One of the most common questions submitted through our Topic Submissions Form is “How can I easily reduce noise in my photos?” This is a great question and is worth analyzing in greater detail. Noise in a photo has primarily become a byproduct that photographers have learned to associate as a negative and with good reason. While it’s essential to know how to reduce noise in your photos, it’s equally necessary to understand what noise is.

I’m going to break up this article into the following sections, and by the end of it, you’ll have a clear understanding of:

  • What it means to have noise in your photos.
  • Why it’s helpful to reduce noise in your photos.
  • What are the different types of noise in your photos.
  • How your camera sensor and exposure settings impact the presence and amount of noise.
  • How to prevent noise when in the field.
  • How to reduce noise in your photos during post-processing.

I will also share a workflow video walking you through how I edit a wildlife photo using Adobe Lightroom Classic and remove the distracting noise using DeNoise AI.

What it means to have noise in your photos.

A photo of a bird that suffers from excessive digital noiseA photo of a bird with noise reduction applied using Topaz DeNoise AI

There is no shortage of articles that go into painstaking detail to explain the technical reasons why noise exists within your photos. But, I assume that you’re more interested in learning how to reduce noise in your photos quickly, so I will give you a summary of the types of noise and what causes it. I recommend reading this article to learn even more about what causes noise in your photos.

Several factors and variables determine how much noise will appear in your photos, and we’ll discuss those shortly. To summarize, photographing in low light conditions while using high ISO values will often lead to noise. Other factors to consider, such as sensor size and quality, also play a role in noise production.

The important point is that noise is an all-too-common reality with even the most expensive cameras, so don’t beat yourself up if you see it present in your photos. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to get rid of that noise without sacrificing critical details, which is an excellent segue to the next section.

Why it’s helpful to reduce noise in your photos.

One of the most common words used to describe noise in photos is “distracting.” Much like aberrant dust spots, the presence of noise can distract a viewer from fully appreciating the nuance and detail of your composition. You likely went to great lengths to capture the photo you’re preparing to share, and it’s reasonable to expect that you’d want to get rid of all distractions, right? Let’s use the following image as an example. Do you see how distracting the noise is, especially when you compare it to the version that was processed with DeNoise AI?

A photo of a female elk that suffers from excessive noiseA photo of a female elk with noise reduction applied using Topaz DeNoise AI

But, here’s the rub: not all noise reduction methods are created equal. In many cases, noise reduction tools may do a fine job addressing the primary issue, but it comes at the cost of detail loss. If you’ve ever looked at a photo and thought, “that looks very plasticky,” you’re likely looking at the result of subpar noise reduction that doesn’t factor in edge detail retention.

It is simply not practical to apply noise reduction to your photos at the expense of losing detail, which is why it’s critical to use the most effective solution available. As you can guess, we believe that DeNoise AI is the best solution because it leverages years of deep learning to provide stellar noise reduction while retaining—and enhancing—fine details.

What are the different types of noise in your photos.

Two primary types of noise can manifest themselves in your photos, and it’s essential to know how to address each one. The two types of noise are Luminance noise and Color—or Chromatic—noise. It’s important to reiterate that the presence of either type of noise in your photos is not an indicator that your camera lacks quality or is defective. Noise is a reality that almost every photographer alive has had to address within their editing workflows.

Luminance Noise

An example of a photo suffering from luminance noise

Luminance noise most closely resembles the grain you’d see in film photos. It’s colorless in its presentation, and several factors determine where it will appear. Luminance noise generally manifests itself as darker grain in the highlights and lighter grain in the shadows. Using high ISO values is one of the most common factors leading to the presence of luminance noise. We’ll discuss that in the next section.

Color Noise

A photo of Capetown at night that suffers from color noise
Color noise is what it sounds like: noise that differs in color from surrounding pixels and is arguably more distracting than luminance noise because it doesn’t blend in as easily. Color noise is primarily visible in under-exposed photos shot at high ISO values. Desaturating these colored pixels is a common way to mitigate this type of noise.

How your camera sensor and exposure settings impact the presence and amount of noise.

The combination of your camera sensor, lighting conditions, and exposure settings largely determine both the presence and type of noise. Larger sensors capable of capturing a greater dynamic range tend to perform better than smaller sensors when mitigating noise. However, even larger digital medium format sensors are subject to noise under specific conditions.

The amount of available light also plays a role in determining the presence of noise. It is imperative to use proper exposure settings when photographing in low light conditions. If you don’t correctly set your exposure values, the camera will have to fill in that information, often where the noise is most visible.

A photo of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park at night

Finally, it is common for photographers to increase the camera’s ISO setting when photographing in low light conditions. The camera sensor becomes more sensitive to light as you increase the ISO setting and will heat up longer you set your exposure’s shutter speed. There is a direct correlation between the increase in light sensitivity, the sensor heat generated from long exposures, and an increase in noise.

How to prevent noise when in the field.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do in the field to minimize the amount of noise generated by your camera sensor. Using the lowest possible ISO setting while ensuring a sharp photo is advised to reduce noise. Using a stable tripod to support your camera during long exposures will do wonders to reduce motion blur while letting you select a lower ISO setting, but you may need to use a longer shutter speed to allow the necessary amount of light in.

Using a fast lens with a wide aperture will help reduce the shutter speed required to get proper exposure. Your camera sensor will begin to heat up the longer you set your exposure, resulting in more noise. But, you can achieve proper exposure with a shorter shutter speed when you use a fast lens.

Using a wide aperture will result in a shallow plane of focus, so many photographers opt to use focus stacking techniques to blend multiple photos taken at different focus points to simulate a deeper plane of focus.

Finally, I highly recommend setting your camera to shoot in RAW (and in Uncompressed mode if available). RAW files record pixel data directly from the camera sensor and provide greater flexibility to manage tonal information, especially when compared to the JPEG format. You want access to as much sensor data as possible when editing your photos—including reducing noise—and the only way to take advantage of that is by shooting in RAW.

How to reduce noise in your photos during post-processing.

Now that you have a better idea of what digital noise is, how it’s created, and what you can do to prevent it, we need to discuss what you can do to reduce it during post-processing. As discussed, noise can manifest itself even when you take every precaution into account. We know that noise can be a distraction that must be dealt with, but not at the expense of losing edge detail.

Fortunately, we built DeNoise AI to intelligently differentiate between removing distracting noise and preserving critical edge details. We’ve spent years training our AI models to address multiple common scenarios where noise is most prevalent. I highly recommend this article by Partha Acharjee, one of our lead R&D scientists, to learn more about how we train our AI models to provide best-in-class intelligent noise reduction.

I also recorded this Photo Workflow & Editing video to show you how I use Adobe Lightroom Classic and DeNoise AI to apply a base edit and reduce noise in my photo.

Be sure to download your free trial of DeNoise AI using the form below and leave a comment letting us know if you have any questions about how you can reduce noise from your photos.

In this video, I’m gonna show you how I use Adobe Lightroom classic to fix the color and tone of this photo. And then we’re gonna jump into DeNoise AI to get rid of the luminance noise that you’ll see in a minute. We’ll also have some bonus time in Sharpen AI, because I wanna bring out even more detail in this elk. Now, before we start editing, let’s just take a look at the metadata of the photo. I used my Sony a9 with the Sony 100-400mm, f/4.5-5.6 GM lens. I also paired it with the 2x teleconverter to double my maximum focal reach. And I really had to do that because I took this photo at Grand Teton National Park, and it’s really a big no-no to get close to these animals. One, it can be dangerous and two, you don’t wanna encroach on their space. So that’s my little public service announcement. If you’re out shooting wildlife, be very respectful of these animals, especially if you’re in a national park.

As far as the exposure details, this was shot at f/11 at 1/125th of a second, and at ISO 8,000. And I jacked up this ISO because in order for me to get a deep enough depth of field, as well as the shutter speed that was fast enough to freeze the motion of the elk, that high ISO was needed. And even with that, as you can see, it is kind of underexposed. So let’s go ahead and fix that. I’m gonna turn off the metadata display, and I’m gonna look at the histogram over here in the top right. And as you can see right away, there’s a lot of room here to wrangle out some of that tone. My white point is over here almost towards the highlights section, and I wanna bring that out closer towards the edge. So, that’s one of the first things I’ll do is I’ll bring that white point out and then I’ll start increasing the exposure just a little bit. I’ll open up the highlights and I’ll open up the shadows just a little bit here. And instead of using the contrast slider, I prefer applying a very slight S curve, using the tone curve over here. So I’m gonna drop a dot here and bring the highlights up a little bit. I’m gonna drop a dot here in the shadows and add that contrast. And then I’ll open up the mid-tones by putting a dot in the middle. And you can see here if I disable the tone curve, you see how we added contrast, you just get a little bit more fine tuned control when you use a histogram, instead of just using that contrast slider. Now, as far as cosmetics go, if I zoom in over here on the elk, I don’t like this little distracting element here. I’m not exactly sure what it is. It could be some leaves. So what I’m gonna do is go to the spot healing brush, and I’m gonna just draw here and make a selection here as well. And if I press the H key, I can hide those points and I can see the image. And so that looks fine to me. I’ll close the spot healing brush and zoom back out. And to me it looks a lot better. It’s just a lot cleaner not to have that distraction on the elk’s face. The other thing that I wanna do is get a custom white balance, and because I always shoot in raw, I’m able to do that very easily. You can see I’ve got the raw presets here for my camera for white balance, but I’m just gonna select the dropper here. This is not a scientific method by any means, but I know that if I hover over here on the antler, you can see that it is a neutral gray. And so I’ll go ahead and click on that. And you should notice it was very minor, but the image kind of warmed up a little bit and it got rid of that slight color cast that was veering it towards the cooler side of the temperature slider. And so let me just undo that just so you can see here, you see how the shadows look a little bluer, and when we reapply, it gets just a little bit warmer. And then I’ll increase the vibrant slider just a bit to bring out a little bit more of a pop in the colors, especially in the trees in the background. And so just to show you in just a minute or two, this was our original photo. You can see how underexposed it was, just kinda dark. And then we were able to get some nice exposure and color in the photo. But here’s the problem. Let’s zoom in here. You see how this photo is riddled with luminance noise, that’s because I shot this photo at ISO 8,000 towards the end of the day, when a lot of the available light was gone. This is just the nature of the beast. This is what happens when you’re photographing in low light conditions and you increase the ISO of your camera. And fortunately, we’re mostly dealing with luminance noise there really isn’t any color noise to deal with. So I’m not worried about that. And there’s a really easy way to get rid of noise and that’s by using Topaz DeNoise AI. And so to send this photo to DeNoise AI, I’ll right click, go to edit in and select Topaz DeNoise AI. I’m gonna work with JPEG for the purposes of this video over here, and I’ll keep the resolution at 72 because I’m not really planning on printing it so I don’t need any higher of a resolution. And when I’m ready, I’ll click edit to send it over.

Now that we’re in DeNoise AI, the very first thing I like to do is compare the multiple AI models at once, just so I can see which one works best. Easiest way to do that is to go to the view dropdown and select the comparison view. And then I’ll go ahead and change my zoom to 200% and put the focus box right here, just so we can see the elk’s head. Now between these three, I like low light the best I think it does the best job, but I do know that there’s a fourth AI model called severe noise. And so I don’t need to see clear it doesn’t do a very good job in this situation, so I’ll select this quadrant. And you’ll know that it’s selected because it turns blue. And then I’ll select the severe noise AI model. And between those three, the severe noise model works the best, so I’m gonna double-click on that to open it up in the single view. And if I press and hold, you can see here’s the original photo with all that really distracting luminance noise. When I let go, this is the version that has no noise, pretty much all of it has been removed and a lot of that distraction is now gone. I noticed that I didn’t do anything with the sliders. All I ensured was that the auto toggle was enabled and that tells DeNoise AI to analyze the photo and choose the best settings. And really it works great for me. Everything looks good. And so now that I’m ready to go back to Lightroom, I’ll just click on apply. And now that we’re back in the Lightroom, you can see here is my original photo and then this is the version that was just edited in DeNoise AI. I’ll press C to go into compare view, and then let’s go ahead and zoom in. And so you can see here, this is the original, as you can guess, with all that noise. And then this is our version with all that noise removed from DeNoise AI. But, I do wanna add some more sharpness. I feel like we can add even more sharpness to the elk to really make it pop. And so what I’ll do is go back to the grid view. I’ll select the version of the photo that we sent to DeNoise AI, and I’ll right click, go to edit and select Sharpen AI. Just like before, I’m gonna use JPEG as my file format, and I’ll click edit to send it to Sharpen AI.

And just like in DeNoise AI, the first thing that I wanna do is compare the AI models that I have access to. So I’m gonna change my view to comparison view. We’ll zoom to 200% just like before, and we’ll put the focus box on the elk. And between the three AI models, I like too soft the best, but I’m gonna choose these other modes here to see how they perform. So let’s click on very noisy and very blurry. And I like the way that looks so I’m gonna double click to open it up in single view, and then let’s zoom to fit so that we can see the entire image. Now, overall, I think the elk looks a lot sharper and we’ll zoom in in a minute again, but I don’t like the way the surrounding grass over here and the trees got over sharpened. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to control where you want the sharpening applied and that’s by using the in-app masking, which is located right here, this icon that I’m gonna click. And I’ll go ahead and zoom in to 100% to get a closer view of the elk. And then with the add brush selected and the edge where option enabled, I’m gonna go ahead and start masking in the elk. First, I’m gonna adjust my feather just to make it a little smaller. And here’s my brush size for this part of the selection. And now with the main body of the elk selected, I’m gonna go ahead and make the selection on the antlers. Now that we have our mask completed, I’m gonna click on the apply mask button to commit that change. And if I press and hold, you can see that the elk has no sharping applied, but when I let go only the elk has the sharpening applied to it, so it is really nice and crisp. Now that I’m done, I’ll click on apply to return back to Lightroom again. And once again, here’s a her original photo. This was the, a photo we sent to DeNoise AI, and this is the photo that we sent to Sharpen AI afterwards. Now, if I go ahead and select the DeNoise AI version and the Sharpen AI version, and then click on C to compare. Let’s zoom in over here, you can see how much more detail has been recovered from the elk, and it just pops even more. And then if we go to grid view again, let’s select the original photo and the version with Sharpen AI and compare the two. Let’s zoom in here, and the difference is just staggering. All the noise is gone, but we still have all of the important details on the elk. And so I hope this gives you a better idea of how you can use DeNoise AI as part of your image editing workflow, to get rid of any of that unwanted luminance or color noise, as well as pair it with Sharpen AI to get even more detail out of your photo. If you’re interested in trying free trials of DeNoise AI, or Sharpen AI, head over to topazlabs.com to download them today.

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Now that you have a better understanding of how easy it is to reduce noise in your photos, you should download a free trial of DeNoise AI and try it out today!

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About the Author: Brian Matiash

Brian Matiash serves as Product Marketing Manager for Topaz Labs and manages the Topaz Labs Learning Center. He is also a photo educator and author, with his work being featured in dozens of international publications. Learn more about Brian by visiting his website.
Published On: August 19th, 2021 / Categories: DeNoise AI, Tutorial /

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