Noise Reduction

Thanks to today’s high-tech sensors and astonishing ISOs, digital camera’s can take crisp photos in candle-lit conditions and sharp long exposures at midnight.  The only prevailing issue? Digital Noise! It’s just not as attractive as that old-school film grain. This is why Luminar offers an easy-to-use, adjustable noise reduction tool that you can apply to the whole photo, or selected areas.

How to Reduce Noise in Luminar

Open up a photo in Luminar and then click on the “Denoise” tool on the far right, pictured as a square of fading dots, just above the “Crop” tool scissors. This will bring you to the denoise screen, where you can control the strength and amount of noise reduction.

Here there are eight “Strength” options you can sample from, ranging from “Lightest,” recommended for blue skies, and “Extreme,” recommended for dark candle-lit interiors.  Of course, the choice is up to your discretion!  You can also control the amount of each strength using the bar slider on the top right.   

The image will automatically zoom in so you can view the effect in detail.  But you can easily zoom back out to see the whole scene by using the plus or minus zoom icons in the top left.  The screen also offers an orange slider to drag over the photo so you can easily see the before and after effect. When you have the result you’re looking for, simply press “Apply” and the effect will be applied to the entire image, adding a new layer called “Denoise Layer.”

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Selective Noise Reduction

One of the most effective strategies in noise reduction is to apply it only to the areas where you need it most, or to control the intensity in specific areas. Luminar makes this easy to do.

After adding the Denoise Layer, go to the Mask Brush tool on the far right, shown as the paint-brush.  When the brush is set to black, the areas you paint on the image will reveal the layer underneath, before the Denoise Layer was added.  You can control this with finesse by altering the opacity and softness. Inversely, when the brush is set to white, the Denoise Layer is covered up, and only the areas you paint on will apply noise reduction.

Why is there Noise?

Digital noise is most often caused by shooting at a high ISO, an adjustable number that controls your camera’s sensitivity to light.  But there is no magic ISO number for noise--it will depend on how big and effective your sensor is--a 1600 ISO taken on an entry-level digital SLR from 2010 will have significantly more noise than a 2500 ISO on a pro model today.  The amount of observable noise will also depend on the shooting conditions: the amount of available light, shadows and detail.  

When to use Noise reduction

The main question to ask yourself when looking at a photo with noise, is “does it add or distract?” There are occasions where noise actually adds to the effect we are looking for.  For example, a noisy photo turned black and white can emulate a vintage or film noir effect, especially if you also add controlled grain in post production, like with the “Grain” filter in Luminar.

But sometimes we have to boost our ISO and allow noise in to get the shot we want. When we want a high detail depth of field in less than brightly-lit conditions, like for a handheld landscape shot at dusk. Or in order to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze an important moment, which we see often in event photography with dim lighting.  For these occasions, a “rescue” black and white vintage filter isn’t always appropriate. In this case, excessive amount of noise will often be distracting--and that’s where noise reduction can save your photo.

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In Camera VS. Software Noise Reduction

These scenarios may tempt you to use the ‘in camera’ noise reduction feature.  Most professionals would warn against this. With this option you sacrifice detail you cannot recover later because the camera automatically blends certain distortions and details.  Using software like Luminar gives you more control over noise minimization and detail, and an overall better outcome because of it. Try it yourself!

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A layer mask can allow you to both selectively blend different pictures together, as well as apply editing effects only to the areas of your photo that you want.

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Shooting RAW files or in a bit of light fog can occasionally make our photos look a bit washed out. For these times, Luminar offers the “Dehaze” filter.

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