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Your Questions Answered: Banding/Posterization

Hello all,

I get a lot of questions, most of which via email or in-person during one of my workshops.

So I thought it would a good idea to sart a new section of this blog devoted to answering them.

As I always tell my students, you should never be 'afraid' of asking as chances are someone else might be wondering about the exact same thing. Hopefully, this will be helpful to you all.

Here's s question I recently received from Sergios:


Subject: Banding
Message: Hello Marc,

First of all, congratulations for your work and helpful material.
May I ask how you deal with banding / posterization? For example, when you were experimenting with the different options (YouTube video, Long Exposure B+W Conversions with Silver Efex Software) I could see a high level of banding / posterization, which I really don't like on my photos.
I know that adding noise / pixel grain is a solution but I prefer my digital photos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisosmed/) to be as "clean" as possible.
Hope you can help me with that. Thank you for your time!

Kind regards,

ps I heard your workshop with Joel in Amsterdam went really well. Next time I will try to join you too.


Thanks for submitting this question, Sergios. You have a very good eye - not many people have noticed the banding, especially visible in my Silver Efex post-production video I posted on YouTube.

Banding and posterization can be a huge problem, especially when you're 'pushing pixels very hard', meaning you are making very strong adjustments. It shows up frequently when adding gradients, as well as strong contrast. To help minimize these effects, shoot in RAW format and select 14 bit mode if your camera supports it. Bit depth of your digital files is directly related to how much tonal gradation and information you can expect in your images. Jpeg files are always 8 bit, meaning they are made up of only 256 levels of grey in your photograph, compared to 16,384 levels of grey with 14 bit RAW files. That's a huge diference, and the reason banding occurs as you start editing those images.

As far as banding in my photographs, it's actually not a problem for me at all. The banding you see in the video is caused by the video compression, and not present at all in my final (still) photographs.

My recent switch to a Phase One digital back has further elimiated my concerns, as I am now shooting 16 bit RAW files, featuring 65,536 levels of grey. This not only guarantees extremely smooth gradations but also lets me edit tonality without any artifacting.

Having said all of this, I do like adding grain to my images. This is just a matter of personal taste, but it can indeed help reduce banding/posterization if it is present in your photographs.

If you prefer your images to be 'clean' and free of banding and posterization make sure you shoot in RAW and keep your editing and adjustments 'reasonable'.

Hope this helps and please keep those questions coming!




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Reader Comments (1)

Hey. congratulations for your job. I am a beginner and i want to know if i can use two b+w nd diameter filters with the same size or if i have to be a diferent nd diameter filters?. thanks

Miguel, From Portugal.

December 5, 2013 | Registered Commentermiguel marchante

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