was applied in Lightroom 3. Is it a little bit noisy? Yes. But the file is fine for web use, and with a little bit of work it would make a nice print. Save those test shots! Who knows what you may be able to rescue from your archive as the post-processing software gets better and better.

Low light sensitivity and high ISO performance are improving with every new generation of digital SLRs. Will it be long before we’re doing night photography hand-held? Star trails may start to look pretty old school in the not too distant future!

4 thoughts on “Night photography post-processing: Save your test shots”

  1. Really good point about saving the test shots.

    How much NR do you typically apply in LR to an image like this? Do you sharpen a bit afterwards to compensate for the softness after NR has been applied?

    I actually really like this angle. The sky and junk through the wrecked van is amazing. It gives the shot so much character.

    1. 80% of the time I do not use any Luminance noise reduction. If I’ve underexposed, or it was warm outside, maybe 5-10% in LR3. I do use color noise reduction on every shot, regardless of ISO. Troy also does not usually use noise reduction in post-processing.

      Some experts claim that a small amount of Luminance noise reduction is helpful for even well exposed images at ISO 100 or 200. I’m not convinced. If you can’t see it in your online files, and you can’t see it in a print, why soften your image?

      1. So even at high ISO shots (ISO 800, 1600, 3200) you apply little luminance noise reduction? I know you typically don’t shot at that ISO, but sometimes to get something moving (like the Volvo) or cloud movement if it is very overcast or starry skies, you have to.

        1. I almost always shoot at ISO 200 or ISO 100 unless I’m shooting panos. If I need to bump the ISO up to ISO 800, then I will use luminance NR in LR. I typically start with 5-10%, 60-80 detail, 20-30 contrast.

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