One of the most frustrating things a photographer can experience is capturing that once in a lifetime shot, then sitting down to edit and realizing the shot came out grainier than expected. If you find yourself in this situation, stay calm, I will show you an extremely easy method for reducing the noise all within Adobe Lightroom.
When I first started out with photography I was completely baffled with how to shoot in low light conditions. I often found myself running around with my phone at night snapping left and right, coming back frustrated and wondering why my photos were all so grainy. I couldn’t grasp why my shots weren’t turning out like photos I had seen others take in the same conditions. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that noise is directly dependent on two factors, ISO and sensor size.
While we can’t always control these factors they are important to keep in mind to have an idea of what you’ll be up against when you get back to edit. My rule of thumb is to never use an ISO higher than 6400 and use as large of a sensor camera available with a relatively fast lens (f/1.2-2.8). If you stick to these guidelines this noise reduction technique will be extremely effective.
How to do it
Once you have the photo loaded in Lightroom. Go to the develop tab and scroll down until you see the “Detail” section.
The only two sliders you will need to adjust for this technique are the Sharpening Amount and Noise Reduction Luminance.
The key principle of this trick is to make sure that these two sliders always add up to a magic number of 100. Why 100? To be honest I don’t know, but through lots of experimentation it has never failed me (thus why it’s magic). This does involve a little bit of trial and error though, if you have a lot of grain I would suggest starting with a Sharpening Amount of 60 and a Noise Reduction Luminance of 40. If you have only a little bit of gain I would aim for a Sharpening Amount of 80 and a Noise Reduction Luminance of 20.
Below is an example of an image shot with a 35mm f/2.8 at ISO 500, 1/60 with a Sony A7Rii (full frame) before and after using this trick. For this shot ISO 500 is relatively low but there was still a decent amount of noise so I used a Sharpening Amount of 70 and a Noise Reduction Luminance of 30.
I purposely hid the captions of the photo so there wouldn’t be a bias in you choosing which you think is better. Hover over the photos to reveal which is the before and which is the after.
In the Before image you can see a lot of color noise which results in an overall blotchy look of the pixels. Following the noise reduction technique you can see the drastic difference this technique makes. The final result is evenly distributed and has far less noise. Keep in mind this was only shot at ISO 500 on a full frame camera. Using an ISO of 500 is considered relatively low, the difference this makes at even higher ISOs is far more noticeable.
How this works
As you increase the Sharpening Amount the sharpening algorithm in Lightroom is enhancing the level of detail on the edges of the objects of your image. If you notice before applying the Noise Reduction Luminance the image will actually have more pronounced grain/noise. The Noise Reduction Luminance slider corrects this by smoothing over and blending the surface area pixels. So in the example above it blends the blue and brown pixels within their respective sections to remove the color noise introduced at higher ISOs. The resulting combination of these two sliders results where the edges become more pronounced and sharp while at the same time smoothing the surfaces to reduce the color noise, thus resulting in an image which appears to have significantly reduced noise.
I hope these tips on how to reduce noise in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC were useful to you. If you have any questions regarding this technique drop them in the comments below.
If you are interested in more editing tutorials, I would check out the rest of our Lightroom series.