Noise Reduction in Lightroom

Written by:

The technology contained within today’s DSLR cameras enable us to take startlingly clear photographs in near-darkness. Sensors are more sensitive, ISO’s go up to 12,000+, and lenses get faster and faster.

However, that capability to take photos in low light costs us in the way of increased noise.

Noise is that “grain” you see, which when magnified appears as tiny speckles of white and tiny colored specks that don’t correspond to the color of the subject. It is caused by a variety of things, but not to put too fine a technical point on it, it basically has to do with how the components of the camera’s sensor handle electronic signals at high ISO settings. The higher the ISO, the higher the appearance of noise. The larger the camera’s sensor, the better quality the photographs taken at a high ISO will be – so, a photo taken with a crop sensor camera at ISO 6400 will have more noise than a photo taken with a full frame sensor at ISO 6400. In addition, each camera model and each camera brand handle noise differently. Lots of folks like to play around with noise and grain as an added artistic element to their photographs.

With all of that said, there are ways to reduce the noise in your photographs, regardless of how high your ISO or which camera you use. Just keep in mind that the more noise you reduce, the “softer” the appearance of the photograph.

Here is a photo that I took with my Canon EOS 7D, ISO 12,800. Ordinarily, ISO settings are only available up to 6,400, but I activated the ISO expansion option on my camera. This shot is straight out of the camera (click to enlarge):

As you can see, it’s pretty grainy. And actually, zoomed out the grain is fairly aesthetically pleasing, given the subject. When I zoom in using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, the amount of noise is very apparent (click to enlarge):


In the Develop module of Lightroom, you may have noticed the “Detail” panel:

In the “Noise Reduction” area, slide the “Luminance” slider to the right until all of the white speckles disappear. I had to drag it all the way over to 51 (click to enlarge):

Now, notice the purple-ish speckles and streaks in the spoke on the lower left? That’s an indication of color noise, and to remove it we just slide the “Color” slider over to the right until it disappears, as well (click to enlarge):

Here is the photo with the noise levels reduced (click to enlarge):

Removing noise also has the added benefit of reducing the file size. The original is 16.6 MB, and the file with the noise reduced is 10.5 MB. This application of noise reduction works in a similar fashion in Photoshop, Aperture, and other post-processing software.

Photos by Tiffany Joyce.

Previous Post:

  • Larryhartlaub

    Very nhelpful.  I often set time, and let A and ISO adjust, causing high ISO in low light.  This noise reduction tip is something I need to start using more often