Is Noise in Photos Always a Bad Thing?

Search the internet for photography articles about noise, and almost universally, they will be about how to reduce it in your photos. But is noise always a bad thing? This interesting video discusses why it might not always be bad and why you might want to embrace it at times. 

Coming to you from James Popsys, this great video discusses the virtues of noise in photographs. From a technical aspect, we generally try to minimize noise. However, one common mistake I see people make is sacrificing too much shutter speed for the sake of a lower ISO. Without a doubt, a sharp photo with noise is always better than a blurry photo without noise. However, it goes beyond just a technical argument to one of aesthetics. To say that noise is always bad contains within it the implication that noise is universally an aesthetic detriment to a photo, and personally, the more I stop and think about it, the more that seems like a rather unfounded sweeping statement. Surely, there are times when noise can be integral to very mood or character of a photo, and without it, the image just doesn't have the same impact. Check out the video above for Popsys' full thoughts. 

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Deleted Account's picture

Is ‘noise’ even a thing now? In the days of cameras that had issues over 400iso, ok. Now though? I see more noise, sorry,’‘grain” added to processed images than sensors produce.

Spy Black's picture

When conditions mandate it, I've never bothered to bat an eye at noise, even in the film days. If I needed Fuji 1600 pushed a stop, that's what I did. It's either that or not get a potential shot.

The funny thing for me is how well you have it in the digital age. People say all sorts of crap about it, but the worst digital noise image today will allow you to shoot stuff I could only dream of in the film days. I push an M4/3 camera(!) to 12,800 all the time, and still have better noise, dynamic range, color, and accutance than anything I could have ever gotten on film.

Rod Kestel's picture

I've definitely made the mistake of blowing shutter speed for ISO but more relaxed about it now.

Here's a photo my wife took on a compact camera where the noise is fine (sorry don't know the ISO) unless you want to crop.

Is that in Bradford on Avon by any chance?

Stick to FF

It used to bother me a lot, but not anymore

Noise is NEVER desirable in a captured image since it represents random data and detracts from the actual image's 'true' information. In the final output one can add noise (or grain) back as an aesthetic choice- not one that is forced upon you by a camera's less than pristine output. You can always degrade an image- never retrieve original data that is lost because of noise (or compression or poor focus).

It's like most things: it is bad when it is unwanted. It's rarely - if ever - tolerable in macro.

I'd rather add grain in post and fully control the amount than allow the randomness of the camera's ISO settings to dictate it.

I am waiting for the photo fashion world to swivel yet again and declare "Noise is the best thing ever!" Similar to the place shallow DOF now holds.

Rashad Hurani's picture

I look even further: blurriness will be fashionable soon: look how blurry is this picture!

Rashad Hurani's picture

Noise is like redundant talk, sometimes it's nice to have, sometimes it's not

Drew Pluta's picture

Spends the entire video dismissing "not a big deal" then glosses over some really big deals. If you want some extremely silly and obvious fallacious arguments, this is the video you've been looking for!

If i'm shooting product shots, then I don't want any noise. Otherwise, in my daily photos, or vacation photos it doesn't bother me if it's within reason. I shoot more film than digital, so i'm kinda used to film grain anyway.