I gotta say, in my grumbling transition to Lightroom (read backstory here), I am discovering more and more tools that I enjoy using. Recently, the tool I’ve been having fun using is Lightroom’s Noise Reduction. In the past, I’ve often had to revert to third party plug ins to achieve effective noise reduction, however, I’ve found the tools within LR to be able to get the job I’m looking for, done. It’s comprehensive without being cumbersome and allows for a great deal of flexibility and customization.
The Shooting Environment
The other week I was in Portland and was able to spend a little photo walk time with Photofocus’ own Levi Sim. We were out walking about in the drizzly, rainy Portland evening and I was struck by the warm tungsten streetlamps and Levi’s old timey, signature hat. It was very old school film, detective; a perfect opportunity for a street portrait! I was using my Canon 5D MKiii at ISO 6400 with the Sigma 35mm Art lens at f1.4 1/100 for this original image.
I liked it, and while I’m impressed with the Mkiii sensor, upon closer investigation I found all sorts of noise. Most of the noise is prevalent in Levi’s cheek/jaw area and his jacket.
Time for Cleanup
Given this, I know I need to head into the Develop Module and down to the Detail Panel. There I’ll find the noise reduction panel. It has two sections; the Luminance noise and the color noise. I find that the color noise is easiest to deal with first, and then the luminance noise. I think getting the extra color info out of the picture allows me to see the real luminance noise/grain so that I can better assess when I’ve corrected it enough without going too far.
Here’s what it looks like when I remove the color noise. It is cleaned up significantly with much less distraction, but there’s still that grittyness in Levi’s cheek that bugs me the most, so I know I need to work with the luminance as well.
Take a Gentle Approach with Luminance Noise
Luminance is where people can get into some real trouble. I see a lot of over correction out there. There’s no need to go buck wild with those sliders! Here’s an example of overcorrection. It renders all the tones super creamy, blurs the edge lines, and makes more of a velvety, painterly look.
As photographers, that’s generally not “our thing” (at least, it’s not mine) so we need to remember to be sparing with the slider. Move it in tiny increments. Once you reach the area where the noise fades, there’s no need to go further and muddy it all up.
So once I take the luminance noise slider back to an appropriate level I’m left with something that looks much better. Smooth tones but not velvet. Looking at it though, I would like a teentsy bit more detail in there. That’s where the detail and contrast sliders come in.
The detail and contrast sliders can help add back in some of the clarity you inherently lose in a noise reduction. It will always be a bit of a give and take relationship with noise & detail, especially at higher ISOs & lower light situations. You just have to play around with the sliders and get to a spot you’re comfortable with. Here, I’ve overcorrected the detail and ended up with a grittyness that’s just as objectionable as the original noise I was trying to rid myself of! No Bueno!
Thankfully, everything Lightroom does with noise reduction is at the RAW level so you’re not losing quality the more you monkey with it. So all I do is just reign that slider back down a bit and find a suitable spot to leave it on. Looking back at my adjustments, my sliders really didn’t need significant changes.
The Final Results
In the end, my final image looks nice and clean. At this point, I’m ready to take the post process further, perhaps playing up the film noir era and changing this to b&w. For now, I think I’ll leave it as is.
Two More Examples
So there’s an example working with common tones like skin & fabric. Here’s a progression of the Portland cityscape from the same foggy, drizzly night. This was also shot using my 5D Mkiii with the Sigma 35mm Art lens at f1.4 1/320.I loved how the clouds hung in the air and the lights played off the mist, but it’s a recipe for noise disaster! Here it is at 100% uncorrected:
Pretty chunky, huh? But once I take down the color noise I’m left with this beauty:
Taking that color noise out allows me to clearly see where and how the luminance noise is affecting my image. Mainly, I don’t like how it’s interacting with the tops of my building line. I want them to almost disappear into the fog, which is how I remembered them looking to the eye. So I played with the luminance noise values a bit and got this:
I’m almost there! The fog looks much more realistic through the tops of the buildings, but now some of the lines of the windows in the building and the lines of the cranes are looking a bit too muddled for me so I add back in some detail with the detail slider and get this:
And with very little effort I have found the perfect noise correction level. Here’s the final image:
There’s no more noise artifacting in the clouds. Just smooth, misty goodness!
Lastly, I wanted to show you an example with a detail rich, close up shot. While I was in Portland, I happened to go bowling and thought I’d try to max out my Mk iii’s capabilities. This was shot at ISO 16,000 at f2.8 at 1/60th using the16-35 2.8II.
I was curious to see what pushing the limits of my camera would do at ISO 16000, and honestly, it’s not too shabby! There’s still noise to correct, but man oh man is it less than I expected at that exposure!
I didn’t have to do anything special to it. Just a moderate color noise adjustment and a small luminance noise adjustment. Here’s the 100% zoom of the corrected file.
And here’s the final image, corrected:
I hope this post has inspired you to look into the noise correction tools you already have at your fingertips in Lightroom. Such a simple tool packs a big punch for your images! Now get to work!
Lisa is a D.C. based wedding & boudoir photographer. Follow along on and view her website here!