The Ultimate Guide To Understanding Noise Reduction

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We’ve all experienced this in our photography journey. That uneven, grainy, pixellated look that turns what you’d expect to be the ‘perfect shot’ into a not-so-great one.

Back in the time of film, 'noise' was called ‘grain’ and was not something that photographers frowned upon until recent years, since everything has turned digital. Nowadays, grain can make a good image look bad.

What is noise?

Generally speaking, the definition of noise in photography is aberrant pixels. Aberrant pixels do not represent the color of the exposure of the image properly.

When does noise occur?

Noise happens when you shoot a long exposure image or shoot at a high ISO setting. This does not mean we should never do long exposures or go over ISO 100, however it is important to know how to avoid getting too much noise in your image, and how to deal with it properly while editing in your post-production.

First, let’s discuss how to get less noise in your images.

Shoot In RAW

Shooting in RAW is a perfect way to get the most out of your images. You don’t always need to shoot in this format, but when you’re feeling that the light is too dark, you can switch over to RAW. Something important to note is that JPEG images already have compression applied to them, which means there is already some noise in the image. If you are using a high ISO with JPEG files, the noise can be even more intense. And when it comes to editing, you have more options to remove noise and increase exposure with a RAW file than a JPEG.

Shoot at lower ISO settings

If you are working with a camera that is relatively new, the ISO functionality should be good. You probably will not notice too much noise in your photos, even up to ISO 1000. However, it is still important to be aware that with the higher ISO numbers, you may notice more noise creeping into your images. Higher ISO settings cause the sensor of your camera to group pixels together in order to capture more light. This grouping effect can cause a gritty look on your image.

You can avoid shooting at a high ISO by opening your aperture to its widest setting. If you’re shooting in low light, make sure you use a tripod if possible, or even a flash.
You will start to get to know the settings of your camera and find the sweet spot when it comes to this.

Be careful when doing long exposures

Some of the most breathtaking images are made from Long exposures. But be mindful when doing long exposures, as the sensor of your camera can heat up and cause the pixels to render false colors and exposure.

Just be aware of how your particular camera handles the long exposure time. If the image appears to be too grainy, then you can test and experiment to see where your camera starts to get to this point. The key takeaway here is to know the limits of your gear and shoot within those limits.

Use In-Camera Noise Reduction

On most cameras, there will be a function called High ISO Noise Reduction or Long Exposure Noise Reduction. I recommend turning this on if you are doing any of the two.

After the image is taken, the camera actually will analyze the image and seek out any pixels that appear to be incorrectly rendered. It is a very handy feature, but can also take some time depending on how long your exposures are.

For example, if you are doing 10-minute exposures, the camera will do an analysis and correction that in turn takes 10 minutes to analyze.

Fixing Noise in Post-Production

When you open up Lightroom to see how your image looks, zoom into 100% to get a full view of the image.

Noise Reduction WorkFlow

In Lightroom, you will find the Noise Reduction tools in the develop module.

The sliders do the following:


This slider reduces luminance noise coming from under or overexposed pixels.

Luminance Detail

This slider controls the threshold of the luminance noise. This is helpful for noisy images. Higher values will preserve more detail, but more noise. Lower values produce cleaner results but in return, also lose some detail.

Luminance Contrast

This slider controls the luminance contrast; which can be useful for noisy photos. Higher values preserve contrast but can produce noisy blotchiness. Lower values produce smoother results but also tend to have less contrast.


This slider reduces color noise. This is typically seen and noticed in the underexposed shadow areas of a picture.

Color Detail

This slider controls the color noise threshold. Higher values protect detailed color edges but can result in color specking. Lower values remove color specks but can also result in color bleeding.

Color bleeding is an effect that appears where colors seem to extend past the element they are supposed to be in, and shade over the rest of what is shown in the photograph.

A color speck is an unwanted mark of contrasting color within your image.

If done unintentionally, both color bleeding and color specks can reduce the quality of an image.

Color Smoothness

This slider controls the smoothness of the colors in the image. This is useful if you still have some unwanted color noise in your image after you have made all your adjustments mentioned above. I recommend using this slider at the end of your noise reduction workflow.


In conclusion, there is no “sure setting” that will work to reduce noise in every single image. Finding the perfect setting will take some tweaking and adjusting depending on the photo that you are working with.

If you’re looking for more Lightroom tips and post-production tips, you’ll probably find my Lightroom Secrets course helpful. Learn more or join today by clicking this link.

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