It’s a great time to be a photographer, whether you’re just starting out and really have no idea what you’re doing, or you’re a seasoned professional looking to try something new.
The equipment is better than ever, making even entry-level bodies better than what the previous generation started with. Software options make cataloging and processing your photos faster and less destructive, so you can revisit things for years and breathe new life into old photos.
It’s the time of year when I find myself on the sidelines at my high school alma mater, watching my oldest daughter’s high school games with a camera in hand. Shooting high school games is often an exercise in frustration – high school stadiums just aren’t as well (or evenly lit) as college or pro fields.
This is where the upgraded hardware starts to help. I shoot with awith a attched. It’s not a cheap rig – around $4,200 when I bought it. It’s a good mid-range option that definitely gets the job done. But shooting at night, in bright light, led me to figure out how to trade in my $1,800 lens for , which would allow me to retain the faster shutter speeds (crucial for freezing motion in sports photography) while using a lower ISO, which would eliminate much of the noise you’ll see in night shots . This best lens, however, costs around $2,800. That’s a jump of about 75%.
But we can do a lot with software these days. For the past two years, I’ve used Adobe Lightroom to get things as good as possible. There was still a lot of noise in the photos, but they were usable.
As tends to happen when you mention out loud that you’re a semi-professional photographer, I started getting inundated with ads and influencers for all sorts of presets and pre-recorded actions and stuff which promise to magically make your photos look better and your editing process easier and will essentially turn you into the next Annie Leibovitz overnight. It’s an impossibility – you have to spend your time being bad to get better.
But there was one tool I definitely wanted to try at least, just to test the claim. Topaz Labs was one such company whose ads called out to me, especially its DeNoise AI app, available for Windows and Mac. The selling point? “Eliminate noise while recovering true detail to achieve the best possible image quality in your high ISO and low light photos.” My night football photos fit this definition.
Again, I’m skeptical of a lot of things, especially when you start seeing Instagram ads and influencer affiliate codes. And no software is going to fix a photo that’s just bad from the start. And I was about to add another layer of complexity to my editing process, and I’m not a fan of editing. I want to get in and out as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, it has a free trial. So I had nothing to lose, except maybe several hundred dollars more for a more expensive lens that might not give me the result I was hoping for. (Contrary to what my brain often thinks, new gear isn’t always the answer.)
With the free trial installed, I went to work. And the results have been nothing short of spectacular. I don’t know anything about the AI models involved (or if it’s actually AI, for that matter), and I don’t care. The simple fact is that it took a noisy photo and cleaned it up way better than I expected. There are five models to choose from: Standard, Clear, Low Light, Loud Noise, and RAW. You can preview them together to figure out what you like best, then tweak things from there. (More processing isn’t always the answer you want, and a little noise never killed anyone.)
Or, as I often do after a few chilly hours on the sidelines, you can just let the program do its thing and call it a day. That’s your call, and you still need to figure out where to integrate DeNoise AI into your workflow. (I let it batch the exported jpegs at the end.) And that’s not always a quick process. I’ve seen it do its magic on an image in just seconds, or over half a minute. It depends. So I run it and come back in a few moments, depending on how many shots are in progress.
However, the end result is undeniable. What I ended up with is something I’m happiest parents downloading and sharing, and I did it for less than $100.
I still want that f/2.8 lens, though.
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