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Reducing Digital Noise in Elements and Lightroom

by Erin Peloquin on September 28, 2012 · 3 comments

Last week, I wrote about the definition and causes of digital noise on camera.

This week, it’s time to talk about reducing noise in post processing if we’re not able to reduce it sufficiently before we take the photo.

One key point to keep in mind from last week’s article is that all photos have some amount of noise in them.  This noise can be magnified by shooting at high ISOs.  It’s also more noticeable when you don’t have a lot of light hitting your sensor.  The two often go hand in hand.  The more light that hits your sensor, the cleaner your image is going to be.  That is one reason why many people over expose on camera and bring down the exposure in Lightroom or ACR.

Ok, but what if you aren’t able to avoid noise in your images? What should you do to reduce it?

First off, know that reducing noise will soften your image and reduce sharpness.  You will have to look for a balance between a clean image and a sharp image.  This is yet another reason to get it right on camera.

This article will give you 4 options for removing noise:

  • Lightroom’s global noise reduction tools
  • Lightroom’s adjustment brush for spot noise reduction
  • Adobe Camera Raw within Elements
  • The Reduce Noise filter within Elements

The image below was taken when I met Jodi Friedman of MCP Actions for the first time over the summer.  Isn’t that crazy?  I’ve worked with her since 2009 and we just met.  But I digress.

What’s wrong with the image?  First off, my husband took it.  That meant that I had to put the camera on the dreaded Auto Mode.  Second off, the ISO is 6400.  Even on a 5DMii, you’re still going to see noise in some areas, like skin and my black shirt.  Finally, the image is just a tad underexposed.  

According to the very smart people at Luminous Landscape, more noise is visible in the middle to low end of your histogram.  So if you can expose your image to place most of the pixels in the top half of your histogram, your image will be cleaner, even when you bring down the exposure in post processing.  That’s why I’d prefer to overexpose my images (just not so much that I’m blowing out the highlights), rather than to underexpose them.


 

Remove Noise in Lightroom

What did I do to get from Before to After?  First off, I increased the exposure and vibrance in Lightroom.  But most importantly, I removed noise in LR.  You can see close ups of the Before and After, plus my LR NR settings below.


 
 
These settings actually come from MCP’s Quick Clicks Preset Collection for Lightroom.  The preset I used was Silence the Noise Light.  You don’t need the preset however, you can just dial in the numbers above.
 
 
What do those Noise Reduction sliders all mean?  Luminance and Color refer to the two types of digital noise possible in your photography.  Luminance noise appears as flecks of black, white and gray.  Color noise appears as flecks of red, green and blue.  You control how much noise to remove by using those two sliders.  I find that the noise in my images is usually a combination of the two types.
 
Luminance Detail attempts to help you find that balance between a clean image and a sharp image.  The higher the number, the more detail is preserved.  Unfortunately, more noise appears in that detail.  Reduce the number to remove both more noise and more sharpness.  
 
Luminance Contrast is similar.  You can increase contrast to improve image clarity at the cost of removing less noise from the image.
 
As for Color Detail, I can’t explain it as well as Adobe.  Here is their definition of this slider:
 
“Controls the color noise threshold. Higher values protect thin, detailed color edges but may result in color speckling. Lower values remove color speckles but may result in color bleeding.”
 
This basically means the same thing.  Increase the slider to preserve crispness at the cost of reducing less noise.
 
 
I concluded this before and after by adding these sharpening settings.  This is actually Sharp Attack Medium, also from MCP’s Quick Clicks.
 

 

 You can see that my hair looks a bit oversharpened on the zoom in of the after photo above – there are some artifacts or haloing visible.  However, this isn’t a great photo and I’m certainly not going to print it at a large size.  For that reason, the sharpening is an acceptable offset to the softening created  by the Noise Reduction.

 
 
Remove Noise Using Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush
 
Lightroom also has a very helpful Noise Reducing Adjustment Brush if you’d like like to remove noise selectively.  You aren’t able to tweak settings like you can with the global adjustments.  
 
 
I use this brush on images where the noise is not a problem throughout the image – just in some areas.  I would also use this brush to soften skin if I were a 40 something lady with fine lines and wrinkles.  But I have no fine lines and wrinkles, so that’s not an issue for me. ;)
 
Remove Noise Using Adobe Camera Raw
 
Are you exclusively an Elements user? The same sliders appear in Elements 11′s ACR module.

 
 
If you have a version of Elements prior to 11, you will only have the Luminance and Color sliders with no option to adjust detail or contrast.  In my opinion, that’s ok.  You can live without the Detail and Contrast sliders.
 
Remember that all Elements users have ACR.  It opens automatically when you open a Raw photo in Elements.  You can also open JPGs into ACR by using this method.
 
Remove Noise Using the Photoshop Elements Editor
 
If you don’t want to use ACR, there is a Noise Reduction filter inside of Elements.  Access is from the Filter menu/Noise/Noise Reduction.  It doesn’t work as well as the LR/ACR sliders, but it does have its benefits.
 
 
Here is the dialog and preview window with no noise reduction applied.

 
And here is is with maximum noise reduction applied.
 
 
 
The noise reduction is definitely stronger using Lightroom or ACR.  However, by reducing noise from within the Elements editor, you could apply noise reduction on duplicate of the background layer and add a layer mask to reduce noise selectively, similar to using LR’s adjustment brush.
 
 So there you have it.  The major methods for reducing noise in Lightroom or Photoshop Elements.  Have a great weekend!
 
 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

RP September 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Wow, thank you SO much! This really helps newbies! I saw that you added to your last noise reduction post, but I still didn’t know what all those sliders meant or which ones you changed. And my Adobe Help section is rarely much of one, ha! Anyway. Just a big thank you! :)

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Teri December 27, 2012 at 9:16 pm

I totally appreciate this blog. I am working on some senior portraits and some are so noisy I can’t even stand it. I forget to change my ISO settings and now I am paying the price. I’ve been a little intimidated by the ACR Noise Reduction features but now I am ready to give them a shot. Crossing my fingers!

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Erin December 31, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Hope it worked!

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