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Camera Raw’s Noise Reduction

If you wind up shooting in low light (at night, indoors, at a concert, etc.), then you’re probably used to cranking up your ISO to 800 or more, so you can hand-hold the shots, right? The downside of a high ISO is the same with digital as it was with film—the higher the ISO, the more visible the noise (those annoying red and green spots or splotchy patches of color), especially in shadows, and it gets even worse when you try to lighten them. Here’s what you can do in Camera Raw to lessen the noise. (By the way, the answer is: not much.)

Step One

Open an image in Camera Raw that has a digital noise issue, press Z to get the Zoom tool, and zoom in to at least 100%–200%, so the noise is easily visible. There are two types of noise you can deal with in Camera Raw: (1) high ISO noise, which often happens when you’re shooting in low-light situations using a high ISO setting (like the photo shown here); and (2) color noise, which can happen even in normal situations (this noise is more prevalent in some cameras than others). When you see this junk, click on the Detail icon in Camera Raw (its icon is two triangles and is third from the left at the top of the Panel area).

Step Two

To decrease color noise, drag the Noise Reduction Color slider to the right. It does a fair job of removing at least some of the color noise, though it does tend to desaturate your overall color just a bit. If the problem is mostly in shadow areas, then drag the Luminance slider to the right instead. Be careful, as it tends to make your photo look a bit soft. Now, to be honest with you, Camera Raw’s Noise Reduction feature is...well, it ain’t great (that’s being kind). I use an inexpensive Photoshop plug-in called Noiseware Professional (from Imagenomic) that works absolute miracles. It’s really all I use for noise.

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