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There will be many times when your images will be less than perfect. If digital noise is the culprit, you can do something about it.

Noise reduction software is what you’ll need to make your image look much better. Read our article below to find out how digital noise comes about, and how you can reduce it from your images.

What Is Noise Reduction

Noise reduction can be a huge advantage to your photography. This is especially true when you find yourself photographing indoors, at night time or in situations where there is a lack of light.

Digital noise is a product of using a high ISO. The higher your ISO is, the more noise you are sure to find in your images.

The most modern, up-to-date and high-end cameras have become very good at capturing low-light scenes without over the top noise. But older cameras and entry-level models can suffer.

ISO

As I mentioned above, your ISO is what directly influences how much digital noise enters your image.

A low ISO, such as ISO 100 is used when you have an abundance of light. This might be at high-noon when the sun is at its strongest. It might also be in a well lit indoor area.

Basically, due to the amount of light, your digital sensor doesn’t need to work hard in capturing your scene. This is the opposite for low light conditions.

For situations where there is a lack of light, your camera settings will force you to use a Higher ISO.

We try to change our camera settings to obtain the best quality image possible. This is why we try to change the ISO last. As ISO 100 gives us better quality, we want to stay as close to that number as much as we can.

Let’s look at an example.

Example

You are outside at noon, photographing portraits of a couple on the street. Your settings might look something like this:

  • ISO – 100
  • Aperture – f/5.6
  • Shutter Speed – 400

Now, the couple wants to enter a building to take advantage of the wonderful setting. As the light has dropped 4+ stops, you need to account for that missing light.

Your new camera settings will change to something like this:

  • ISO – 100
  • Aperture – f/5.6         ——> f/2.8 (adding two stops of light)
  • Shutter Speed – 1/400 ——> 1/100 (adding two stops of light)

Ok,  you have successfully added in the four stops of light into your scene. The trouble is, now you limit yourself to a very small/shallow depth of field. On top of that, you can’t allow any movement.

The couple wants to make sure that they and scene need to be in focus, so you need to deepen the depth of field. Here, you need to raise the aperture to f/8.

To do so, would mean to reduce the light by three stops (f/2.8–>f/4–>f/5.6–>f/8). To shoot at Iso 100, aperture f/8 and shutter speed 1/100 would mean the image is too dark – by three stops.

This light needs increasing. You could use a flash, but you don’t have one. A reflector could also work, but again, you don’t have one. You could lengthen your shutter speed, but you would need a tripod.

The only other option is to raise our ISO as you have reached the limits of your camera settings. Your new settings look like this:

  • ISO – 100                        —> 800 (adding three stops of light)
  • Aperture –  f/2.8            —> f/8 (reducing the light by three stops)
  • Shutter Speed – 1/100

Now, it has evened back out to being a perfect exposure. The only problem is, there is now more grain in the image. For some images, grain or digital noise is welcome.

To reduce this noise, we need to work the image in post-production editing software.

Types of Digital Noise

There are two types of digital noise, chroma noise and luminance noise. Chroma noise, otherwise known as colour noise are spots of colour throughout your image.

Luminance noise is more like film grain, where it can have a specific and desired effect. This type affects the whole image, and it much more uniform in how it affects your image.

Chroma noise is the least desirable, and of course, the most problematic.

4. Adobe Lightroom

  • $10 per month (minimum package)
  • Easy to use
  • Effective

Lightroom is perfect for editing. there are many things to can do with this software, and noise reduction is one of them.

The Noise Reduction control sits inside the Detail tab. It is controlled manually via sliders. By default, the colour is set to ’25’, which is more than enough for the highest ISO settings.

If you want to reduce the color/chroma noise, then the color slider is the only one you need. The Detail and Smoothness sliders offer extra control over your image.

For the noise associated with light, you need to use the Luminance slider. It is set to ‘0’ by default. You need to apply this sparingly, as going overboard will apply a waxy/fake look to your image.

Here, the Detail and Contrast sliders allow you to refine the appearance of your image.

This is an excellent noise reduction software and could cover most, if not all of your images. If your images are very grainy, you might only be able to reduce the noise to a manageable quality.

3. Adobe Camera RAW

  • $10 per month (minimum package)
  • Complicated
  • Strong Effectiveness

Adobe Camera Raw or ACR can be a very effective tool against digital noise. The program is automatically activated when you open an image into Adobe Photoshop. You can also find it and open it without the use of Photoshop.

Camera Raw

Camera Raw works in a very similar way to Lightroom. No surprise here, as they are two software options from the same company. Also, Lightroom uses Camera Raw itself to convert images.

You will find the Noise Reduction controls inside the Detail tab. Again, it is controlled manually via sliders. Here, the Luminance slider blurs the digital noise you see together, making it less visible.

This should be set to somewhere between 20-40 to keep that realistic look. The detail slider fights against the Luminance slider, as this helps to put the detail back into the shot.

The Luminance contrast slider may look like it doesn’t do much, but by zooming in, you’ll find that it is adding contrast to the grainy areas to make the noise less obvious.

Here, start with the Colour slider, as the grain in your image may be made from many different colours. By using this slider, you saturate the colours, making them less visible.

If you want to reduce the color/chroma noise, then the color slider is the only one you need. The Detail and Smoothness sliders offer extra control over your image.

This is a great way to reduce the noise in all of your images. You don’t need to remove it 100%, but even pulling out the detail and saturating the noise, you make it less important.

If you are looking at how to reduce noise in Photoshop, you don’t even need to get passed Adobe Camera Raw.

2. Noise Ninja

  • $130
  • Clever Noise Analysis

Noise Ninja is a program brought to you by Picture Code, a group who makes and develops all sorts of software for workflow quality and productivity. This noise reduction software is no different.

First, you need to access the Noise Ninja 3.0 filter, and by turning it on allows you to reduce the noise of your images. It works on the same principle as the other software in our list.

There are sliders for Luminance and colour, eliminating the digital noise brought on by colour and light, or lack of. The best thing here is the sliders are easier to understand immediately.

Instead of Luminance, Detail and Contrast, you are given Smoothing and Residual noise and Detail. It is easier to understand what you are moving, and the effects they have.

For colour noise reduction you are given Strength and Defringe. Again, easier to understand.

What makes this program special are the handy boxes that pop up telling you the Noise Profile by Frequency and Color. These are simple analyses of what noise is found in the areas you search for.

These pop up when your arent using a specific profile. There are profiles you can use, and it allows you to deal with the noise at a deeper level, albeit more complicated.

1. Topaz Denoise

  • $80
  • Noise Reduction Specific Software

Topaz Denoise is a software with one job – to reduce digital noise from your images. This program integrates itself into Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and a few other programs such as Corel Paintshop Pro.

This program works by collecting image data, and then using it to remove noise and recover detail. You can controls you can use manually, covering Color and Luminance.

On top of these, you also have controls over removing debanding, shadow- tone restoration and colour casts. Out of all of the reviewed software, this software has the most controls.

This process becomes more time-consuming than other options. Even though you are able to use and create presets across your images.

With Topaz Denoise, you can use TIFF’s, JPEGs, but for the best results, you should convert your RAW files to 16-bit TIFF files. This option is expensive but offers good results.

Conclusion

As with everything else, first, try to get the image as best you can in camera. You can’t fix a bad image during the post-production stage, only improve it.

For areas of copious amounts of noise, you might only be able to reduce it. This might be enough. If you experience a small part as showing grain, it might be best to crop it out of your image.

Although, you need to be careful as not to affect the composition and the reason why you took the image in the first place.

Also, look at the image subjectively. Does the digital noise enhance its strength? Perhaps it works better with a grainier look.

Failing these points, noise reduction comes in handy when printing your images in larger sizes. Social media sites show off a smaller, compressed version where the noise isn’t immediately, if at all, apparent.

I am able to do everything I need using Lightroom and ACR. Adobe Lightroom offers me easy, simple-to-use noise reduction, whereas Photoshop helps for the substantial reduction.

If you already have these software bundles – use them and stick with it. If you are looking to start from the ground up, try a free software, such as Noise Ninja. You cant save in the trial, but you can see its effects.

Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at craighullphotography.co.uk and Instagram/craighullphoto

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