Digital noise can damage an image’s sharpness and even make it hard to distinguish its original colors. Fortunately, there are many ways to remove digital noise in Photoshop.
The best way to reduce noise in Photoshop is with the Reduce Noise Filter. To access this filter, go to Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise. Set the mode to “Advanced” and work through each color channel to accurately reduce the noise in the photo.
When removing noise from an image in Photoshop, you have to be careful. That’s because if you apply too many effects, you risk making the image look unnatural, or even worsening noise. So it’s important to aim for strategic editing so that you can remove noise while preserving the details of the picture.
Types of Digital Noise
Before you start editing, it is important that you know what causes digital noise and what you can do to prevent it.
In most cases, high ISO settings cause digital noise. During the day, for example, light easily enters the camera, and good-quality images are captured. While photographing at night, however, you will often have to increase the ISO, so the sensor is more sensitive to light. When you do that, the camera sensor will have to work harder to capture light, which will often lead to digital noise. Noise artifacts will be more or less evident, depending on the camera’s sensor quality and size.
There are two types of digital noise: luminance and color noise. Luminance noise affects the brightness of pixels, but it doesn’t harm their original colors. Color noise, on the other hand, appears as red, blue, or green artifacts in areas where they don’t belong.
To identify what kind of noise an image has, set the zoom to 100%. If you see green, red, or blue artifacts not matching the background, what you see is color noise. If you see black, white, or gray spots contrasting against an area, then it’s a case of luminance noise.
To prevent this problem from happening, you can take some precautions, such as keeping your ISO as low as possible while taking pictures. In some cases that isn’t an option, but luckily you have Photoshop to save the day.
How to Remove Digital Noise In Photoshop
So let’s say you’ve already taken the picture, but the only problem is some tiny artifacts scattered through it. Luckily it’s quite simple to solve this problem in Photoshop. I will show you how to correct this issue with both Reduce Noise Filter and Camera Raw.
This is the image I’ve chosen as an example.
At first glance it doesn’t look like there is anything wrong with it, right? But if I enlarge it or print it, the noise will be awfully evident. To check if your picture has noise, set the zoom to 100%. To do that, press ‘Control’ and ‘+’ on your keyboard.
This is how much noise my image has (at 100% zoom).
That happened because it was taken at night, so a high ISO was needed. Let’s start removing the noise.
Method 1: Reduce Noise Filter – Advanced Mode
Duplicate the image by pressing Control +J (On Windows) or Command + J (On Mac)
Convert the top layer to a smart object by right-clicking on it and choosing “Convert to smart object”. Converting to a smart object will allow the noise reduction adjustment to apply as a smart filter. This way you can easily edit it later on if needed.
Go up to Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise.
In the dialog box that will pop up, set the zoom to 100% so you can have a clear vision of the noise.
On the right side of the panel, there are two options: basic and advanced. Choose advanced for now.
The advanced mode allows you to remove noise per channel (red, green, and blue). So you can scan the picture to see which channel has more noise and remove it. Oftentimes one channel will have more noise than the others.
In the example below, I selected the blue channel.
Right below the channel button, there are two sliders: ‘Strength’ and ‘Preserve details’. The ‘Strength’ slider allows you to remove noise, and ‘preserve details’ bring back the details that were lost during the noise removal process.
Method 2: Reduce Noise Filter – Basic Mode
Even though removing noise per channel is a good idea, I prefer removing it in the basic mode since my image has a lot of noise all over it.
Duplicate the image, convert it to a smart object and open the ‘reduce noise’ filter, as we did earlier in this tutorial.
These are the sliders that come with the basic mode.
The main slider is ‘strength’. You can move this slider to remove noise. As there is too much noise in the image, I will choose 9 (The maximum available is 10).
The ‘preserve details’ slider helps refine the ‘strength’ slider because when you reduce noise too much, you end up losing details. Since my image has severe noise, I will choose 3%.
Use ‘Reduce color noise’ if you notice color noise in your image. Mine has some next to the stars, so I will choose 45 %.
The last slider is called ‘sharpen details’. I don’t recommend you to set high values for this slider, because you may end up bringing the noise back. For my image, I will choose 8.
When you’re done with the editing, click ‘ok’ to go back to the canvas.
This is how the image looked after applying the ‘reduce noise filter’:
Method 3: Camera Raw Filter
The Camera Raw Filter is another option to remove noise from your images. This option is very similar to Lightroom, so it will feel quite familiar if you often work in that program.
To start editing, open the image you want, duplicate it and turn it into a smart object, as we did earlier in this tutorial.
Go up to Filter > Camera Raw filter.
In Camera Raw, set the zoom to 100%. Otherwise, it will be hard for you to see the changes being applied.
Enable the ‘before and after view’ mode, so you will be able to compare your edited version with the original image. Then you won’t risk missing any important details. To do that, click the small square icon at the bottom of the panel.
Click ‘Detail’ on the right side of the panel. Several options will appear but we will work with the second and third sections.
You can move the ‘noise reduction slider to the right until you see the noise is gone. As this effect is a little harsh, try not to push it too high because you might end up giving your image an unnatural look. For my image, I chose 27.
When you reduce noise, you lose some details, so you can go to the ‘detail’ slider and move it to the right a bit. Don’t increase it too much because it might bring noise back. For this one, I chose 24.
Losing contrast is another drawback of reducing noise, so you can bring the contrast back by moving the ‘contrast’ slider to the right. I will add a high value to this because there is a lot of variation in the star’s brightness and I want to keep these features. So I will choose 57.
Now, I will move on to the color noise reduction section. The ‘color noise reduction’ slider allows you to reduce the color noise itself. The ‘detail slider’ brings back the details that are lost while you remove the color noise. The ‘smoothness’ slider, on the other hand, is a complement to the color noise reduction slider. Once it smooths areas where color noise is present, it blends pixels or softens the transition between them.
For my image, I added the following values.
And that’s my result
I liked the result since I just wanted to reduce the noise a little without losing the stars’ features. However, you can play with the sliders until you are satisfied. The exact amount you use will depend on your specific photo. These steps just offer a solid outline to get started with!
Noise is Not Always a Problem
Noise is very common in photography, that’s why it’s important to be careful while dealing with it. Before trying to remove noise from an image, figure out what you want to achieve with that image, and decide if it would be ok to keep a little noise in it or not. If you want to give your pictures a vintage look, for example, a little noise can be a good choice. If you want a high-res editorial-looking image, perhaps reducing the noise is a better idea. Now to help you avoid getting noise in your images, check out this tutorial on the best camera settings for beginners!