Ever have that awesome picture you just have to take, but don’t because of poor lighting will stretch the limits of your high ISO noise to pain tolerance ratio? Using Noise Reduction plug ins for Photoshop can leave your images not crisp, requiring some manual sharpening or masking. Besides, they cost money.

Photoshop CS, in this instance CS3, has a built in noise reducer that work wonders. (Ironically, it does not involve using the Noise Reduction Filter). Here’s how to do it.
Micheal Freeman also discusses this in his book, Top Tips, Digital Photography .

1. The first thing you need to remember to do is to take a number of identical shots (or as close to identical as possible). In this illustration I took five, but three will also do well. Ideally, the only thing that will vary in the shots is the placement of the ‘noisy pixels’.

Here is the image I used for this illustration. (Taken with a D300, 80mm, f/5, 1/40 sec with ISO 500, no flash) It’s not the noisiest picture out there, but it was handy and illustrates this technique all the same.

Start Image

2. Upload these images into your Photoshop in layers and then align the layers. (Select > All Layers then Edit > Auto-Align Layers)

3. Make them into a smart object and stack them. (Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object)

4. Choose a stack mode to reduce noise (Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode)

The noise in this picture really shows up much better when you zoom in on the image. Below is the example when you choose the “Mean” mode for your stack. Please note that I lightened the image to illustrate the noise better.

mean mode

In the image below, I used the Median Mode for noise reduction. Given a choice between the two, I prefer the Mean mode in this case, but Median may work better for you.


Once the image has been smoothed out, you can adjust the highlights when the layers are still in 'Smart Mode'. Play around with the controls to achieve the look you are aiming for. If you want to do some further tweeking on your image, you'll have to flatten the smart layers into one normal layer in order to have access to your other image adjustment tools. Remember to copy the smart object layer into another layer which you can feel free to hide so that you always have a copy of the work before you continue. I was able to end up with this shot after some work on the highlights:

Finished Image

For those of you who are interested in learning a bit more about this, Please see the Adobe.com web site.

Before I go, I'd like to show you what the Adobe CS3 Filters > Noise > Reduce noise set to automatic would do to the image: (yuck)

adobenr.jpgThe technique described above I find suits my purposes quite well -- it does not lose too much detail in the image, and it allows me to work more with the image without the interference of the noise. (Remember! Edit out the noise before doing other image editing.) Granted, I don't take a lot of images with too much noise at the moment. Using this technique would certainly not work if you were shooting anything that was moving around a lot because you'd never have the time to take the consecutive shots! Those who do a lot of shots where noise might be an issue and where you can not take multiple shots, then one other option is to get a plug in for photoshop (sighs). One recommended software for noise reduction which allows for a LOT of control (but remember more control = more time controlling!) over the adjustments to be made is Dfine 2.0 by Nic software. They also allow for educational discounts. If you are a student or teacher go to The Academic Superstore for their products.

One Response to “Noise Reduction”

  1. Kim Says:

    Thanks for the tips :)

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