Reduce Camera Noise in 3 Easy Photoshop Steps - Digital Photography School

Reduce Camera Noise in 3 Easy Photoshop Steps

Danny Jauregui is a Los Angeles based food blogger.  Read his helpful food photography and blogging tips at Food Bloggers Unite!
 
Shooting with a higher ISO can sometimes solve low light shooting situations but it can also present a whole other set of problems.  Higher ISO’s allow you to shoot in low light situations but the combination of low light and high ISO creates a perfect storm when it comes to camera noise and texture. 

color-noise-final.jpg

Camera noise is most obvious in the darker midtone and shadow areas of your image and often resembles small dots of color, which can ruin a perfectly good image.
 
There are countless ways of reducing camera noise using Photoshop and this tutorial is by no means the end all be all of color noise reduction.  In fact, this method works best for reducing small amounts of color noise since it primarily reduces the color not the texture.  By reducing the color it gives the illusion of less noise.  It’s a simple technique geared toward newbies that can yield huge benefits!
 

Step 1

Duplicate the background layer.  You can do this by simply dragging the background layer into the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers window.
 
step1-duplicate-layer.jpg 

Step 2

Change the Layer Blending Mode from ‘Normal’ to ‘Color’.

color-noise-final2.jpg 

Step 3

 
Apply Gaussian Blur Filter from the Filter menu.  The amount of blur will determine the amount of reduction.  Be careful not to over-blur because adding too much blur will de-saturate the color information in your image.
 
Step3-gaussian-blur.jpg
Because we changed the blending mode on the layer, only color information is being blurred.  The luminosity (detail information) stays unaffected.  Again, this will only reduce the color in the noise, not the texture itself…sometimes this is enough, other times it is not, but I find this technique to be a good first line of defense.
 
At this point a layer mask can be added to the blurred layer and the layer can be selectively painted so as not to affect the entire image.  This is optional, but highly recommended.
 
This technique could also be utilized to remove moiré patterns from fabric! 
 
What techniques do you use to reduce color noise? Have an amendment to the above technique? Let me know in the comments!
 
before-after-noise-reduction.jpg

color-noise-final2.jpg

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  • http://edhoover.my-expressions.com/ Ed

    Thanks for the tip! I typically have done noise-reduction in Adobe Camera RAW before opening the file in PS Editor. Have you any tips for that, or perhaps can that work in concert with what you’ve described?

  • http://cgarrett.deviantart.com Chris G

    I’m definitely going to have to try this one. I try and get as much noise out through the Adobe Raw. As an alternative I bought Noise Ninja. I was able to quickly batch process about 1500 pictures with great results. If you shoot a lot indoors with not much light, I definitely recommend trying it out. (www.picturecode.com).

  • http://quicoto.com quicoto

    I don’t see much diference, with my D90 the noise is pretty cool. Also use some “film types” to add some in B&W shoots :P

  • http://www.ylsphoto.blogspot.com/ Yls Novak

    I use pretty uch the same technique. But at step 2 Instead of using “gaussian blur” which cas cause some trouble at the edges of object with different color you can use the “Median” filter which will preserve the edge at the border of the objects.

  • Angie

    I can’t see the difference between the before and after, but I will give this a try. I usually resort to using Noise Ninja which works miracles.

  • http://danferno.deviantart.com Danferno

    This basically desaturates the noise, it doesn’t really get rid of it.

  • Andre

    Just get a copy of NeatImage – it will intelligently remove the noise almost completely.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lightshootedit scott e. detweiler

    you can also check your channels, as most of the time your noise will love in one specific channel.

  • Rick

    Personally, I would eat the food from the picture in Step 1 than the one from the final result. The final result looks dull and cold.

    Thanks for sharing though! It was interesting to read.

  • http://gelbachdesigns.com/ WIlliam Rackley

    Bang on and thanks for the tutorial. I hadn’t thought of using the color blend mode like that. It would be very useful with images from a camera that has chroma noise issues.

    Don’t forget Photoshop’s median stack mode. It requires more than one exposure (best with many), but can remove grain in all but the worst circumstances.

  • Steven

    I think in photoshop lightroom there’s actually just a simple slider which allows you to do just that. in fact, there’s another slider for luminance noise as well.

  • http://www.foodbloggersunite.com Danny@Foodbloggersunite

    Thanks for the comments everyone! For those that are having trouble viewing the difference, look closely at the COLOR in the noise, NOT the texture. Again, this tutorial simply diminishes the color, giving the illusion of less noise. It’s a fast and easy first line of attack!

    Danny-

  • http://picasaweb.google.com/superdewa Deirdre

    I can see it.

    I use Noiseware from Imagenomic. You can download a free stand-alone version or pay for the photoshop plugin.

  • http://jenncuisine.com Jenn

    Awesome post! I often have to shoot in a higher ISO as light is in short supply these days, but I have been unsatisfied with Photoshop’s “reduce color noise” feature. I will definitely try this method out instead!

  • johnp

    Thanks for that tip. Those blending modes seem to have a lot of hidden (to me anyhow) uses. It would be good to have a summary of what can be acheived with each of them.

  • http://blog.woodsb.net/ Woods

    In the process you lost the nice red color of the tomato pieces.
    For now, the noise reduction in LR is enough for me.
    — Woods

  • Val Y.

    I open my photo’s in Capture NX2 and finish and save them. If I have photo’s that need some ‘noise reduction’, I save the photo’s from Capture NX2 as TIF’s, open them in Photoshop, and start with Nik’s Sharpener for the Noise Reduction. I find that Nik’s Sharpener is the easist and most accurate, especially for selective noise reduction. Their ‘U-Point’ technology is made for photographers (amateaurs through professionals).
    Hope this helps.
    Merry Christmas.

  • http://www.curtiscopeland.com/ Curtis Copeland

    Nice tutorial on reducing noise with Photoshop. Thanks for sharing!

    Curtis

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    @ val y.

    I have Nik’s Sharpener and have not used it like that. I’ll give that a try, thanks for commenting about it.

    For me, though, I’d like to follow this one-step method for reducing noise: buy a Nikon D3s

  • http://loycehoodphoto.com Loyce Hood

    You’re too funny, Jason. That’s one way not to get it at all.

    Merry Christmas. See you tomorrow night.

  • Darren

    Pointless to use this technique, sorry. Having said that, I use Noise Ninja.

  • Pedro

    I am a graphic designer and photographer. I have to process many images every day (hundreds), many shot on compact digtal cameras in poor or indoor light, so noise is a common problem.

    I swear by Noiseware Professional from Imagenomic. It’s better than Noise Ninja, and does not degrade the detail or image sharpness.

    I can make an 800 ISO shot look as smooth as one taken at 100 ISO with the Noiseware Photoshop plug-in.

  • Phil

    I use Topaz DeNoise it works wonders and you have control fo the sharpness.

  • http://www.nitendo-r4.com.ar nintendo dsi r4

    Thanks for the tips. Its very useful to me. Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!

  • Alberto

    I use Noiseware, the free version. But it desaturates a bit the color. To solve this issue I go back to Ps with the image, duplicate layer (ctrl+J), match the color (adjustments/match color) with the original, the “noisy” one, change the Layer Blending Mode to Color, reduce the opacity if needed and finally flatten the image. It gives me very good results.

  • http://lilliemillerphotography.com Lillie

    With NoiseNinja – – – which I have – – – could someone give me advice on the settings and how to most effectively use this program to remove noise.

  • Jason

    I use noiseware professional as well. And I don’t have many noise problems even at ISO 1600. Your technique is very nice in getting rid of the color noise, but in the process the photo was very desaturated. And what about the rest of the noise?? :'(

  • http://hooft.net/rob Rob Hooft

    DXO Optics Pro has separate options for color noise and b/w noise reduction. It improves my pictures seriously relative to the camera JPG.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/weetoon/ Catherine

    I am busy scanning some old slides of my father’s and the results can be quite noisy, particularly on the older ones (some are about 50 years old). I am really keen to try this technique and see if it helps, thank you.

  • http://www.davelissa.net David Paul

    I use JASC PaintShop – it has a filter called “Edge Preserving Smooth” that works very well!

  • http://www.gbengaloveyesimages.com Gbenga Loveeyes Images

    Just tried it. The result is amazing. I have been using the filter reduce grains for this. Thanks.

  • http://Weddings.CurtisWallis.com Curtis Wallis

    Great technique. This always comes into play with me on the large scale prints. I do alot with images over 4 feet and the color grain always gets to me.

  • MaryD

    While it doesn’t remove the noise, increasing the contrast level can hide it to some degree–that is, so long as the photo suits higher contrast.

  • Ev_d

    I just downloaded Noiseware – WOW!!! I am so happy to have found this. Thanks for all the tips!

  • http://photographyforbeginners.wordpress.com/ Karen Stuebing

    I agree with the previous poster. Neat Image is an affordable plug in for Photoshop and works beautifully, If the image is too soft, you can just fade the result until you get what you want.

  • Kevin

    Noise reducing software does sound like the best option (although I haven’t had the chance to try any yet). I’ve been doing something similar to the process that you wrote about, though. I’ve been converting my image to Lab mode, then applying a Gaussian blur to the a and b channels (about 20%, I think). This produces a similar sort of effect in that it modifies the colour while preserving the luminosity. Once that’s done, I convert the image back to RGB for anything else that I have to do.

  • http://publikaccion.es/ publikaccion

    very cool technique :-D

  • http://fibbling.com Joanna

    I use Photoimpact, and I’ve found an alternative if painstaking way to remove noise from areas where noise filters aren ‘t effective: zoom in really close to the noisy pixels and use the color replacement tool to replace pixels of a certain tone to that of their ‘noiseless’ very-similar-toned neighbours. It’s a last resort measure, and only works in small selective areas, otherwise it looks too ‘plastic’ or painty..
    As far as general noise removal goes, I’ve found Neat Image to be the best.

  • http://www.patriciaomahonyphotography.com Patricia

    Yep thanks looks good tried photo Ninja and purchased it straight away as i shoot in high ISO with no flash for ceremonies such as baptisms. But the median works too just not well enough for me.

Some older comments

  • Patricia

    June 14, 2013 09:50 am

    Yep thanks looks good tried photo Ninja and purchased it straight away as i shoot in high ISO with no flash for ceremonies such as baptisms. But the median works too just not well enough for me.

  • Joanna

    January 22, 2010 06:08 am

    I use Photoimpact, and I've found an alternative if painstaking way to remove noise from areas where noise filters aren 't effective: zoom in really close to the noisy pixels and use the color replacement tool to replace pixels of a certain tone to that of their 'noiseless' very-similar-toned neighbours. It's a last resort measure, and only works in small selective areas, otherwise it looks too 'plastic' or painty..
    As far as general noise removal goes, I've found Neat Image to be the best.

  • publikaccion

    January 15, 2010 07:12 pm

    very cool technique :-D

  • Kevin

    January 13, 2010 01:50 am

    Noise reducing software does sound like the best option (although I haven't had the chance to try any yet). I've been doing something similar to the process that you wrote about, though. I've been converting my image to Lab mode, then applying a Gaussian blur to the a and b channels (about 20%, I think). This produces a similar sort of effect in that it modifies the colour while preserving the luminosity. Once that's done, I convert the image back to RGB for anything else that I have to do.

  • Karen Stuebing

    January 8, 2010 03:18 am

    I agree with the previous poster. Neat Image is an affordable plug in for Photoshop and works beautifully, If the image is too soft, you can just fade the result until you get what you want.

  • Ev_d

    January 2, 2010 01:08 pm

    I just downloaded Noiseware - WOW!!! I am so happy to have found this. Thanks for all the tips!

  • MaryD

    January 1, 2010 01:57 pm

    While it doesn't remove the noise, increasing the contrast level can hide it to some degree--that is, so long as the photo suits higher contrast.

  • Curtis Wallis

    December 31, 2009 12:42 pm

    Great technique. This always comes into play with me on the large scale prints. I do alot with images over 4 feet and the color grain always gets to me.

  • Gbenga Loveeyes Images

    December 30, 2009 07:34 pm

    Just tried it. The result is amazing. I have been using the filter reduce grains for this. Thanks.

  • David Paul

    December 30, 2009 05:07 pm

    I use JASC PaintShop - it has a filter called "Edge Preserving Smooth" that works very well!

  • Catherine

    December 30, 2009 03:42 am

    I am busy scanning some old slides of my father's and the results can be quite noisy, particularly on the older ones (some are about 50 years old). I am really keen to try this technique and see if it helps, thank you.

  • Rob Hooft

    December 21, 2009 03:41 am

    DXO Optics Pro has separate options for color noise and b/w noise reduction. It improves my pictures seriously relative to the camera JPG.

  • Jason

    December 20, 2009 01:16 am

    I use noiseware professional as well. And I don't have many noise problems even at ISO 1600. Your technique is very nice in getting rid of the color noise, but in the process the photo was very desaturated. And what about the rest of the noise?? :'(

  • Lillie

    December 18, 2009 11:57 pm

    With NoiseNinja - - - which I have - - - could someone give me advice on the settings and how to most effectively use this program to remove noise.

  • Alberto

    December 18, 2009 06:06 pm

    I use Noiseware, the free version. But it desaturates a bit the color. To solve this issue I go back to Ps with the image, duplicate layer (ctrl+J), match the color (adjustments/match color) with the original, the "noisy" one, change the Layer Blending Mode to Color, reduce the opacity if needed and finally flatten the image. It gives me very good results.

  • nintendo dsi r4

    December 18, 2009 01:59 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Its very useful to me. Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!

  • Phil

    December 18, 2009 12:36 pm

    I use Topaz DeNoise it works wonders and you have control fo the sharpness.

  • Pedro

    December 18, 2009 10:31 am

    I am a graphic designer and photographer. I have to process many images every day (hundreds), many shot on compact digtal cameras in poor or indoor light, so noise is a common problem.

    I swear by Noiseware Professional from Imagenomic. It's better than Noise Ninja, and does not degrade the detail or image sharpness.

    I can make an 800 ISO shot look as smooth as one taken at 100 ISO with the Noiseware Photoshop plug-in.

  • Darren

    December 17, 2009 06:30 am

    Pointless to use this technique, sorry. Having said that, I use Noise Ninja.

  • Loyce Hood

    December 16, 2009 10:49 pm

    You're too funny, Jason. That's one way not to get it at all.

    Merry Christmas. See you tomorrow night.

  • Jason Collin Photography

    December 16, 2009 02:17 pm

    @ val y.

    I have Nik's Sharpener and have not used it like that. I'll give that a try, thanks for commenting about it.

    For me, though, I'd like to follow this one-step method for reducing noise: buy a Nikon D3s

  • Curtis Copeland

    December 16, 2009 11:35 am

    Nice tutorial on reducing noise with Photoshop. Thanks for sharing!

    Curtis

  • Val Y.

    December 16, 2009 11:07 am

    I open my photo's in Capture NX2 and finish and save them. If I have photo's that need some 'noise reduction', I save the photo's from Capture NX2 as TIF's, open them in Photoshop, and start with Nik's Sharpener for the Noise Reduction. I find that Nik's Sharpener is the easist and most accurate, especially for selective noise reduction. Their 'U-Point' technology is made for photographers (amateaurs through professionals).
    Hope this helps.
    Merry Christmas.

  • Woods

    December 16, 2009 10:51 am

    In the process you lost the nice red color of the tomato pieces.
    For now, the noise reduction in LR is enough for me.
    -- Woods

  • johnp

    December 16, 2009 08:16 am

    Thanks for that tip. Those blending modes seem to have a lot of hidden (to me anyhow) uses. It would be good to have a summary of what can be acheived with each of them.

  • Jenn

    December 16, 2009 05:33 am

    Awesome post! I often have to shoot in a higher ISO as light is in short supply these days, but I have been unsatisfied with Photoshop's "reduce color noise" feature. I will definitely try this method out instead!

  • Deirdre

    December 16, 2009 05:07 am

    I can see it.

    I use Noiseware from Imagenomic. You can download a free stand-alone version or pay for the photoshop plugin.

  • Danny@Foodbloggersunite

    December 16, 2009 04:29 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone! For those that are having trouble viewing the difference, look closely at the COLOR in the noise, NOT the texture. Again, this tutorial simply diminishes the color, giving the illusion of less noise. It's a fast and easy first line of attack!

    Danny-

  • Steven

    December 16, 2009 04:00 am

    I think in photoshop lightroom there's actually just a simple slider which allows you to do just that. in fact, there's another slider for luminance noise as well.

  • WIlliam Rackley

    December 16, 2009 03:30 am

    Bang on and thanks for the tutorial. I hadn't thought of using the color blend mode like that. It would be very useful with images from a camera that has chroma noise issues.

    Don't forget Photoshop's median stack mode. It requires more than one exposure (best with many), but can remove grain in all but the worst circumstances.

  • Rick

    December 16, 2009 03:23 am

    Personally, I would eat the food from the picture in Step 1 than the one from the final result. The final result looks dull and cold.

    Thanks for sharing though! It was interesting to read.

  • scott e. detweiler

    December 16, 2009 01:54 am

    you can also check your channels, as most of the time your noise will love in one specific channel.

  • Andre

    December 16, 2009 01:33 am

    Just get a copy of NeatImage - it will intelligently remove the noise almost completely.

  • Danferno

    December 16, 2009 01:30 am

    This basically desaturates the noise, it doesn't really get rid of it.

  • Angie

    December 16, 2009 01:14 am

    I can't see the difference between the before and after, but I will give this a try. I usually resort to using Noise Ninja which works miracles.

  • Yls Novak

    December 16, 2009 01:00 am

    I use pretty uch the same technique. But at step 2 Instead of using "gaussian blur" which cas cause some trouble at the edges of object with different color you can use the "Median" filter which will preserve the edge at the border of the objects.

  • quicoto

    December 16, 2009 12:30 am

    I don't see much diference, with my D90 the noise is pretty cool. Also use some "film types" to add some in B&W shoots :P

  • Chris G

    December 16, 2009 12:23 am

    I'm definitely going to have to try this one. I try and get as much noise out through the Adobe Raw. As an alternative I bought Noise Ninja. I was able to quickly batch process about 1500 pictures with great results. If you shoot a lot indoors with not much light, I definitely recommend trying it out. (www.picturecode.com).

  • Ed

    December 16, 2009 12:16 am

    Thanks for the tip! I typically have done noise-reduction in Adobe Camera RAW before opening the file in PS Editor. Have you any tips for that, or perhaps can that work in concert with what you've described?

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