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Reducing Noise in Just the Shadow Areas

If you shoot at a high ISO (like 800 or above), you’re going to see some noise in your image (depending on your camera’s make and model, of course), but the area where it’s going to show up the most is in the shadow areas (that’s where noise tends to be its worst, by far). Worse yet, if you have to brighten the shadow areas, then you’re really going to see the noise big time. Well, as good as Camera Raw’s noise reduction works, like any noise reduction, the trade-off is it makes your photo a bit softer (it kind of blurs the noise away). This technique lets you paint noise reduction just where you need it, so the rest of the image stays sharp.

Step One:

We’ll start by brightening up the wall at the end of this hallway. This shot was taken at ISO 800, so when we brighten up that area, it’s going to exaggerate any noise in those shadow areas big time, but at least now we can do something about it. Start by getting the Adjustment Brush (K), click on the + (plus sign) button to the right of Shadows (this resets all the other sliders to 0), then drag the Shadows slider to around +88, and paint over that greenish wall in the back. Even after that, it’s still too dark, so try brightening the Highlights by dragging that slider over to +75 and increase the Exposure to +0.45. Lastly, drag the Clarity slider over to +42 (to enhance the texture). It definitely looks better now (well, to me anyway), but if you look at the inset, you now see lots of noise that was once hidden in those shadows.

Step Two:

Now, zoom in to 100%, so you can really see the noise in these shadow areas (and drag the Noise Reduction slider to the right as you keep an eye on the amount of noise in your image. Keep dragging until you find that sweet spot, where the noise has been reduced but these shadow areas haven’t gotten too blurry (remember, it’s noise reduction, not noise removal). This noise reduction only affects that wall area where you painted, and the rest of the image keeps its original sharpness.

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