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How to Do Noise Reduction in Lightroom (2021 Guide)

A guide to noise reduction in Lightroom

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’s noise reduction tool allows you to quickly and easily remove unwanted noise. Once you’re done, you’ll be left with clean, beautiful-looking images.

That’s what I talk about in this article. I’m going to show you the step-by-step process for getting rid of noise in Lightroom. And I’ll share plenty of tips along the way!

So if you’re ready to master noise reduction in Lightroom, then let’s get started.

Lightroom noise reduction before and after

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; this compromises fine detail. Also, the main Lightroom noise removal tool applies its fix to the entire image and not just the areas where noise is most visible – meaning that you’ll lose image quality even in low-noise locations.

Because of this, if you are a purist and noise reduction is an ongoing and significant need, then you should consider a dedicated program such as DeNoise AI, Neat Image, or Photo Ninja.

However, for most photographers – including many professionals – the noise reduction tools offered in Lightroom, assuming they’re applied judiciously, will suffice.

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:

Lightroom noise reduction step 1

Luminance noise is monochromatic, so it’s less colorful and more like grain. Here is luminance noise in an early morning sky:

Lightroom noise removal step 2

Lightroom noise reduction: step by step

Now let’s take a look at how you should approach noise reduction in Lightroom.

Step 1: Open the Detail panel

First, to remove noise from a photo, you’ll need to open the Detail panel in the Develop module. You’ll find sliders for luminance noise and for color noise:

Lightroom Detail panel

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 percent 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).

Lightroom noise reduction step 4

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:

removing color noise

Then, once the color noise is removed, the Luminance slider can remove the remaining luminance noise:

removing 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 targeted adjustment panel. So you can apply noise reduction via the Adjustment Brush, the Radial Filter, or the Graduated Filter, and you’ll be able to limit noise reduction to the areas you want to affect, leaving the rest of the image unchanged.

targeted noise removal

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: conclusion

Now that you’ve finished this article, you can confidently reduce noise in Lightroom – for 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 slider strengths; if you don’t like a change, you can always adjust it right back.

Now over to you:

How do you do noise reduction to your images? Do you struggle? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Helen Bradley
Helen Bradley

is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

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