Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Tony Rizzuto Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:07:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What’s that NOISE? Part 1 Wed, 09 Apr 2014 21:00:35 +0000 READ MORE >]]> It’s pretty likely that you’ve at least heard about noise in digital photos. I’d also be willing to bet that you’ve got a few images in your archive that are great examples of this artifact, but do you really know what causes it? I would imagine that most of you answered “yes” but how about if I tell you that there are three different types of noise and three different causes…now what’s your answer?

In these two posts I’ll go over the three causes of noise and the three solutions.

Cause #1: High ISO

This is the one that you’ve definitely experienced. We all use high ISO’s when we are forced to shoot in low light situations but still need fast shutter speeds. Even if you don’t use manual exposure, your camera will automatically boost the ISO when shooting on Auto Exposure or using the scene modes.

Here’s something you may not know:  when you shoot at a high ISO you’re actually UNDEREXPOSING your image.  Seems strange, huh?  Your images don’t look underexposed because your camera amplifies the signal after you take the photo to make it look brighter.  This isn’t too different from listening to a recording in which someone is speaking very softly; you turn it up to hear it better.

Here’s where the problem starts…your camera’s sensor has a specific amount of noise that is always present but usually the amount of signal (your exposure) is so much greater than this noise that you don’t see it. When you don’t have a lot of signal and your camera amplifies it (turns it up) you are also amplifying the noise as well.

Imagine in that same example of the person speaking softly there is a fan on in the background. The noise of the fan is much more quiet than the person but when you turn the recording up to hear the person better the fan gets louder too. You can easily imagine that if the fan stays on and the person speaks more and more softly the difference between their voice and the fan gets smaller. As their voice gets more quiet it gets closer to the volume of the fan which means it will be harder to distinguish their voice from the noise.

So how does this relate to ISO again? The higher you set your ISO the more you are underexposing your image (less signal) and the more your camera has to turn up the signal. As you underexpose the image more and more you are dropping the level of the signal closer and closer to the level of the noise so when your camera amplifies things the noise becomes as apparent as the signal. That’s why you see more noise in your images as your ISO gets higher.


There are several things you can do to prevent or minimize the appearance of high ISO noise.

#1  Shoot at the lowest ISO you can get away with in every situation. Seems like a no brainer but I see people shooting at ISO’s that are much higher than necessary all the time. Remember to check that setting often.

#2  Turn OFF high ISO noise reduction if you use post processing software. The tiny little computer in your camera attempts to get rid of noise by smearing over it to smooth it out. Unfortunately it also softens details and creates strange artifacts in the process. The processor in your computer combined with post processing software are much better suited to the task of removing high ISO noise, especially if you shoot RAW. Lightroom and Photoshop do a remarkable job of removing ISO related noise. In Lightroom, use the Luminance slider in the Detail Panel to remove High ISO noise. Be careful, if you go too far things will look like they’re made of plastic!  Check out Fig 1 and Fig 2 to see what an incredible job you can do with RAW images.

Fig 1 Fig 2

#3  Use your tripod and longer shutter speeds. In situations where you don’t need to freeze subject motion your tripod is your best friend.  It will control camera movement during the exposure while your longer shutter speed will give you the right exposure in low light.

#4  Get a new camera!  I knew you were looking for a reason to buy a new body so I thought I’d give you permission. Really, I’m kidding, but you should know that all cameras are not created equal and you should know the limits of your camera. Newer cameras, especially those with larger sensors and low megapixel counts perform much better at high ISOs. My Nikon D3s is a great example of a camera that is exceptional at these ISO’s. Look at how well it performs at 6400 ISO (fig 3) and prepare to pick your jaw up off the floor once the noise is removed (fig 4).

Fig 4 Fig 5

In my next post I’ll cover two other types of noise and how to overcome the resulting nastiness.

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Important First Steps Thu, 06 Mar 2014 23:35:24 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Have you ever noticed how seemingly small decisions we make at the beginning of a process can have a large impact on everything we do from there on out? Well that’s probably the case in your photography. There’s a little camera setting working against you if you are a JPEG shooter and a software setting to be aware of as a RAW shooter.

Canon calls it Picture Style and Nikon calls it Picture Control. Choosing a picture style is a lot like picking a film to load in your old film camera; different films had different looks and the same is true for these in-camera presets. Like it or not, a picture style is being chosen for you when you shoot a JPEG or when you process your RAW images. These picture styles will increase or decrease color saturation, contrast, sharpness and tint by differing amounts to make your images “pop” but beware…what makes one subject look amazing will cause problems with another.

Scroll through the Picture Style menu and you’ll see options like LandscapePortrait, Standard and Neutral. Each of these options will permanently alter your JPEGs in the following ways. (RAW Shooters, this will apply to you once you get your image into Lightroom so keep reading!)

Fig 1

Landscape: Dramatically increases color saturation, contrast and sharpness to add drama and life to your landscapes.

Portrait: Decreases sharpness slightly and increases color saturation slightly to smooth skin and give it a healthy color.

Camera Standard: Boosts saturation and sharpness slightly to give your images that little oomph that they often need.

Neutral: Reduces contrast and saturation to produce images that are closest to what your eye sees.

Check out the following portrait with the different presets applied. Pay special attention to the texture and brightness (or darkness) of her skin and hair.

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Did you pick a favorite? Great! But remember that if you’re shooting JPEG, these changes are permanent and once you’ve lost information in a JPEG it can be very difficult to get back. So, as a rule, I would suggest that you use the preset that gets you closest to what you want without going too far. For example, in the above image shot on neutral or portrait, you could further darken her hair and alter her skin slightly in post-processing to give it the love that it needs. If, however, you shot it on standard or landscape it would be increasingly difficult to pull that detail back out of her hair and darken her ever-brightening skin. The takeaway? In-camera settings are permanently applied to your JPEGs so choose wisely!

So what’s different about shooting RAW when it comes to Picture Styles? Well….nothing and everything. When you shoot RAW the Picture Style affects only what you’re seeing on the back of your camera since what you’re seeing is a JPEG preview and your photo editing software will discard the picture style once the image is in your computer. (Canon’s or Nikon’s proprietary software are exceptions to this.) This explains why when you shoot RAW you may have an image that looks great on the back of your camera but it looks flat and lifeless when you put it in Lightroom. Your camera preview includes the picture style adjustment and your computer’s initial preview does not.

When you import your RAW images into Lightroom or open them in Photoshop’s RAW converter (ACR) a generic picture style called Adobe Standard is applied to your image. Adobe Standard can be thought of as general adjustment created by Adobe to work for all cameras in most situations. I tend to stay away from generic, jack-of-all-trade settings and instead favor those that work best for specific images.

In my mind, the secret starting point for working on RAW images in Lightroom or Photoshop is a menu called “Camera Calibration.” Within this menu is a set of profiles created by Adobe to emulate your in-camera Picture Styles. I don’t make any adjustments to my images until I’ve finished choosing the best profile.

Go to the bottom right hand panel within the develop module of Lightroom to make your selection. Here you will see Landscape, Neutral, Portrait, Camera Standard and others depending on the specific camera you used. If you are viewing a Canon RAW file you will see Canon’s presets and with your Nikon files you’ll see Nikon’s presets.

Calibration Canon Calibration Nikon

When choosing a profile for my image I’ll select the one that affects the photograph in favorable ways without going too far. Look at the following close ups of the portrait with different presets applied. You’ll see that in some cases, the hair is so dark that it would be hard to recover detail and the skin is so light that it’s lost texture.

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Or in the images of the Parliament Building in Victoria, B.C. you will see that based on your taste and how dramatic you want the photograph to feel, Neutral or Camera Standard may be the best place to start.

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Once I’ve established the starting point for my post-processing I’ll then go through the rest of the develop settings and work on my image. As with JPEGs, beware, just because a preset looks great on one image doesn’t mean that it will be the best choice for another. Start with the right preset and add enhancements from there instead of trying to undo problems created by making the wrong choice.

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You can find out more about Nikon and Canon’s Picture Controls by clicking the following links.

Nikon site Picture Controls:

Canon site Picture Styles:


Want to learn more from Tony Rizzuto?

Visit his profile page and check out the rest of his RMSP offerings in 2014!



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Why I Love Weekends Wed, 05 Feb 2014 22:03:46 +0000 READ MORE >]]> For most people, weekends are a time to relax and unwind from the workweek. For me it’s when I get to work … and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Every year between January and April I take to the road. Friends and family get my voicemail as I get to trek around the country teaching RMSP’s Photo Weekends. This year I will be in Bend, OR, Albany, NY, Tempe, AZ and eight other cities in between.

“Weekends” are easy to get excited about as they’re equal parts education and inspiration. I like to think of these events as drinking through a photography fire hose. The photographers who join us in each city are treated to two days of non-stop photography education on diverse topics while seeing beautiful images and getting the scoop on how to create them.

The classes offered during each Photo Weekend are geared toward students of all experience levels and interests, and everyone leaves feeling like they got more than they bargained for.  Participants that have been shooting for years and have taken other seminars – even college level courses – often approach me during the breaks and say that for the first time they’ve really gotten it!  And for those who are brand new to photography, the basics are covered in depth. After Saturday’s sessions are over, many newcomers tell me they are ready to hit the ground running. We definitely don’t hold back on providing lots of information!

Curious to know what sort of things are covered on a Photo Weekend? Here are a couple of skim-the-surface sneak peeks for you. I will go more in depth with these concepts at the event.

In weekends I find it helpful to explore concepts individually and then show people how to put those concepts together.  It sure works for f-stops and shutter speeds but it’s fun to do in my composition class as well.  For example you may have heard that areas of sharpness or contrast in a photograph can draw the viewers’ eye and that warm colors, specific proportions or light and dark tones can influence the way your photograph feels, but how about thinking of them all together?  Here’s an example that I show in class that demonstrates all of those concepts in one photograph.


In the Understanding Light class I discuss the different properties of light and help students take control so their photos have that magic quality!  One of my favorite times of day to shoot is civil twilight because of the magic it creates.  Below is a set of photos I use to demonstrate how much a scene can change between daylight and civil twilight.



Myself, and all of the Photo Weekend instructors are working professional photographers that love sharing their passion by teaching the art and craft of photography. Whether you’re interested in the photography of people, landscape, macro or just need to improve your exposures and compositions, my colleagues and I have the real world experience to pass on what we know. More important however, we all have the desire to convey what we know.

Whether you’re just getting into photography, want to fill in the gaps in your photographic knowledge or need a healthy dose of inspiration, I hope to see you on the road this season. I would love for you to join me at any of the Photo Weekends listed below. If I am not teaching in your area, I encourage you to join one of my fellow instructors. A complete list of RMSP 2014 Photo Weekends can be seen here.

Charleston, SC    Jan 11th & 12th

Spokane, WA    Jan 18th & 19th

Clearwater, FL    Jan 25th & 26th

Bozeman, MT    Feb 8th & 9th

Bellingham, WA   Feb 15th & 16th

Tempe, AZ    Feb 22nd & 23rd

Albany, NY    Mar 1st-2nd

Dearborn, MI    Mar 8th & 9th

Bend, OR    Mar 15th & 16th

Dallas, TX    Mar 22nd & 23rd

Rapid City, SD    Mar 29th & 30th

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Should I Take Basic or Intermediate? Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:25:41 +0000 READ MORE >]]> 2014CourseCatalog-CoverHooray, the new RMSP catalog is out! But now it’s time to make some important decisions.

This time of year we get emails from people wanting to know which workshop they should take. Tough choice, I know; so many workshops…so few vacation days. When someone asks about my favorite workshops, I always mention our Foundation Series. I love these workshops because of the never-ending stream of light bulb moments that make up each day.

I’m fortunate to be teaching a few of these workshops in the coming year and find that the biggest question from prospective students is “Should I take Basic or Intermediate?” I’ll put my personal bias aside long enough to offer up a bit of advice. Both workshops are designed to build a solid photographic foundation and each workshop achieves this through a model of repetition, application and feedback. A typical day includes a lecture, a guided field shoot and critique of your work. Days are full, but time flies as you do nothing but focus on your photography. Students leave with a renewed sense of confidence and enthusiasm.

Sounds good, right? So how do you decide? Below, I’ll briefly describe the workshops as I see ‘em. A few of the main concepts covered in each workshop will be in bold. If these are new concepts for you, then that workshop may just be the right fit. If the concepts are things you know about, then give yourself a high five and move on to the next one.

The Basic Photography Workshop is where it all starts. If you’re new to photography look no further, this is the first block in your photographic pyramid. F-stops and Shutter Speeds will be demystified and you’ll be using your camera in Manual Exposure Mode by the second day! You’ll learn about how to control Depth of Field and Focus as well as how shutter speed affects movement. Need to understand the difference between JPEG and RAW or struggling with the basics of White Balance? This workshop has you covered. The main focus of this week is taking control of your camera and getting consistently good exposures and sharp images. You’ll learn why your camera continually gives you exposures that just don’t cut it and how to outsmart your camera to get better photographs. And if you are already familiar with some of these concepts but lack the confidence to consistently utilize them manually – meaning using your brain rather than relying on the camera’s very limited computer brain – this may be the way to go for you to help solidify your understanding.

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If you’re comfortable with f-stops and shutter speeds and have successfully used your camera in Manual Exposure mode, then the Intermediate Photography Workshop is the one for you. We start with a simplified version of the Zone System for Exposure: a method that allows you to get the perfect exposure 100% of the time without a grey card! The rest of the week will be devoted to applying your new found exposure knowledge while learning new styles of photography and growing creatively. An in-depth Composition lecture will help you elevate your photographs from snapshots to images that get that “wow” reaction while a Macro lecture and shoot will have you exploring small worlds filled with color and detail. Need to know what to do when the sun goes down? A Low Light and Night lecture will teach you shooting strategies, advanced White Balance and creative techniques that will keep you shooting well past the daylight hours.

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Need to step your photography up a notch? Look no further! Each week will have you feeling inspired, energized and confident. I hope this helped, and we can’t wait to see you on one of our Foundation Workshops!

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