Let the Noise Remain

This photo changed my mind. How? Why? About what? All good questions.

I have been scanning in film images for months. After scanning in slides for most of that time, I finally got to scanning negatives last week. Once I see the digitized image, I then color correct, sharpen, lighten shadow areas to bring out detail, increase contrast…a number of things to improve the image. One of my last steps is usually to run a noise-reduction software. Using today’s digital cameras, reducing the noise is almost essential, especially if taking images in low-light.

What is noise? It can also be called film grain. Usually a high speed ISO film, usually 1000 ISO or higher had a lot of film grain, so the exposure had to be perfect in order to avoid having a really pixellated look. This is precisely why I usually shot with 100 speed slide film because it had the least noise or grain.

But the noise created on camera film by the intersection of film speed, film type, exposure and available light is one of the things that made working with film cameras so beautiful. The grain could accentuate the ethos or feeling of an image…especially black and white images. Noise could ruin the image. It could also add to the beauty.


You can see the film grain pretty clearly in the sky area of this image.

In fact, it is curious to me that modern photo software and smart phone apps actually contain filters that add noise or “film grain” to recapture the look and feel of film cameras. They are trying to recapture the beauty of the noise.


So as I was editing photos I scanned last Friday I looked intently at this one. There is imperfection in it. It was a hazy evening in Iquique, Chile and it created lots of blotchy spots on the exposure that are especially accentuated because of the long exposure. Normally I try to eliminate the blotchy imperfections, but all of a sudden it dawns on me that I’m wanting to eliminate the beauty. Here I am reducing the noise on images and removing some of the aspect of what makes film images unique. I have been thinking that noise was bad. In an instant my mind shifts to embrace the imperfection, to let the noise remain.

Glamour magazines love to eliminate the imperfection to emphasize the beauty. All those models are photoshopped to perfection so that we never see the flaws. But that isn’t real life.

It is the imperfections in life that make the beauty of life. We are all fatally flawed, but that is what makes us epically unique. We try to magic wand away the imperfections in our lives in order to be more acceptable and lovable. We work at smoothing away the grainy abnormalities or hide them so that we can feel good about ourself. But the opposite is actually true: only when we admit to our flawed nature and let people love the real us do we experience the true beauty of community and love. I don’t mean to give you an excuse to not work on the temperament issues and defense mechanisms that cause relational challenges, I’m actually asking you to consider bringing those things into the light. When we let our brokenness out so that it is no longer hidden, take honest evaluation of whether that brokenness helps or hinders relationships, and allow our hearts to be changed so that relationships can flourish…that is when healing really begins.

So, here is encouragement to let your imperfections be known. In order to be loved more fully, don’t hide your issues and wounds. Embrace your imperfections. Bring them out, and with conversation from close, trusted friends and a good counselor there is more of your story to share with the world. Let the noise remain in your life. It’s what makes us beautiful.


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