How to Reduce Noise in a Photo

The term ‘digital noise’ is casually thrown around among photographers on a daily basis. Professionals may be surprised but many beginner photographers fail to understand the importance of the concept or notice it in pictures — much less do something about it to preserve the quality of the frame.

If you’re new to photography, learning about digital noise is something you will use for every shoot and will not regret it in the long run. In this post, you will learn what types of digital noise there are, tips on how to reduce noise in photos in-camera, and the most useful post-processing grain removal hacks.

What Is Noise in Digital Photos?

Visually, digital noise manifests as small colored pixels in the frame that reduce the sharpness and the vividness of the photo. The grain is similar to film photography but is mostly unintentional and rarely has the same atmospheric effect.

Since digital noise reduces the amount of detail in the picture, most photographers try to avoid it. Many factors contribute to the appearance of camera noise — the sensor size, the ISO setting, exposure, and so on.

Although digital noise is the most common noise type, it’s not the only one around. Shot noise is another modification photographers have to be aware of — let’s take a closer look at them:

Shot noise

Shot noise typically appears in pictures because of photons. Little particles of light are present in every scene and make it into pictures. Photographers have no control over them, there’s no fixed pattern that helps determine whether or not a picture will end up noisy. 

You can determine the impact of shot noise by calculating the number of photons a given source of light emits — for a lightbulb, it’s around 1,000 photons per second.

Digital noise

Digital noise is caused by the camera sensor and the internal electronic configurations of your gear. Naturally, digital noise has negative effects since it reduces the clarity of the picture but they are not as destructive as shot noise. 

This type has a visible pattern, different for each camera. Once you learn in which areas of your shots the noise is typically scattered, you will require less time and effort to remove noise from a photo.

How to Reduce Noise In-Camera

Although there are many ways to reduce digital noise in post-processing, photographers should strive to handle it on-site. Remember that the key to digital noise reductions does not lie in avoidance but in tweaking the camera settings to make the noise impact as non-invasive as possible. 

Here are some tips that will help you ensure your pictures will be grain-free and laser-sharp.

1. Expose photos correctly

Correct exposure naturally increases the sharpness of the shot. Be sure to avoid dark underexposed areas or deep shadow — most cameras will create noise when processing the shades of black. 

Although some photographers use the light meter to deal with the exposure, consider sticking to the color histogram instead to see how well the blacks and the highlight are exposed. 

Exposing to the right is most photographers’ go-to trick for image noise reduction. A photographer has to adjust the camera in a way that moves the histogram to the right as much as possible. Be sure to not overexpose the frame so much that it reaches the pure whites zone. 

2. Reduce the shutter speed

Digital noise increases only marginally with the increase of the shutter speed. However, if one were to compare a photo with high ISO and shutter speed to a picture where both values were lower, the second frame will have considerably less digital noise, although the motion blur would increase as well. 

When it comes to easy photo denoise techniques, be extremely careful when using ‘Shutter Priority’ since it adjusts other settings automatically and can crank up the ISO value, thus increasing the amount of digital noise.

3. Use the noise reduction feature

Another way to prevent digital noise from destroying a shot is by using your camera’s built-in noise reduction feature. This system helps photographers by automatically adjusting the exposure of the shot. 

Thanks to this feature, you will not have to fix grainy photos in post-processing. As for the downsides, the processing time will equal the amount of time it took to capture the original shot — you will not be able to shoot anything until the frame is fully processed. 

4. Choose low ISO

ISO is the chief reason why digital noise appears in shots. Essentially, the higher the value a photographer uses for shooting, the more noise the frame is going to have. 

The reason for such connectivity lies in the fact that cameras with a high ISO are more sensitive to light. If you’re not under poor lighting conditions, try to keep the value as low as possible for more efficient picture denoising. 

5. Keep your camera out of the direct heat

As the camera sensor gets heating, your gear will produce more image noise as opposed to shooting in ambient temperatures. If you have to work during a hot day, avoid leaving the camera under the sun rays. 

When you no longer need your shooting gear, pack it away. If you work in winter, remember to put the camera the farthest possible from the radiator. 

6. Use the wide lens aperture

As mentioned above, the amount of digital noise in the picture increases in low-light conditions. To remove the grain from the shot, use wide lens apertures when shooting with no source of bright light. 

The aperture per se is not connected to the digital noise. However, using a narrow lens aperture forces photographers to increase ISO and reduce shutter speed. That’s why photographers set wide apertures and low f-values for digital picture noise reduction. 

7. Fix digital noise in post-processing

Finally, if removing digital noise from the picture during the shoot is too challenging, consider tweaking the shot in post-processing. Most editing tools have noise reduction tools, with a color histogram, sliders for contrast and brightness, and other convenient features. 
Depending on the noise reduction software you choose for picture editing, denoising tools may be more or less advanced. In the post, we will further cover all the features Phototheca offers to improve the details of the frame.

Post-Production Techniques to Denoise Photo

If you want to denoise photo images in post-processing, be sure to use the tools your photo denoise software offers to the fullest extent. Take your time to explore your favorite retouching program and find out which of the following digital noise reduction features it offers:

  • Noise reduction sliders. Tools like Photoshop and Lightroom both have ‘Sharpness’ and ‘Noise reduction’ tabs. Adobe PS offers a weak range of denoising tools, so it’s better to combine the effect with some contrast and brightness adjustment. 
  • Fix the luminance on the ‘Contrast’ slider to set the digital noise threshold. Increase the value to reduce the number of grains in the picture. If there’s a ‘Contrast Noise’ slider similar to that of Lightroom, keeping the value at zero is a smart choice for most occasions.
  • Use the ‘Detail’ slider — it helps determine how soft you want the picture to be. A standard value for most pictures should be set at around 40-60. 
  • Use the ‘Smoothness’ panel. Raise the value to 60-70 on the slider to soften up the shot and remove the unnecessary grain. Keep in mind that, after adjusting the smoothness, you might have to additionally color-correct the image. 

Adjustment brushes. All photo noise reduction software for windows offers photographers a set of adjustment brushes. Photographers can zoom on a particular area of the frame and denoise it by pixels. These tools are a perfect fit for reducing local digital noise without softening or contrasting the entire image. The tool is often applied to reduce the grain of the black areas of the frame.

How to Remove Noise from a Photo with Phototheca

Phototheca has a custom photo noise reduction tool in the Edit toolbar that supports both JPEG and raw shots. Choose Adjust in the toolbar to start denoising the picture. On the tab that will pop up, you’ll see the Noise Reduction slider. Tweak the frame by moving the arrow to the left and to the right. 

In case you want to go back to the original view of the frame, you can always cancel your previous editing actions and restart the denoising process.

Conclusion

Digital noise in pictures is inevitable since it’s driven by the laws of nature. It’s impossible to entirely avoid it but photographers have to strive for minimizing its effects on the final shot. Thanks to on-camera and post-processing reduction techniques, you can get clean and sharp pictures even during lowlight shoots. 

As to the editing software to use for noise reduction, consider giving Phototheca a try. The tool doesn’t have a steep learning curve, is easy to manage, and offers a range of easy photo denoise features. You will be able to touch your pictures and prepare them for printing or social media sharing is nothing but a few clicks!

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