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Much Ado About Noise

Much Ado About Noise

Could it be that we worry too much about noise? Is the point of art to be as realistic as it can be? Sometimes—but not always!

As photographers, we wouldn’t be amazing at what we do if we didn’t have exacting attention to detail. Sometimes, though, I think we might have just a little too much attention to detail. Noise is one of those times where we might be paying too much attention. Sometimes, it seems like there is this panic to create perfectly noise-free images. And, for that matter, people will also go to incredible lengths to produce the absolute sharpest images possible.

Ultimately, this in large part boils down to money—there is a lot of money wrapped up in buying software to make the most noise-free images possible, or put into cameras and lenses that can produce the sharpest, most noise-free images that can be created.

But to my mind, this is the point where we need to stop and ask ourselves one extremely important question: What is the purpose of photography?

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Now, that is an open ended question with probably as many answers as there are people, but in this context, I think we can boil it down to two things. Either we are recreating real life with as much precision as absolutely possible, or we are creating art. I suppose those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but broadly speaking, many of us will either be documenting reality or we will be creating something artistic.

Now, if you happen to belong to that first group—the people who seek to recreate real life with as much precision as possible—then yes, perhaps removing noise and achieving perfect sharpness should be a priority. After all, you want your images to be as close to what you witnessed as possible. Along with this, you’re also probably minimally processing images, just doing what is needed to make sure that the colors and lighting are true to life.

But what of the rest of us? The overwhelming majority of us, I think, are in this to create art. So what does that mean? To me, it means that unless you belong to the school of realism in art, there isn’t a huge reason to worry.

Think about it this way. Did Impressionists worry about their paintings being blurry? No—they didn’t. In fact, they deliberately used that tactic to their advantage so that they could create interpretive impressions. Cubists did much the same in their own way, and so do many other schools of art.

So when you get right down to it, I don’t think noise and sharpness have to be such overwhelming concerns. As art, photography doesn’t have to be a perfect rendition of real life. Most of art in general is not a perfect rendition of real life.

Rather, art is allowed to have faults—and what’s more, sometimes those faults are celebrated or even exploited in order to further enhance the art. Noise, blurs—all of these “issues” that the next latest and greatest camera purports to fix, they’re all things that we worry too much about. They are things that, just like the way the brush stroke is celebrated within oil paintings, or the drip is celebrated within watercolors, we could be using to our advantage.

Now go and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through your lens.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. He is a husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.