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365 Cellphone Pics, Day 8: Aug 8

The big challenge for today’s photo was working in a low-light situation, something quite difficult with a cellphone camera. The shot was taken at the bar at Kaya, a Caribbean restaurant here in Pittsburgh. Bars are interesting in the realm of cellphone photography, as they are generally very poorly lit, however they’re probably among the most common locations that cellphones are used as cameras. Generally this is to take pictures of other patrons who are friends of the photographer as opposed to the bar itself (something I’m planning on doing in this project at a later date I’m sure), but it presents some similar challenges. For my first attempt I thought it would be prudent to choose a still-life subject.

The camera sensor is automatic of course and smart enough to use a slower shutter speed in lower light conditions. It also raises the ISO setting automatically. This means that while the picture will come out, it is very susceptible to both digital noise (perceived as film grain) and camera shake.

Camera shake is the first obstacle that needs to be overcome. I minimized this by bracing my arms against my chest as I shot and resting my elbows on the bar. While not as steady as using a traditional tripod, this minimized shake as much as possible in the situation and yielded acceptable results.
As for the high ISO noise factor, this is a little more difficult. The grain is going to occur, so it’s best to simply accept that and try to get the best lit subject you can (in this case, I’m using a light that is over the bar bottles and actually visible in the upper left corner of the shot) and worry about lowering the grain later in Photoshop. I accomplished this in multiple stages. First I sharpened the entire image to make it crisper which has the side effect of actually bringing the noise out further and making it more obvious. Then I ran a denoise filter on it, preserving as much detail as possible without making the noise worse. This corrected much of the color noise and some of the grain but left filter artifacts along a standardized pattern which causes the image to look almost painted in an impressionist style when viewed close up. For a subject like these bottles I actually found this texture pleasing so I stopped there and cropped the image for final presentation.

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