Today's Guest Blogger Steve Brazill Says: "Ignore the Noise"

Thanks, Rick, for the opportunity to do a guest post. As a long time fan of you, and your work, its an honor to be able to contribute here.

[Steve, you rock - in more ways than one! I encourage my readers to check out your work and site. - Rick]

When I met Rick recently at one of his seminars, he told a story that really resonated with me - a story about noise. As a concert photographer, I deal with noise every time I shoot, lots of noise - due to shooting in relatively low light. 

Generally speaking when it comes to noise, it shows up mostly in low light, in shadow and out-of-focus areas of a frame, at high ISO settings (but with high-end cameras, low noise is getting better and better) and with cropped sensor cameras, but that's getting better, too.

Sometimes, the worst noise isnt even in the photos.

What Noise?

WhenI say "Ignore the Noise," what does that mean to you? Take a second and think about it, I'll wait.

The obvious choice, at least for us photographers, is digital noise, so lets start there. The opening shot above, of the band A Day To Remember, was shot at ISO 5000, 24 mm, f/4, 1/200 - with my Canon 7D.

My Photos Have A Lot Of Noise

I can't tell you how many times I've heard the desire for good High ISO Performance referred to as a religion. Is it? No. Plain and simple, we as photographers, as creatives, want the best image quality we can possibly get. Thats not a bad thing, and digital noise does have a number of negative impacts on a shot, from loss of detail, to color and contrast issues.

The shot above, of Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson, was shot at ISO 2000, 24 mm, f/4, 1/500. I needed a fast shutter to freeze Nancys hair, and I was already wide open on the Canon 24-105 f/4, so the ISO was sacrificed. Oh yeah, the drummer is Jason Bonham.

If you shoot photos at high ISO, you've seen noise. And, if you shoot at really high ISO, like 3200, 6400, or higher, you've been disappointed when what could've been a great shot becomes just okay (again, depending on the camera). For many people, that means avoiding high ISO at all costs, but does noise really matter, and if so, is it ever OK?

As I mentioned, I shoot with a Canon 7D. Images shot at ISO 1600 on my camera do have noise, yet I shoot at that setting far more than I shoot at 100 - 400. I often shoot at ISO 3200 - and on occasion I even hit 6400! At 100% zoom (which is often recommended for accurate noise reduction) those images definitely have noise. Still, I do it. Why would I choose to shoot at such a high ISO knowing it will produce noisy images?

Photography is an art of compromise, and in live music photography your choices limited. Concerts can be one of the most difficult lighting situations you will ever face - fast moving performers, fast changing low light, and extreme dynamic range. Your choices are: A) Take a blurry shot of a fast moving artist, or a hair whip; B) Crank the ISO to get a shutter speed fast enough to get a sharp shot

You should always choose B, because a sharp noisy shot is always better than a blurry clean shot. There are tools to deal with noise in post production (Rick reommends Topaz DeNoise), but a blurry shot is always blurry. I will use a touch of noise reduction in Lightroom when needed, and on a rare occasion I will pull out Nik Define - which I almost always apply selectively using the brush feature, or masks. (Rick also and always recommends working selectively.)

This shot, of Korn guitarist Brian Head Welch, was shot at ISO 3200, 45 mm, f/4, 1/400, and it was flat and noisy. After a little Lightroom work, a little Nik Define brushed on the smoke, and a Pro Contrast pop from Nik Color EFX Pro 4 it came back to life.

Oh yeah, and I always check any noise reduction at 50% zoom too.

Another consideration is intended output. My work is generally used on the blog of the radio station I shoot for, and the images are exported at 1024px on the long side. The noise just isn't as visible at that size. Ive seen people use so much noise reduction that healthy people look like they've had plastic surgery - and then they post low resolution copies on social media. At that size no one would have seen the noise, but they'll notice the plastic skin.

Don't misunderstand me, would I love a gift of a Canon 1DX, with its great high ISO performance? Heck yeah! But the bottom line is I get by just fine. This shot below, of Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, is one of the highest scoring images Ive had in an image competition, and it was shot at ISO 3200, 35 mm, f/4, 1/320 on a Canon 7D. Dont avoid high ISO, embrace it.

Here is some food for thought when it comes to noise: If people notice the noise in your image, then your image may have bigger issues. Think about that for a second. Some of the most iconic photos of our day are noisy, and we don't even think about it.

Just ignore the noise.

Noisy People

High ISO isn't the only noise issue. Everyone has an opinion, and sometimes it seems everyone on the Internet is an expert. Ignore that noise too. I'm not saying don't listen to valid criticism. For all you know the person giving the critique may have grown up surrounded by talent. Their father or grandfather may have been one of the great [your type of photography here] photographers, and their opinion may have a strong foundation behind it. But don't let internet comments dictate your work. Listen to it all, but put more weight on those people whose work you respect, and less on those you dont. You're the one telling the story, your vision of the story, and some people just won't get it. In the end, it's your shot, so be true to your vision.

Take the shot above as an example. I actually pre-visualized it, and it is almost exactly what I wanted. I say almost because in my vision the hand wasnt there. I was behind five rows of standing people upstairs at the House of Blues, shooting a great 16 year old performer named Gabbie Rae when she opened for Great White.

I was holding the 7D, with a 10-22mm, over my head and trying to get leading lines from the side balconies going into a blown out stage. After a few shots, I was getting close to the angle I wanted, and then this guy put his hand up. In my head I screamed NOOOOOO - but then I saw the shot and actually thanked the guy. I love this shot, but not everybody sees it the same way. I entered this shot in an image competition where one judge commented its just the back of a bunch of heads." That kinda hurt, until another judge came to the shots defense. To him, this was every concert he had ever been to - captured in one shot.

I think the second judge was right.

One of my favorite tech writers, Andy Ihnatko of the Chicago Sun Times, once tweeted: "Self-criticism is useful until it impedes your ability to identify a success"

Ignore the noise and let yourself succeed.

If you would like to check out more of my photography, drop by my web site. 

Thanks again, Rick!

• • • • •

Rick here - I agree 100% with my friend, Steve. Above is a photograph I made in Myanmar with my Canon 5D Mark III set at ISO 6400. Yes, the image has a bit of noise (easily reduced with Topaz DeNoise), but as my dad used to say, "If a picture is so boring that you notice the noise, it's a boring picture.

My New e-Book – Get Motivated and Stay Inspired – is Here!

My new e-book – Get Motivated and Stay Inspired – is now available for direct download to your tablet or computer. I'm very excited about this e-book, because I think we (and that includes me) all need some inspiration and motivation from time to time.

The cost for the 195 page e-book is $4.95. Click here to download from my on-line store. Here's the scoop on the book.

Throughout the year I enjoy giving seminars to audiences around the county. Most of my talks are how-to photography talks, during which I share my favorite photographs from around the world – each image is accompanied by a photo or Photoshop/Lightroom or travel tip.

One of my favorite seminars is Get Motivated and Stay Inspired. It’s not a how-to, technical seminar. Rather, it’s a seminar on how to get inspired and how to stay creatively motivated.

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The talk is about an hour and a half long. I have taken the highlights of that talk – My Top Ten Techniques to Get Motivated and Stay Inspired – and put them into an easy-to-read e-book (just a few of the 194 pages shown here) with the same title, which you can read in less than ½ hour.

Although the e-book is photography-centric, I feel as though all creatives can benefit from reading it.

Yes, I hope the photographs (some of my favorites) themselves are inspiring, but my main goal with this e-book is to encourage you to be as creative as possible while getting motivated and staying inspired. Hey, I figure if I need inspiration and motivation, there are others who feel the same way!

I think you will enjoy learning about the Four Levels of Learning – levels we all go though. I also think you will find inspiration in the quotes, which include: "When you are though changing, you are through.” And, “If you think you can you can, and if you think you can’t you can’t.” And, “It’s never too late to be who you could have been.”

I also think you will enjoy learning about my “Six Steps for Creative Visualization” process, and the difference between seeing and looking. Big difference.

You will also find short assignments in the e-book. It's good to have assignments, and to challenge yourself to be as creative as possible.

I hope you enjoy the e-book - which looks great on the iPad. As with everyone who takes one of my classes, when you purchase the book you become a student for life. That means you can email me questions for the rest of my life.

Good luck with your photography and with your art!

Two Old West Photo Workshops Coming Up in 2015

Do you like to make images of the Old West - and cowboys and horses? If so, I have two workshops coming up that I know you will enjoy:


Casper, WY "Old West Shoot"
Telluride, CO "Ghost Towns, Waterfalls and Fall Landscapes"

The horses above are just two of our models in Casper!

In Telluride, CO, we'll be photographing ghost towns. I took the shot above in Bodie State Park (great ghost town) in California. We'll use the same HDR techniques in Telluride. That is, make an HDR image that does not look like HDR.

For HDR, I still recommend Photomatix. Click here to get a discount on Photomatix.

Photographing landscapes and waterfalls are also on the schedule for Telluride. In and around picturesque Telluride, I'll share with you long exposure techniques, which I used for the above photograph that I took on a past Mt. Rainier photo workshop.

In Casper, we have a very, very special shoot – complete with a horse and cowgirls – in the world famous Wonder Bar. That's where I took the above photograph last year. Great fun!

On both workshops, we'll be chasing the light – the main element in every photograph. There will also be plenty of time to process our images.

Yes, we will work hard, but we will also play hard.

I hope to see you in the Old West.

Click here to see all my photo workshops.

Explore the light,

P.S. Click here to see my e-books and on-line classes on landscape photography.

Packin' Up for My Oregon Coast Photo Workshop Caravan

I'm leaving tomorrow for my Oregon Coast Photo Workshop Caravan (with co-leader Alex Morley), with a pre-workshop scouting trip to the Palouse.

It's my 3rd workshop to the Oregon Coast, and first trip to the Palouse. Can't wait for both adventures.

I get asked all the time about gear, so I thought I put together a post on what's in my Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack. I'm using this compact backpack on this trip because I am flying on a small commuter plane from Portland to the Spokane, and the overhead space is kinda small.

But first, all my gear is listed on My Gear page, where you can get a great deal on great gear.

Here goes:

1 and 5 – Canon 24-105mm IS lens - for landscapes/seascapes and portraits.
2 – Canon 17-40mm lens - for landscapes/seascapes.
3 and 9 - Canon 5D Mark III cameras.
4– Canon 14mm lensfor shooting in tight spots and for super wide-views.
6 – Lexar 32 GB memory cards - to record my memories.
7 – Rain cover that comes with the Airport Essential backpack.
8 - New Canon 100-400mm lens - for compressed landscape views and for seal/bird shots.
10 – Head-mount flashlights – for setting up and shooting in the dark.
11 – Really Right Stuff ball head - which I always pack in my carry on.
12 - Black Rapid strap.

Not shown (in fold-over cover)

- Set of Tiffen ND filters
- Tiffen 2-8 stop ND filter
- Tiffen Polarizing filter
- Canon Timer Remote Controller
- Lens cleaning cloths
- Extra camera batteries
- Tripod wrenches

Stay tuned for new photographs.

Like landscape/seascape photography? Check out my new on-line class (narrated Keynote show): Master Landscape & Seascape Photography, now only $19.99.

For hands-on learning (and fun), join a workshop!

Explore the light,


7 Life Lessons From My Mother

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there.

Moms are great teachers. For everyone, here are some important lessons my mom taught me about life . . . lessons that can apply to your photography, too.

1) Someone is always watching. This is great advice to keep in mind in designing and posting stuff on your web site/blog. You never know who is watching. Someone may be watching who needs exactly what you have to offer. He or she may be a millionaire and may have a few bucks to spend on you!  Keep your site/blog up to date with the best you can offer. Also: know your audience. Post, write and design for your specific audience.

2) Always sandwich a criticism with compliments.  If you feel as though you need to criticize another photographer's work, don't just jump in with criticism. Rather, try to encourage the person to do better - before and after you get to your point.

3) Never give up. Every time I got a rejection letter or email, I thought about this quote. Sooooo glad I followed my mother's advice. I know it sounds easy, especially when you are down. However, don't let others get you down. Also remember that timing is everything. A "no" today could be a "yes" tomorrow.

4) To thine own self be true.Ya know, I really did not like it when my mother used this quote. However, it's really good advice for photographers. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart. Photograph what you love. 

5) Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you. Today, it's easy to hide behind fake names on the internet and post bad book, app and photo reviews. Don't listen to what others say while hiding. In fact, don't listen to negative comments from folks who just set out to be mean. Their comments often say more about themselves than you!

6) Don't curse. I vividly remember my mother washing out my mouth with a new, big and white bar of IVORY soap after I used a curse word. Well, I am not saying that today I am a saint, but I never use an inappropriate word on the web. I have dropped people from Facebook and twitter for doing just that. I don't want to be associated with 'em. So, keep it clean and you will not offend anyone.

7) Be a good listener. When I went on my first date, my mother told me to be a good listener. This was good advice, as I got a second date. :-)  Today, we must be good listeners on Google+, twitter, facebook and in the comments section on our blogs. You can't just talk - you must listen. Get to know your audience. Along the lines of being a good listener, remember this: There is always room for improvement.

Happy Mother's Day!