Tell your noisy images to shut up

Software grain-reduction strategies

No single noise reduction program or Adobe Photoshop-compatible plug-in is a perfect solution and while you may try hard, you may never achieve digital noise nirvana. But here's the good news...

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No single noise reduction program or Adobe Photoshop-compatible plug-in is a perfect solution and while you may try hard, working through the many options, choices and sliders, the software’s interface offers trying to produce “perfect” results, you may never achieve digital noise nirvana. More often than not, you can produce an image that is too smooth with some accompanying loss of sharpness in the process.

Too much is not enough: No noise reduction software, even a powerful one such as Power Retouche’s ( Noise Corrector, is perfect. How much noise you can reduce depends on the specific camera used, ISO setting, and even the type of image itself. ©2005 Joe Farace

History lesson: When I get an image where the amount of noise also diminishes the amount of image sharpness, I use Adobe Photoshop’s History palette to Undo the application of the particular noise reduction power tool and start over using a different approach. With the image open in Photoshop, I create a duplicate layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer) and then apply that same noise reduction effect to the duplicate layer.




Will it blend? Next I go back to the Layer palette and the change the Opacity of the noise reduction layer to 50%, effectively blending the noisy original image file with the smoother noise reduced duplicate layer. Just because I use 50% doesn’t mean you have to. Experiment to find what works best for your specific photographs. Then combine the layers by flattening (Layer > Flatten Image) the file and save in a TIFF or JPEG format.

The good news is that because Adobe Photoshop Elements supports both Layers and Photoshop compatible plug-ins, you can apply this same techniques using a program that costs less than $100.


Yes, it blends! The original image file of a sunset of an Acapulco beach was shot at ISO 800 and was somewhat noisy. The final image using the layered noise reduction technique combines two different versions of that original image blended together to produce the maximum number of image sharpness and minimum amount of digital noise.

Joe Farace is the co-author of a new book called “Better Available Light Digital Photography” that will be published this Fall by Focal Press. Look for it soon in all the best bookstores as well as


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