Monday, April 8, 2013

Older Images Still Have Their Uses ... With Photo Ninja

I have been the Tournament Photographer for our local USTA Pro Circuit Challenger tennis tournament since 2006, donating my time and services to the very worthy charitable organization that sponsors the event every year. It's a lot of work but it's one way I use my photography for the benefit of a good cause. Plus, as former college-level player, I love the game, both shooting it and playing it. The tournament lasts a week and I always try to shoot every day, sometimes getting a chance to shoot some of the day matches but typically shooting the ones at night under the lights. Over the years, some notable names have taken part in the event - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner come to mind.

A few years ago, I used the tournament as an opportunity to shoot some video footage while I was photographing the day's play to create a video on how I shoot the sport of tennis. It's a two part video and in case you're interested in how I go about shooting tennis, here they are:

Last week, the tournament announced that 31 year-old former Top 10 player Mardy Fish had accepted a Wild Card entry into the draw. Fish, ranked as high as 7th in the world as recently as 2011, silver medalist at the Athens Olympics, a mainstay on the U.S. Davis Cup Team for several years, and the 2006 Tallahassee Challenger Champion, has been on a hiatus for several months due to an accelerating heart condition and resulting anxiety. He is testing the waters with his game as he attempts to weigh whether he will be able to return to playing a full schedule and it will be great to have him back again in Tallahassee for another chance to photograph him.

2006 USTA Tallahassee Challenger Champion Mardy Fish. Nikon D200, ISO 400, f2.8 @ 1/4000th sec.

With Fish returning to play in the event, I knew he would likely be the headliner for this year's event and that the tournament would need to use his image on marketing materials. Anticipating a request for some images of Fish, I dug into my hard drives and found my images from the 2006 Challenger.

Nikon D200, ISO 1600, f2.8 @ 1/750th sec.
In the spring of 2006, I was shooting with a Nikon D2H and a couple of Nikon D200 camera bodies with battery packs as I had not yet moved up into D2X bodies. Anyone who remembers the technology in digital bodies back in 2006 also remembers that while these bodies produced great images, the noise levels, especially at the higher ISO's, pale in comparison to today's technology. White balance under extreme lighting conditions was also a challenge. Suffice it to say that as I began to open the folders of images from 2006, most of which were shot at night at ISO 1600, I feared the worst - I would not be able to process the images to a quality which which I am presently accustomed.

Oh me of little faith. Once I opened the folders, I found a horizontal action shot of Fish that I had taken during a day match (lead image) with the ISO set at 400. I knew that one would clean up OK. With this find I felt that I would be able to send the tournament director at least one halfway decent image to use. Now to find a vertical one. Oops...nothing useful from the day match I shot but I saw one one I liked from a night match (2nd image). I checked the File Info in Photoshop and saw...ISO 1600. Yikes. Holding my breath, I opened the RAW file in Photoshop Camera RAW and tweaked it some, then opened it in Photoshop as close to the native resolution as I could to minimize the exacerbation of any noise - 10.0 MP and 240 dpi.

With some adjustments to the brightness, contrast and color, I then hesitated as I put the image through some noise reduction and then final sharpening. This is where Photo Ninja really shone. For years, I've used an older version of this software (Noise Ninja) to reduce noise as I have found that Noise Ninja does a much better job of reducing image noise than the Photoshop noise reduction process. A few months ago, I upgraded to Photo Ninja (the newest version) but hadn't used it because it was not yet available as Photoshop plug-in. That was until last month when the Beta version of the plug-in came out. This image would be my first test of the plug-in and yabba dabba doo, it cleaned up the noise very, very nicely. After the noise reduction, I was able to sharpen without injecting a bunch of noticeable noise and came away with a very useable image.

If you haven't tried Photo Ninja yet, I would highly recommend it. It has two great features: 1) a great RAW converter that does a better job than the Photoshop version but which you can choose not to use; and 2) a kick-butt, improved version of Noise Ninja. If it can process an image shot at night at ISO 1600 with camera technology from 2006, imagine what it can do with what's available today.

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