Article by Guest Blogger Joel Tjintjelaar


As a black and white photographer specialized in architectural, black and white and long exposure photography, I frequently run into noise issues when taking long exposure photographs. Especially in low light conditions and longer exposures, chances of having noise in your photographs are very likely.

There are several plugins available to get rid of the noise but I’m very picky to what I choose as a tool. Getting rid of the noise is one thing, but retaining all the details, especially in architecture, is another thing. You don’t want to lose all the details, just the noise. And that’s exactly where some plugins are better than others. I need a good balance between reduction of unwanted noise on one hand and retention of details on the other hand. And preferably I need a lot of control so that I can accurately target a specific kind of noise in my image without affecting the rest of the image. For an architectural photographer this balance is essential. I’ve tried many plugins but the last few years I prefer to use Topaz DeNoise as it gives me very good results.

Of course the best thing is to avoid noise, something I succeed in, in the last few years, but it can’t always be avoided. And sometimes I like to add a bit of noise, in especially skies, to get that analog look.

Let’s have a look at a few examples.

Example 1: Visual Acoustics XI – Silence and Light – Pantheon – Rome

Final Photo

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The Best Image Sharpening Trick for High-ISO PhotosYou’ve probably run into this issue at one point or another – how to sharpen an image with high-iso noise without worsening the noise artifacts.

It’s the epitome of a Catch-22 scenario. By applying noise reduction, you sacrifice detail. But by sharpening the image, worsened noise is a result.

So how does one go about resolving this?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. As first instructed by Gabriel Fontes, this image sharpening technique he invented allows you to effectively sharpen an image, leaving the noise untouched.

Try it out yourself to be amazed.

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Often an image will not appear noisy until you zoom in where the noise becomes much more noticeable. You might find that the shadows and darker areas contain heavier noise than the mid-tones and highlights; when the shadows are brightened the noise becomes even worse. The good news is that with Topaz DeNoise it is possible to reduce shadow noise without affecting other tonal areas and softening them up.

Marqués de Riscal winery (located in Elciego) Image © Nichole Paschal
Marqués de Riscal winery, Elciego, Image © Nichole Paschal

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We’ve just released a free major upgrade to our noise reduction plug-in Topaz DeNoise. It incorporates a new technology we’ve developed called “IntelliNoise” that primarily focuses on naturally removing noise while recovering detail. (You can read the full press release on DPReview .)

As with previous versions, DeNoise 4 especially shines with photos that have a lot of noise. Think ISO1600 and up, maybe ISO800, with a dSLR. Our claim is that it can make ISO1600 look like ISO100, which I know is pretty hard to believe, but I urge you to try it out for yourself. With the right settings, DeNoise 4’s new technology really can make very noisy photos shine.

I’m personally really happy about this new update. Don’t get me wrong, the older DeNoise 3 was great – it really preserved a lot of detail while removing noise. The only point of improvement that we saw (aside from speed) was the presence of “wormy” artifacts in really heavy noise, and some “flattening” issues. This sometimes had the effect of making the photo look unnatural, even when all the noise was removed. Now, though, DeNoise 4 has the advantage of being able to greatly remove noise, recover detail, and keep the image looking natural at the same time. Quite a lot to juggle, but I think if you try it out on your own photos you’ll really like what you see.

Much thanks go to our beta testers and the Topaz Flickr group for their invaluable suggestions and testing. You’ve helped make DeNoise 4 a possibility.

DeNoise 4 is a major upgrade, but is also a free one for previous owners of DeNoise or the Photoshop Bundle. To access the upgrade, simply download the new version and install it with your existing license key.

Have any questions or comments? Ask away below! (a DeNoise 4 FAQ is going up soon as well.)

One of the most common image enhancement workflow questions we get over here is…

At what point in my post-processing workflow should I apply noise reduction?

Why, excellent question! This is actually a very important factor in the quality of the resulting image, whether you use built-in Photoshop noise reduction tools or astoundingly good third-party noise reduction software. When to apply noise reduction is one of the most important and most overlooked aspects of effective image enhancement.

The simple answer is to apply noise reduction before applying ANY other adjustments to the image.

This includes JPEG compression, Camera RAW or even in-camera noise reduction, sharpening, exposure adjustments, dodging and burning, “Psychedelic” presets, whatever. See, in order to differentiate between noise and detail, noise reduction software have a very specific idea of what “noise” looks like and what “detail” looks like straight out of the camera. Applying any kind of adjustments to the image confuses the noise reduction software and causes it to give you a subpar result.

Demonstration time! Consider the following thousand words:

Canon 40D: f/2.8, 1/160, 1600 ISO
Canon 40D: f/2.8, 1/160, 1600 ISO

The image is very noisy and a little bit underexposed. I processed it a couple of different ways to illustrate the point of this post:

Brightened original image
Exposure adjusted, then DeNoised DeNoised then adjusted exposure
Feel free to click on the images for larger versions. The first version only has exposure adjustments – in this case Levels – applied to it. Oh no noise! 1600 ISO underexposed isn’t pretty.

In the second version, I took the RAW file and first corrected the exposure adjustment and then applied noise reduction. In the final version, I applied noise reduction as the very first step in my workflow before exposure correction. The results speak for themselves – and this was just a simple exposure adjustment!

Next time you really need to get the best results on your noise reduction, keep this in mind: no matter what noise reduction software you use, it’s always important to apply it first. I’d go as far as to turn off the built-in noise reduction and sharpening functions in Camera RAW before you import into Photoshop for best results.

There’s a lot of advice where noise reduction is put at the end of the workflow together with sharpening. Although this may be convenient, if you’re really looking for great results, put noise reduction smack at the beginning of your post-processing workflow before you touch a single pixel.

This post was originally posted on July 23, 2009