Perhaps you had a great day out capturing photos and creating memories. But later, you realized the images came out soft and grainy. In the end, you came home to noisy RAW photos. But the good news is, the images are not ruined, and we will tell you why!
Even though the camera’s low light capability has been upgraded, noisy images are still a challenge to photographers. As much as we would love to capture the images with perfect exposure for the cleanest results, various occasions demand us to choose between either going home with noisy RAW images or no images at all. And until technology improves to the point that noise in RAW photos isn’t a thing anymore, noise reduction is a thing that every photographer should know about. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fix it. With a few tips and tricks from the experts, you”ll quickly be able to avoid and reduce noise from RAW photos.
What is noise?
Before diving headfirst into finding the best solutions for noise reduction from RAW photos, it’s essential to understand what noise is and how it works.
In digital photography, noise refers to the image’s random, irregular dots or specks. In other words, noise in photos is made up of pixels not correctly defining the colors and exposure of the images.
But the noise in RAW photos is sometimes good. For example, if you want your image to look vintage, a bit of grain is fine. Most black-and-white shots also look creative with a bit of noise. But too much digital noise detracts viewers from the subject by turning images soft and out of focus.
The different types of noise in RAW photos:
Generally, there are three kinds of noise popping in RAW photos.
- Luminance Noise:
Luminance noise is the most common type of noise in digital photos. They are viewed as contrast irregularities and look like sand when zoomed in. In lighter areas, luminance pops as darker grains, while in shadows, luminance shows up as more golden grains.
- Color Noise:
Also known as chromatic aberration, color noise is created when the camera sensor gets hot. You will often find green or red random, irregular specks in your photos. These are the results of color noise.
- Hot Pixels:
Similar to color noise, hot pixels are also the result of your sensor heating up and are often caused due to long exposures. They appear as large color spots dispersed throughout the image.
What causes noise in RAW photos?
Usually, you will experience noise when you use a high ISO setting on your camera or capture long exposure images. Noise appears in the pictures as coarse textures, which get in the way of the details we hoped to catch.
While increasing the shutter speed allows more light to hit the camera, upping ISO boosts your camera’s sensitivity to light.
But what counts as a high ISO? Well, that depends primarily on your camera settings. Most cameras start getting noisy around ISO 1600 or 3200.
Does that mean we should never go with high ISO or long exposures?
No! Sometimes you may need long exposures or high ISOs, especially if you are an event, wildlife, or landscape photographer. At the same time, there are ways to avoid too much noise in your RAW photos.
Now, let’s discuss the best ways to avoid and remove noise for RAW photos.
The best ways to avoid and remove noise from RAW photos:
Here’s the rub. It’s easier to get clean and sharp photos if you prevent noise from the get-go.
So here are some ways to combat the awful noise in photos:
- Shoot at lower ISO settings:
Yes, we are starting with the obvious! But we often find photographers pushing their ISO too high and too fast, leading to poor image quality.
The ISO functionality will be great if your camera is four years old or newer. You won’t see too much noise creeping into your photos, even with ISO 3200. However, the images will turn grainy and plasticky if you move beyond 6400. So, please don’t raise your ISO unless it’s an emergency. Instead, use your exposure.
Here are a few ways you could try instead of upping the ISO:
· Open the aperture to the widest setting.
· Use the flash when shooting smaller objects.
· Drop your shutter speed when shooting in low light.
- Expose correctly from the beginning:
Boosting underexposure will reveal noise, so you must pull the chains from the beginning.
When capturing photos, we highly recommend inspecting the camera’s LCD and the histogram to ensure you’ve nailed the exposure. And feel free to experiment with different exposure options, especially if you don’t have access to proper lighting conditions. Of course, don’t overexpose either, as it obliterates the details.
A quick tip? Did you know the AI-powered autoRetouch lets you fix portrait exposure automatically without user input? Just upload the images, and experience vibrant, balanced, and well-lit portraits.
- Be on guard while capturing long exposures:
Long exposures generate some of the most dramatic images. Unfortunately, if the exposure is too long, the sensor heats up and creates too much noise in the RAW photos.
But you should still do long exposures and try to understand how your camera handles long exposure time. The point here is knowing the limits of your gear and shooting within those limits.
- The detail panel in Lightroom:
Of course, you might have captured some noise even after all the precautions. But you could permanently remove them easily during the post-production.
For example, the Detail Panel in Adobe Lightroom is the best for removing color noise. When editing RAW images via Adobe, the default setting for noise reduction is to add a small amount of color noise reduction to the files by automatically dialing the Color Noise slider to 25. While this seems to slightly mute colors in the images, the adjustment has a massive effect on eliminating color noise from the RAW photos.
The Luminance slider is, however, a bit thorny. Unless you choose the correct value in the slider, the adjustment will remove the noise and some fine details of the picture. A small value of 10 will have a noticeable but subtle effect on noise reduction, whereas a value of 100 will wipe the picture white.
If Lightroom sounds a bit too much for you, there is plenty of third-party software for noise reduction in RAW photos.
Among them, we settled for Nik Dfine. Why?
· Because it’s intuitive and easy to use.
· It’s free.
Nik Dfine is a simple and powerful program for automatic noise reduction. It analyzes the image upon opening it and samples different areas to determine noise patterns. After that, it applies an initial noise reduction which can be altered through options such as Control Points. You can use it as a standalone program or integrate it with tools like Photoshop and Lightroom.
After finishing the write-up, avoiding and reducing noise from RAW photos should be simple enough. Practice is also essential here. Once you’ve picked up the correct camera balance, you’ll be able to understand the causes of noise in digital photography.