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Noise Reduction in Lightroom 3

July 26, 2011

One of my favorite features in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 is the Noise Reduction. “Noise” is the result of using higher ISO settings on your camera. If you have ever shot with a point and shoot camera in a dark room, you have probably ended up with quite a bit of noise in your images. It appears as tiny spots of color throughout the darker areas of the image. This is color noise. You may also notice an overall graininess in the image. This is luminance noise.
So, if you end up with noise by using a high ISO, why would you bother using it then? Quite simply, ISO is how sensitive the image sensor is to light. If you are in low light situations, you will tend to want to turn up the ISO setting in order to enable you to use a faster shutter speed to make the shot. The faster the shutter speed, the less likely you are to have blurry images because of camera movement while holding the camera.

The image below is cropped from a larger image so you can see what I am talking about. This was shot in a dark room with only a few colored lights. I used the highest normal ISO that my Canon 40D can go to, ISO 1600. At f2.8 for the aperture setting, I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/40 second. Not a very fast shutter speed, but with the Image Stabilization in the lens and a good technique for holding the camera, you can obtain reasonably sharp images in the low lighting.  (Click on the photo to view a larger version.)

20110726-032624.jpg

Assuming you are looking at this on a Mac or PC screen (it might be tough to see the noise on a mobile device’s small screen) you can see tiny colored pixels throughout the dark areas of the image. You can also see the grainy luminance noise.

Here is a shot of the noise reduction settings for this image. I’m just showing that they were completely zeroed out to show how much noise is actually in the original RAW image file.

20110726-033617.jpg

I use several presets that I have setup to apply a specific amount of noise reduction to an image, depending on the ISO used. For lower ISO values, I use one that only adds a small amount of noise reduction. For higher ISO’s, I use a preset that applies more. Presets make it easier to make the changes without having to manually change the values with the setting sliders.

This next image is the same crop as above, but with the noise reduction applied. You should be able to see quite a difference in the amount of noise. (Click on the photo to view a larger version.)

20110726-034359.jpg

Here are the noise reduction settings for this version:

20110726-034619.jpg

The noise reduction in Lightroom 3 is definitely a great feature. It allows you to shoot in low light situations, use a high ISO and not worry so much about noisy, grainy images. This was a major update to the almost non-existent noise reduction in Lightroom 2.

Here is the full size version of the file for reference.

20110726-034951.jpg

Canon 40D, EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS @ f2.8 1/40 ISO 1600

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