Are you struggling with noisy photos? You’re not alone.
Noise is a huge problem, and it can easily ruin an otherwise great photo – but fortunately, Lightroom offers several powerful tools that’ll help you quickly and easily remove unwanted noise. With the proper approach and a bit of luck, you’ll be left with relatively clean, beautiful-looking images, sufficient for sharing and even printing.
In this article, I’m going to show you two easy processes for getting rid of noise in Lightroom: the (newer) AI-powered Denoise method and the (older) manual method. I’ll also discuss targeted noise reduction adjustments and share plenty of tips along the way to help you get the best possible results.
So if you’re ready to master noise reduction in Lightroom, then let’s get started!
A word of (noise reduction) warning
Noise reduction is great, and it can easily improve your images.
At the same time, it’s important to note that noise removal is generally achieved at the expense of image detail. This is because the noise removal process smooths out noisy areas, which gets rid of unwanted artifacts but also obliterates fine detail.
Fortunately, Adobe has been hard at work updating Lightroom’s noise-reduction tools, and thanks to the recent (mid-2023) addition of AI-powered Denoise, the program is better than ever at removing noise while retaining key image detail. However, it’s not perfect, and it cannot magically turn a noise-dominated image into a completely clean, sharp file.
Because of this, if you are a purist and noise reduction is an ongoing and significant need, then I’d recommend considering a dedicated noise-reduction program such as DeNoise AI, Neat Image, or Photo Ninja. If you have the time, do a direct comparison with Adobe’s AI-powered Denoise tool and see what you like best.
On the other hand, for most photographers – including many professionals – the older manual noise reduction tools offered in Lightroom are generally sufficient, and the new Denoise tool is simply icing on the cake.
The two kinds of noise
There are two types of noise in photos: color noise and luminance noise.
Color noise appears as multicolored pixels. In the crop below, you can see many flecks of color, yet the area is supposed to be a solid blue:
Luminance noise is monochromatic, so it’s less colorful and more like grain. Here is luminance noise in an early morning sky:
In general, color noise is considered more unsightly but is easier to remove effectively. Luminance noise can give you a more filmic effect, which can be used artistically, but reducing luminance noise is more likely to cause unpleasant smoothing effects.
AI-powered Denoise vs manual noise reduction in Lightroom
Prior to the April 2023 update, Lightroom Classic offered one main method for reducing noise. You would work in the Detail panel and carefully adjust the Luminance and Color sliders until you achieved a nice result.
And while you can still use that method – now referred to as manual noise reduction – the updated Lightroom boasts another much more effective noise reduction tool, known as Denoise. Denoise uses powerful AI technology to remove noise without significantly affecting detail, and it does a very nice job.
This begs the question: Is there even a reason to do manual noise reduction anymore? Or is Adobe’s AI-powered Denoise the way forward?
In general, I recommend trying Denoise on every noisy image, but there are a couple of caveats to bear in mind:
- Denoise isn’t perfect, and there are times when it’ll do a bad job. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of room for adjustment – the process is almost entirely automatic – so if you do end up with a disappointing result, you may want to start the noise reduction process over and use the manual method instead.
- Denoise is really, really slow. If you have a lot of files that need noise reduction and you don’t have much time, you’re probably better off using manual noise reduction.
At the end of the day, it’s really about your preferred workflow. I encourage you to try both options and see what you think!
How to use Lightroom’s AI-powered Denoise tool
Applying noise reduction with Lightroom’s new AI-powered Denoise feature is insanely easy. Here’s what you do:
Step 1: Open your image and head into the Develop module
Start by identifying an image with unsightly noise. If you’re not sure whether noise is present in a shot, it can be helpful to zoom in to 100%; this can reveal problematic pixels hiding in the details.
Click Develop in the Lightroom interface.
Step 2: Select the Denoise option
Click the Denoise button. You should see the Enhance Preview dialog box appear.
Step 3: Choose your Denoise amount
As you can see, you don’t have many choices when applying Denoise. Just make sure the Denoise box is checked, then choose an Amount using the slider. The default value is 50, and it’s a fine choice – but you can always drag the slider back and forth while keeping an eye on the preview window to see what looks nice.
If you want Lightroom to group your noise-reduced file with the original noisy shot go ahead and check the Create Stack box, too.
Step 4: Click Enhance
Once your settings are dialed in, press the Enhance button and wait for the process to finish! This may take quite a bit of time – depending on the image and your computer – so try to be patient.
Eventually, you should see a brand-new DNG file with noise reduction applied!
How to do manual noise reduction
AI-powered Denoise is great, but what if it doesn’t give you the results you want? That’s when manual noise reduction comes in handy. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Click on the Manual Noise Reduction option
As with Lightroom’s Denoise tool, you’ll need need to start by opening your image and accessing the Develop module.
Find the Detail panel, then click on Manual Noise Reduction.
A group of sliders will appear, including options to reduce both luminance noise and color noise:
For RAW images, Lightroom automatically applies color noise reduction during the import process. By default, the Color slider will be set to 25 (with Detail and Smoothness set to 50). The Luminance slider will be set to 0, with Detail set to 50 and Contrast set to 0 (see the screenshot above).
Step 2: Identify the noise
Now comes the fun part. You’ll need to carefully observe your image – I recommend zooming in to 100% or more – with the aim of determining the type of noise present. In some cases, you may have both noise types; in other cases, only one noise type will be a problem.
(Quick tip: If you’re not sure what type of noise is in an image, boost both the Color and Luminance sliders to their maximum values and see what happens. If you have a lot of color noise, adjusting the Color slider should make a big difference, and if you have a lot of luminance noise, the Luminance slider will have the greater effect.)
Step 3: Increase the corresponding sliders
Once you know the type of noise you are trying to remove, drag the corresponding slider to the right. Aim to reduce the noise to an acceptable level, but avoid going too far. After all, the more noise reduction you use, the more detail you lose.
Step 4: Fine-tune additional sliders
Once you’ve adjusted the Luminance slider, adjust the Detail and Contrast sliders just below it. The Detail slider controls, well, detail – the higher the value, the more detail that’ll remain in the image. Of course, the more you boost the Detail slider, the less you’ll remove the actual noise. (And if you use a low Detail value, you will get a smoother result but with less detail).
The Contrast slider controls luminance contrast. The more you boost this slider, the more contrast you’ll get in the final image. You’ll also end up with more noise and mottling. Of course, lower Contrast values will give you a smoother, lower-noise result, but at the expense of reducing contrast.
For color noise, you also get two extra sliders: Detail and Smoothness.
The Detail slider controls the amount of detail left alone by Lightroom’s color noise reduction; boosting the slider will protect detail. Lower Detail values will give you some added smoothing of the color noise, but you may notice that colors bleed into each other. (Adjust the Smoothness slider to help reduce low-frequency color mottling artifacts.)
In this image, removing color noise leaves some luminance noise:
Then, once the color noise is removed, the Luminance slider can remove the remaining luminance noise:
When removing noise from an image, it helps to zoom to 100 percent. That way, you can see what is happening on a pixel level. (Though you also want to look at your image zoomed out! I recommend periodically zooming in and out to check the result.)
Local noise reduction
What if you want to target your noise reduction to a specific part of your image? Is that an option in Lightroom?
Yes, you can do this – sort of. You see, Lightroom does offer a Noise slider as part of its Masking panel. In other words, you can apply noise reduction via the Adjustment Brush, the Radial Gradient, or the Linear Gradient, and you’ll be able to limit noise reduction to the areas you want to affect, leaving the rest of the image unchanged.
But there is a major downside to this feature:
It only removes luminance noise (not color noise), and there’s no additional Detail or Contrast slider to help you fine-tune the results.
Still, for images suffering from luminance noise, it can be useful, so I do recommend you try it out.
Select the area you want to denoise, then boost the Noise slider. The selected area of your image will instantly become less noisy.
By the way, if you sharpen your images after removing noise, make sure to use a light touch – increasing sharpness can increase noise. I’d recommend using the Masking slider in the Detail panel to keep the sharpening applied only to areas with lots of detail.
How to do noise reduction in Lightroom: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you can confidently reduce noise in Lightroom and produce clean, beautiful files.
So grab some noisy images, then test out your new noise reduction skills. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches and slider strengths; if you don’t like a result, you can always try again.
Now over to you:
How do you do noise reduction to your images? Do you struggle? Share your thoughts in the comments below!