Creativity Exercise: 5 tips for incredible high ISO color photography

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

This month, we’re going to shoot images at ISO 3200 or higher. If your camera doesn’t go up to ISO 3200, then shoot at the highest ISO available. If your camera happens to handle high ISO remarkably well (I’m talking to you, fellow D4 owners), embrace the spirit of the exercise and push yourself outside of the comfort zone with ISO 6400, 12800, and beyond. And remember – high ISO doesn’t have to be confined to low light work; set a high ISO in standard lighting, then incorporate extreme depth of field or a very high shutter speed. You might find that it opens up some new creative opportunities!

high iso color photography creative exercise tutorial
*image by Lisa Benemelis ‘kemakida’ ISO 10000

Seems like a pretty simple challenge, right? I know what you’re thinking – and you’re planning to convert to black and white, aren’t you? Monochrome is a popular choice for high ISO processing, partly because the inherent artsiness of black and white seems more forgiving, and partly because black and white conversion tends to unify and minimize noise. For the purposes of this month’s exercise, however, not only are you to shoot at high ISO settings, but you are prohibited from converting your images to monochrome.

With that in mind, consider these tips when shooting high ISO color images:

1. Expose to the right

The richest digital image data is captured in the right side of the histogram, which is why (as long as you don’t blow any channels) you can always deepen your exposure in post processing without sacrificing image quality, but once you have to increase your exposure in post processing, the quality degrades. You might be surprised how clean high ISO images can actually be if you pull down – rather than lifting – the luminance of the photo. If you’re not familiar with ETTR, a quick search on Clickin Moms or Google will yield a host of tutorials and discussions.

2. Nail your white balance

Nailing your white balance in camera is always helpful for consistently beautiful color photography, but even photographers who do fine with color in daylight often have a hard time with artificial light at night. If you are planning to work in after-hours low light, odds are that your light source consists of artificial light bulbs, which commonly produce light at a color temperature of about 3000K. Set accurate white balance in camera accordingly before you begin shooting.

3. Remove color noise only

Applied skillfully, noise reduction can be very helpful in polishing the appearance of a high-ISO image, but overaggressive noise reduction can yield a muddy, painterly effect. Instead of general NR, try removing the color noise only; this will greatly improve the photo’s appearance without significantly smudging the details. In Lightroom, color and luminance noise are controlled by two different sliders and can easily be applied separately; in Photoshop, there are number of methods, but my favorite (and perhaps the simplest) is this: duplicate your photo on a new layer, run a Gaussian Blur just strong enough to blur out the noise, and change the layer’s blend mode to Color.

4. Add grain in post processing

As mentioned previously, film grain is regarded as vastly more appealing than is digital noise. Film grain can, of course, be applied during post processing to any photo, but I find it particularly helpful in masking and improving the appearance of digital noise in high-ISO photographs. Both Lightroom and Photoshop have grain filters that emulate the appearance of film grain.

5. Consider the mood

High ISO images often seem grittier, moodier, or more raw than their low-ISO counterparts. How can you use that to your advantage? Would certain subjects, emotions, or stories be captured more effectively if presented in this way?

Let’s see what you’ve got! Remember, for the purposes of this exercise, the image must be shot at a high ISO and kept in color!

editors choice!

Clickin Moms editors choice award for creative photography exercise

Congratulations to the ladies below whose photographs were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices!

Danielle ‘nellie_m’ ISO 3200:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Samantha Covert ‘samcovert’ ISO 2500:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Aimee McNamee ‘amcnamee’ ISO 4000:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Keely Owendoff ‘keelyo’ ISO 4000:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Dana Lauder ‘dlauder’ ISO 6400:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Kristen Ryan ‘kjlryan’ ISO 10159:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Corinne Tristram ‘aussiet’ ISO 12800:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Mabel ‘mavie’ ISO 6400:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Erin Wagnild ‘erinbeth’ ISO 5000:

high iso color photography creativity exercise tutorial

Thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!  We love seeing all the beautiful imagery!

Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise?  Visit the forum here where Sarah has challenged us with the theme “Your Significant Other“.  Don’t have a membership to Clickin Moms yet?  Head on over here to sign up!  You can still participate in this ‘High ISO Color Photography’ challenge by either visiting the forum here or sharing with us in the comments below.  We’d love to see your work!

free creative photography exercises by Sarah Wilkerson for Clickin Moms


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