REMOVE NOISE FROM THE BACKGROUND. So far I have talked about things to do in the field. This post concerns 'post processing': what you do on your computer after having taken a photo; the digital equivalent of developing film.


I rarely use a tripod, and often photograph birds in dark rainforest understory. This inevitably entails using a high ISO which produces a lot of noise. How to deal with this? I have found that if I process the noise out of the background, especially the parts of the background that are naturally blurred, that my eye does not interpret a photo as being unduly noisy.


Check out this photo of a Black-crowned Pitta from Borneo and see if you agree. This was taken at 4000 ISO, and before I worked on it, the background looked like a thousand mini checker boards. This trick amounts to an optical illusion. Your eye interprets and forgives noise on a bird as being feather detail, but won't do the same for noise in the background.


In this post, I won't go into great detail about how exactly to remove noise from the background, though I will say that doing this is always time-consuming; it's the most time-consuming part of processing an image for me. There is a great tool in Adobe Photoshop CC that intelligently selects the subject of your photo. It's never perfect without some adjustments, but it does save lots of time. After selecting your subject, you can refine the selection, then select the inverse, which will be everything except the bird. Once you have your background selected, there are many different ways of removing noise, but I won't open that can of worms either. For today, I'm just highlighting the power of differentially removing noise from the background. If you have so far restricted yourself to basic editing stuff, this might be the next technique to consider adding to your post-processing skill set. It certainly helps me to get the most out of my images.