What Is Noise Reduction In Photography?



Photography is a study in capturing light, but what happens when the things that get in the way – like, for instance, pesky, uninvited noise – take centre stage? If you’ve ever looked at your shots on a larger screen, crestfallen by the grainy textures that mar your otherwise splendid composition, then you’ve experienced what we call ‘noise’ in the field of photography.

Noise typically presents in your photographs as unwanted speckles and grains, an unasked accompaniment diminishing the clarity of your shot. Perhaps you’ve captured the perfect image: a street vendor against a setting sun, the warm hues melding with the poignancy of mayhem at twilight. But when enlarged, the image is flecked by granular static, reducing the potential grandeur to an irksome buzz. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

In this article, we’re going to unpack this conundrum of noise. We’ll pin down what causes these visual interferences, and discuss actionable strategies for reducing noise when capturing photos. Additionally, we’ll delve into post-processing techniques to reduce noise using popular software tools. Our aim is to equip you with a solid grasp on understanding and managing noise, so that your photographs can outshine these small yet significant adversaries. The journey may not eradicate noise completely, but it will assuredly empower you to handle it with greater control and precision.

So, ready to dust off those grains and reclaim the spotlight on your shots? If only there was a photographic vacuum cleaner, right? In absence of that fanciful device, let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of mitigating noise in photography.

Causes of Noise in Photography

The creation of noise is a common mishap that happens to all of us photographers, even those regularly mistaken for statues because of their unwavering stillness during a shoot. While it’s a common part of the photography process, understanding what causes it can help you mitigate its impact and have fewer “noise events.”

So, where does this unwelcome guest come from? And no, it’s not from the neighbor’s obnoxiously loud parrot. Noise in photography, primarily digital noise, is primarily caused by three culprits: high ISO settings, long exposure times, and environmental conditions.

High ISO settings

In photography, ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. Essentially, the higher the ISO, the brighter the photograph. Sounds great right? Well, as the old adage goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” High ISOs do come with a cost – increased noise. When you crank up the ISO, you’re essentially amplifying the signals in your camera. This includes both the signal you want (the light that forms the image) and the signal you don’t want (the accidental, erroneous information) – the noise.

To visualise this, think of an over-ambitious guitar amplifier. At low volumes, the sound is clean, but as you turn it up, the amp starts growling with static and distortion.

Long Exposures

Another major actor in the noise-creation drama is long exposures. Whether you’re capturing the perfect night sky or a gorgeous waterfall, long exposures are needed to get enough light to enter the camera. However, aside from capturing these stunning images, long exposures can also increase the chances of noise creeping into your photographs.

This is because the longer the sensor is activated during an exposure, the more it heats up. This heat increases the potential for noise because it amplifies the signals from the camera sensor — including the unwanted noise. It’s like leaving your toast in the toaster too long. The initial results may be great (perfectly toasted), but leave it in too long, and you just get burnt.

Environmental Conditions

Finally, environmental conditions can also play a significant role in the level of noise in your photos. High temperatures and humidity can lead to increased camera sensor activity, hence more noise. This same effect happens when you’re shooting in low-light conditions where your camera struggles to gather enough light and therefore starts adding these visual distortions.

Consider a foggy winter’s day when visibility is low. As your eyes struggle to discern objects, everything gets a bit fuzzy and indistinct. That’s similar to what happens in your camera in extreme shooting conditions.

So, while these factors create pesky noise and can turn an excellent photography opportunity into a game of “spot the mistake,” understanding them is the first step towards solving the issue. In subsequent sections, we’ll dive into how to combat these issues and reduce noise during your photoshoot and in the editing stage. Now you’ve got the basics down, be ready to turn down the ‘noise’ in your photography – we promise it will be less complicated than dealing with a rowdy parrot.

Methods to Reduce Noise When Shooting

Prevention, as the saying goes, is far better than cure. By adopting certain shooting techniques and camera settings, you can significantly limit the amount of noise in your images from the get-go. Let’s dig a little deeper and unlock some of these effective noise-prevention methods.

Adjusting the ISO Settings

In many instances, a noisy image is the result of a high ISO setting. ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. With a raised ISO, your camera can capture images in lower light conditions. However, this increased sensitivity also leads to higher noise levels. As a rule of thumb, try to keep your ISO setting as low as circumstances allow. Photographers’ equivalent of the “5-second rule” in the kitchen might say: if it’s brighter than a candlelit dinner, drop the ISO.

Yet, it’s important to note that a lower ISO setting does reduce the camera’s sensitivity to light. This calls for some inventive solutions to compensate, like using a longer shutter speed or opening up your aperture. Is experiencing the click of the shutter at a slower tempo worth a noise-free shot? Many would say yes.

Improving Light Source

Speaking of brightness, ever consider changing your light source? Increasing the amount of light in a scene naturally allows for a lower ISO as well as a faster shutter speed, thus lowering the risk of noise. You may invite more light by opening curtains, adding lamps, or employing a flash. Just remember: techniques for diffusing or bouncing the light can produce softer and visually appealing results.

Modifying Shutter Speed

Another way to prevent noise involves adjusting the shutter speed. A longer exposure time may soak up more light, but it also welcomes more sensor heat. Oh, the warmth… No, our cameras don’t like getting too hot. This, in turn, can introduce more noise. If a long exposure is necessary, some cameras offer a noise reduction feature for this specific scenario. Think of this as your camera’s personal, built-in cooling fan.

It’s crucial to understand that each method has its own trade-offs. Adjusting the ISO might affect the depth of field or motion blur, altering light sources can impact the mood of your image, and modifying the shutter speed may affect the image’s texture and more. However, by trying out these methods, and understanding their implications on your images, you can become quite the noise reduction maestro. This not only results in visually cleaner photographs but also cuts down significantly on post-processing time. A worthy trade, wouldn’t you agree?

To help get these points across, we’ve compiled a few before-and-after images that illustrate how these adjustments can effectively lessen noise. Pictures do say a thousand words, after all… sometimes a few too many if they’re all just “noise”.

Post-processing for Noise Reduction

Hold your cameras dearly as we dive into the technical process of post-processing for noise reduction. This step graces the scene after the shutter has clicked, and it’s time to bring out your digital toolkit. This stage focuses on using software to rescue those photos that – despite your best efforts at the capture stage – came out resembling a grainy, old television screen.

Using Adobe Lightroom for Noise Reduction

Adobe Lightroom, a mecca for photographers, offers user-friendly options for noise reduction. This software delicately remolds the grainy particles we recognize as noise into smooth textures, keeping the essence of your image intact.

  1. Luminescence Noise Reduction: This feature targets grayscale noise, the kind that creates that disconcerting ‘gritty’ look. Go to the Develop Module and locate the Detail Panel. Here, you will see the Luminance slider. The balance is important here. A small adjustment might not adequately reduce the noise, whereas straying too far might make your image unsettlingly smooth.
  2. Color Noise Reduction: Targeting those weird, random tints that show up uninvited, go to the same Detail Panel, but this time, look for the Color slider. A nudge to this slider can help bid adieu to those annoying, multi-colored specks. However, overdoing it can rob the image of its essential hue and saturation. So, be careful on this fine line of control and excess!

Using Adobe Photoshop for Noise Reduction

Adobe Photoshop, the more powerful sibling of Lightroom, needs a tad more patience and learning but rewards with superior results.

  1. Using Reduce Noise Filter: Go to Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise. In the dialog box that pops up, you can adjust the Strength and Preserve Details sliders. Tread lightly here – an excessive strength might rob your picture of details, while too much preservation might keep more noise than you intended.
  2. Surface Blur: This approach softens the noise without touching the edges. Go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. Again, restraint is the key here as excessive blurring might drain the crispness from your shot and lend it a mushy texture.

While we’ve discussed Lightroom and Photoshop, there’s a gamut of other software like DxO PhotoLab, Capture One, and GIMP that boast impressive noise reduction features. The slight sprinkle of humor about software trials and tribulations can lend a shared camaraderie amongst photographers dealing with these complex but essential tools.

Post-processing isn’t the be-all solution in your photography process; rather, it should act as a complement to good shooting practices. Also, as an artist, it’s crucial to understand that a little noise isn’t always a villain. Like the perfect blend of spices in a recipe, the grain in photographs can sometimes add a unique texture and authenticity, if wielded carefully.

In the end, your mission is to serve the purpose of your image. So, don’t hesitate to experiment, tinker with software tools, and let your creative instincts guide your technical choices. Happy photo processing! Look forward to diving deeper into more post-processing techniques in our next piece, where we tend to the equally crucial aspect of photo editing: color correction.


Summing up, our discussion on reducing noise in photography has taken us through a range of factors, techniques, and tools – elements of a subject that at first may seem akin to scaling a rather steep hill on a bike. However, as you can now appreciate, noise reduction in photography can be much more manageable once you understand the key concepts and strategies involved.

Understanding the causes of noise in photography is critical in pre-empting potential hurdles, giving you the ability to adjust your settings and approach to optimize for less noise – an odd-sounding concept, we know. The ability to delve into high ISO settings, long exposure times, and environmental conditions to assess and reduce noise adds a new tool to your photographic toolbox.

Whether it’s adjusting ISO settings, utilizing better lighting, or considering shutter speed, we’ve explored actionable techniques to reduce noise during the shooting process itself. Each of these options has its strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to employ each method, like an expert juggler, would significantly enhance your photography sessions.

Furthermore, the world of post-processing casts a safety net for those moments when noise does sneak into your images. With a little help from popular software like Lightroom and Photoshop, and with a better understanding of their noise reduction features, you’re better positioned to seize control over your photography’s quality even after the event. We hope our step-by-step guides enabled you to grasp and apply these techniques regardless of your technical proficiency level.

Invariably, striking a balance between in-camera settings and post-processing noise reduction techniques will most beneficially impact your photography quality. As a photographer, you never really stop learning, and experimenting with these methods will only enhance your photographic proficiency.

Next time we meet here, we’ll dive into some advanced photo editing techniques – showing you how to take your images from good to camera dazzlingly great. Until then, keep that shutter clicking, and, as always, happy shooting!

The Creativv
American digital marketer and founder of TheCreativv.com with over a decade of experience in event, travel, portrait, product, and cityscape photography.