Quick Fix Fridays: Reduce The Noise In Your Nighttime Shots

My dad had a wonderful photo saying: "If a picture is so boring that you notice the noise, it’s a boring picture."

That said, noise could actually add to the mood of a picture. On the other hand, it can be distracting. It’s up to you whether or not to add, increase or reduce noise – which is easy to do with Lightroom, Photoshop or plug-ins.

I made the opening image for this post one night on my recent Iceland workshop. You can’t see too much noise, and the image has a soft, painterly quality. That, however, is not how the image started out.

Here is my original image. You can see noise because, as the wonderful light of the aurora borealis was changing very quickly, I accidentally underexposed the image for my first test shot. The light was gone in a flash.

Generally speaking, noise shows up more in underexposed images, as well as in dark areas of the frame. Also, you get more noise at high ISO settings. My ISO for this image was 1600, which is not that high by today’s standards. Again, the noise was caused mostly by accidentally underexposing the image.

Everything in photography is a trade off. That goes for reducing noise. You reduce noise, and you reduce the sharpness of an image. However, keep in mind that you can control both the noise reduction and detail rescue, which is the key to effective noise reduction.

One of my favorite noise-reduction plug-ins is Topaz DeNoise. Above is a screen grab of the Topaz DeNoise window. What’s cool about Topaz DeNoise is that you can reduce the noise in the shadow and highlight areas somewhat independently. You can also control noise in different color channels, and of course you can control the amount of noise reduction.

When I started to reduced the noise and bring back image detail, I decided to go with a soft image, one that brought back the feeling of Mother Nature’s light show. After all, the most important thing about a photograph is the mood or feeling. I often ask myself, and suggest to my workshop students that they ask themselves, "What would a painter do?"

Here is another image from the same Iceland shoot. Look closely to see the Little Dipper near the top of the frame. Also look for noise. Here, too, I reduced the noise with Topaz DeNoise.

Play around with noise reduction, and keep in mind what my dad used to say.

Got questions? Drop by my website at www.ricksammon.com.

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