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Have you ever looked at a photo on your computer screen and thought that it’s too noisy?
Noise is no longer the massive problem that it used to be on early digital cameras. But if you like experimenting with high ISOs on your camera and shooting in low light, you’re going to get noise in your photos.
Luckily Lightroom Classic can help reduce it.
This tutorial has the potential to be the shortest on the website. I could just tell you to leave Lightroom Classic’s noise reduction settings at their default. You’ll get a great result if you do this.
But it’s interesting and useful to understand how the noise reduction sliders work. Then you can override the default settings to get better results when you need them. It will also stop you ruining your photos by cranking up luminance noise reduction!
Reducing noise in camera
Before we begin it’s important to point out that noise reduction starts in camera. Get it right here and working in Lightroom Classic becomes much easier.
Exposure plays a major role. Exposing to the right reduces noise (read our tutorial on this to understand why).
But underexposing then making the photo brighter in Lightroom Classic increases noise. Sure, the results on modern cameras are better than ever. But if this is your normal way of working, and you’re getting problems with noise, you need to change your approach.
Subject matter is important too. Noise lives in the shadows. Bright tones have very little noise even at ridiculously high ISOs. Dark tones have much more.
This is just something to think about, as part of the fun of shooting in low light is using shadows in your composition.
What about in-camera noise reduction?
Your camera applies high ISO noise reduction to JPEG files only. If you’re shooting Raw the camera’s noise reduction settings are irrelevant. The software you use to develop your Raw files applies noise reduction instead.
What are luminance noise and color noise?
There are two types of noise that affect photos.
Luminance noise affects the brightness of individual pixels but not the color. It looks like black and white dots and you’ll see more of it in the shadows.
There’s luminance noise in the photo below (zoomed to 1:1). I lightened the shadows to make it clearer.
Applying luminance noise reduction always reduces the sharpness of the image.
What is color noise?
Color noise affects the color of pixels but not the brightness. It looks like colored dots, mostly in the shadows.
I took the photo I showed you above and set color noise reduction to zero. You can now see the color noise as well.
You can apply color noise reduction without much loss of sharpness.
Of the two types of noise color noise is the most obvious and also the ugliest.
Zoom and noise reduction
You can only see the effect of Lightroom Classic’s noise reduction sliders properly when you’re viewing your photo at a 1:1 zoom.
There are two places you can do that.
The first is in the Detail panel, which shows a 1:1 zoom at the top in a preview square (click the triangle marked right to show or hide the preview square). Click and drag on the square to see a different part of the image.
If the preview square is hidden, and you aren’t viewing your photo at 100%, Lightroom Classic displays an exclamation mark icon at the top of the Detail panel. Click the icon to set Zoom to 1:1.
How Lightroom Classic’s noise reduction tools work
Lightroom Classic has separate sliders for reducing luminance and color noise.
Remember that noise reduction is a trade off. A little improves the quality of your photo, but too much reduces the sharpness and detail. The trick is to find the balance.
Luminance noise reduction sliders
The only way to reduce luminance noise in a digital photo is to soften the image. You may have noticed that camera phone JPEGs taken in low light often have a kind of smeared look. That’s luminance noise reduction in action.
Because of this the default setting for luminance noise reduction is zero. Most of the time it’s best to leave it there.
But if you do apply it, increase it gradually. Start by setting the slider to 5 or 10 rather than 30 or 60.
Use the Detail slider to bring back some of the detail lost due to luminance noise reduction. Add back in any lost Contrast with the Contrast slider.
The screenshots below show part of a photo with luminance noise at zoom 1:1. As you can see the photo gets softer when you add luminance noise reduction.
This comparison shows the effect of setting Luminance to 10, 20, and 30, with Detail at 50. Adding Detail makes a small difference that you might struggle to see. A lot depends on the photo so feel free to experiment.
As you can see from the screenshots, you can’t remove luminance noise, you can only reduce it by softening the photo. But this isn’t much of a problem as it tends to be grain like and isn’t as ugly as color noise.
Color noise reduction sliders
The Color slider reduces color noise. It also does this by blurring the photo, but only slightly.
The default setting for the Color slider is 25. If you can see color noise at this setting move the slider right until it disappears.
The Detail slider brings back some of the detail lost in the process. The default setting is 50.
The Smoothness slider smoothes out any artefacts caused by the Color and Detail sliders. The effect is subtle so you have to move it a long way to see a visible difference. The default setting is also 50.
Here’s another comparison. It shows the same photo used above and the effect of setting color noise reduction to 0, 25 and 100. As you can see there’s a big difference between 0 and 25, and hardly any difference between 25 and 100.
With color noise reduction you’re looking for the sweet spot where the slider is as far left as possible yet removes any color noise.
Noise has always been an issue with digital cameras. But the last decade has seen big advances in high ISO and sensor performance in low light and things have improved dramatically.
Lightroom Classic takes care of noise reduction for you if you let it. But once you understand how noise reduction works it’s easy to adjust the settings if it helps you get better results.
Don’t forget you can learn much more about Lightroom Classic’s Develop module with our ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module.