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Post Production Tips

How to Reduce Noise in an Image Shot at a High ISO with the Detail Panel in Lightroom 4

By Pye Jirsa on April 19th 2013

Introduction

In this video from our Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD, we will use the Noise Reduction settings in the Detail Panel to reduce the noise in an image that was shot at a high ISO. Images shot at a high ISO have high amounts of grain, (AKA noise) which decreases the image quality. The Detail Panel consists of two different settings: the Sharpening and the Noise Reduction settings. In the “How to Sharpen Images with the Detail Panel in Lightroom 4” article, we demonstrated how to correctly sharpen an image with the Sharpening settings in the Detail Panel. Now, we will go over how to transform a grainy image into an quality image that can be printable. In addition, we will explain the two different types of noise to help you understand how adjustments made to the Noise Reduction settings will affect your images.

Watch the video and continue reading the article below!

Watch the Video

Amplifying Noise

Below is the image that we will be using for this tutorial. However, this original image does not have enough noise for us to work with. Therefore, we will adjust some settings to amplify the noise in this image. Keep in mind that of course it is optimal to get a correct exposure in the first place, we are simply doing this for the purpose of this tutorial. If you already have an image with a lot of noise, go ahead and skip to the next section of this article.

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We are going to brighten up the image so we can see a little more of the noise in the shadows. In the Basic Panel (press “Ctrl + 1”), bring the Exposure up to +1.12 to brighten the image. Next, pull up the Shadows to +31 to amplify the noise even more.

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This is what our image looks like with a proper exposure, which unfortunately has indeed amplified the noise.

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Zooming 1:1

Noise is most prominent in the shadows of our images, so we will zoom in 1:1 into the shadows. First, select “1:1” at the top of the Navigator Panel, which is at the left of Lightroom in the Develop Module (press “D”). Then, simply click on an area of your image to zoom in 1:1. We recommend always zooming in 1:1 to check the noise of your images.

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In our example below, we will zoom into the suit jacket because that is where noise will be most noticeable. At 1:1 zoom, we see both Luminance Noise and Color Noise. Color Noise is where the darker colors are right next to the lighter colors, whereas the rest of the grain is Luminance Noise. In the next section of this article, we will explain Luminance Noise and Color Noise in more detail.

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Luminance Noise vs. Color Noise

Before we reduce the noise in our image, we need to understand the difference between Luminance Noise and Color Noise. Having a firm grasp of these two types of noise will help you understand how your image will be affected by the adjustments made. Luminance Noise is the general grain caused by brightness levels while Color Noise occurs when you are shooting at a very high ISO. For example, when you zoom into an area of the image, Color Noise is the little flecks of different colors in that area.

Understanding Luminance and Color Noise Reduction Adjustments
To help you understand how adjustments will affect Luminance Noise and Color Noise in your images, we will go through a few examples.

If we pull the Luminance slider to the right, it will reduce the overall noise that we see in the shadows. In our example, that would be the suit jacket. As you can see below, the overall noise in the suit jacket has been significantly reduced. However, we can still see Color Noise, which are the shifting colors in the little flecks, right next to each other.
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To get rid of Color Noise, we are going to pull the Color slider to the right. The higher we bring Color up, the less colored flecks we will see. In our image below, we have pulled Color up higher so we do not see as much Color Noise as we did previously.
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If we take Color all the way down to zero, we will see the different colored flecks much more prominently.
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As mentioned before, Luminance can reduce the overall noise we see in the shadows. However, we do need to be aware of a couple things. Although Luminance can get noise out of the shadows, it can become a problem if we take it up too high. When we bring Luminance up too high, we will start to see too much smoothing over the shadows. Too much smoothing causes a painting effect, where the image looks like it has been painted over.

When we pull the Luminance slider all the way up to 100, we can see that painting effect in the suit jacket.
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In addition, pulling up Luminance will also ruin the detail in our image, especially over areas of the skin. In our image below, we have pulled the Luminance slider up to 100. Not only do we see the painting effect, but we have also lost the detail in the skin and in the hair.
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When we bring Luminance back down, we can see more of the detail in the hair. Now, we can see the actual strands in her hair as opposed to before, we could only see some of the highlights in the hair with Luminance at 100.
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Reducing Noise in an Image

When reducing noise in an image, we need to strike a balance between Luminance, Detail and Contrast. In addition, we also need a balance between Color and Detail. To toggle and cycle through the information of an image, press “I.” As you can see below, our image was shot at ISO 2000, which is a relatively high ISO. We will demonstrate how we would typically edit an image shot at this ISO range.

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Before we begin reducing the noise in our image, we first need to bring up the Detail Panel. To expand and collapse the Detail Panel, press “Ctrl + 5.” In the Detail Panel, we can see both the Sharpening settings and the Noise Reduction settings. We will only be working in the Noise Reduction settings for now.

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Adjusting Luminance Noise Reduction
Typically, we can leave Luminance at around 30-40. We recommend that you stick with this range unless an image absolutely needs Luminance to be higher.

For our image, we will leave Luminance at 35.
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Adjusting Luminance Detail Noise Reduction
Directly under the Luminance slider, we have a slider for Detail. The Luminance Detail slider preserves the detail in the image. The lower you go on Detail, the less detail you will preserve. The higher you go on Detail, the more detail you will preserve in your image. Essentially, this is a noise reversing effect because it adds a little bit of noise back into the image to preserve the detail in the image. If we bring Detail up too high, it will create some artifacting effects, so be aware of this when you are adjusting the Detail slider. Typically, we leave Detail at 50, which is the default. For our image, we will also leave Detail at 50.

Adjusting Luminance Contrast Noise Reduction
Next, we have the Luminance Contrast slider. This slider controls how much contrast you want to preserve in your image. The higher we bring Contrast up, the more noise we will see as it boosts up the contrast in the shadows. Likewise, the lower the Contrast, the less noise we will see in our images. For our image, we will leave Contrast at 0.

Adjusting Color Noise Reduction
In the Noise Reduction settings, Color comes defaulted at 25. This is usually good enough, so we can leave it alone. However, if you shot your image at a very high ISO, it would be a good idea to bump up Color to around 50.

Since this image was shot at a high ISO, we will bring Color up to 51.
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Adjusting Color Detail Noise Reduction
Lastly, we have the Color Detail slider in the Noise Reduction settings. This slider controls the preservation for Color Noise Reduction. This setting comes defaulted at 50. For our image, we can leave it at 50.

Below is what our current settings look like in the Detail Panel.

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Sharpening an Image

After we have reduced the noise, we need to sharpen our image. For our image, we will bring the Amount of Sharpening up to 0 and set the Radius to 1.5. Next, we will bring Detail up to 30 and leave Masking at 0. After sharpening our image, we may need to adjust the Noise Reduction settings in order to get the best effect out of our image. Therefore, we will adjust the Luminance to 45.

This is what our final settings will be for our image.

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Although there is still some grain in our final image, this type of grain will not look bad when we print the image out.

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Conclusion & Learn More!

With the adjustments made in the Detail Panel, we were able to take a grainy image shot at a high ISO and turn it into an image that is nice and printable. Lightroom 4’s Noise Reduction settings are extremely powerful, so be careful when editing your images. However, with the correct adjustments, you can transform a grainy image into a quality image that can be printed.

We hope you enjoyed this article and video excerpt from the Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD. Stay tuned for our next article and episode!

The Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD is a 14 hour video workshop turning any Lightroom novice into a complete master of Lightroom 4 in no time! The Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop can be purchased by itself, or within the Lightroom 4 Workshop Collection which also contains our award winning and industry standard Lightroom 4 Preset System, as well as the Lightroom 4 Workflow System.

About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for posting

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  2. Biju Toha

    I’m really surprised, Because just one day before I was in trouble for taking a shot for my little brother. It was too much noising when I was shooting him. Many thanks for your informative information.

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