In the attached image I'd like to lower my ISO in an effort to reduce noise. Is there a way to leverage flash or some other technique to accomplish this without losing the contrast between the Christmas lights and her face/red dress?

My shutter speed must remain relatively fast to avoid blur (she's quite active) and I'd like to have from her nose to the back of her head in focus, so a wide open aperture is undesirable.

I shot the image at 1/125s, f/4.5, ISO 4000, 50mm.

Sample Image

  • Did you try with a normal fill flash (turned way down in power) aimed at the ceiling? I'm guessing any lighting would be very complicated as you want to avoid illuminating the background more than now. That leaves using brighter Christmas lights or getting a more expensive camera with less noise at this ISO. – Unapiedra Dec 11 '14 at 8:25
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    Call me weird but I don't think you should do anything. Noise is not always a problem, sure, we'd never see it in a perfect world, but that's a great shot. The old sharpness mantra applies: "A sharp photo of a fuzzy concept is worthless." – Paul Cezanne Dec 11 '14 at 13:38
  • That's a great answer by Mateusz below, but I am inclined to agree with @PaulCezanne, this is a great shot, drawing attention off the background and onto the subject. A little bit of noise reduction can be applied in post processing if required, but modern cameras cope better with higher ISO settings, and it's worthwhile making a print, because a finished image either in print or on screen might not show up as much noise as you might expect – laurencemadill Dec 14 '14 at 21:28

I'd suggest lighting her with a flash that would mimic the way the ambient light looks.

My idea - put a full/half CTO gel on the flash so it has the same color as the lights, use a softbox/umbrella (preferably a small softbox with a grid as it's quite focused) and place it on that side of her face that is lit by the christmass lights. You can now limit the amount of ambient light that comes into the shot and still have your Model nicely lit. This way you control the look of light on the face, it still looks plausible and dramatic (unlike flooding the room with fill light) and you don't have to worry too much about freezing the motion.

As for the exact direction of the softbox, I have two ideas, drawn here: http://i.imgur.com/YHUdOBz.png

  1. From below, more or less from where the ambient light comes from. Simple, easy and good enough.
  2. From up high but from a very high angle, pointed on the floor in front of the Model. A little bit of the light should hit her face directly (that "dotted" line in the picture) but most of it will go to the floor and then bounce from it upwards, giving extra fill from below. More complicated, probably wrong, but perhaps worth a try.
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  • The drawings were very helpful. The key to getting this right was the grid and the orange gel. I placed the flash low with a snoot made from a beer koozie (I don't have a grid) and it worked great. I was surprised at the difference between the orange gel and the bare flash. – Toph Dec 13 '14 at 16:26

Whenever you add light you change the way your image will look. I could think of two things:

  1. You could try backlight. Some kind of halo effect, possibly placing a light behind her, this may allow you to lower your iso and maintain "some" contrast, but I cannot really say how far you can go

  2. You could try (possibly with a softbox or an umbrella if you have one) to add some continuous lighting (not much) uniformly overall. This should allow you to retain some contrast but should allow you to lower your iso.

Personally I would love to try with some backlight, but that would change your original photo.

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Logically, if you're lowering the sensitivity of the sensor, you must increase the amount of light hitting it. I guess you can't switch to faster lens else you would have already done so and you've said it's impractical to take a longer exposure.

On the other side of the equation, you can increase the ambient light or the brightness of the fairy lights if that's safe.

As a quick win, I'd try the bounce flash that Unapiedra suggested and then some hackery in Photoshop to keep the fairy lights bright.

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