How to reduce digital noise in your photographs

How to reduce digital noise in your photographs
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The digital noise reduction is more effective if we apply it at the moment of taking the photograph.

It is true that it is very useful to know the different noise reduction software in the market (or even the best apps to reduce noise in your mobile photos). However, if we manage to avoid digital noise from the first moment, it will be much easier to get clean and sharp photographs.

In the case where even applying the best techniques to reduce digital noise, it still appears, it is very useful to know how to reduce noise in Lightroom or how to reduce noise in Photoshop.

how to reduce digital noise iceland northern light photograph with noise

Digital Noise Reduction using 2,5 seg,  f/2.8 , ISO 4000

However, in this article from the series “noise in photography“, we will focus on how to reduce digital noise during shooting and how to prevent it from occurring when printing our images:

  1. How to reduce digital noise in our photographs 
  2. Camera settings for digital noise reduction
  3. Tips for printing noise-free photos

HOW TO REDUCE DIGITAL NOISE IN OUR PHOTOGRAPHS

There are many techniques to reduce and remove digital noise, both when we are shooting and afterward, in the editing and processing.

Throughout the following section, we will see the best way to get rid of digital noise using the best camera settings. Although keep in mind that if the lighting conditions are very unfavorable, it is possible that the noise keeps appearing having to use different noise reduction software a posteriori.

BEST WAYS TO REMOVE THE DIGITAL NOISE

Generically, this is the best digital noise reduction process:

  1. Photograph with cameras with full frame sensors, since they can capture more light.
  2. Shoot in Raw. This is the best way to capture as much information as possible.
  3. Set an ISO as low as possible, since sensitivity increases the noise.
  4. Expose your images correctly, the golden rule to avoid noise when shooting.
  5. Do not take too long exposures that can heat the sensor, as this might lead to color noise showing up.
  6. Use large apertures and large aperture lenses.
  7. Use Lightroom or Photoshop, the most effective and simple way to reduce digital noise.
  8. Use external noise reduction plug-ins such as “Noise Ninja” or  “Noiseware”.

BEST CAMERA SETTINGS for digital noise reduction

When our goal is to avoid digital noise, the first fundamental step is to use the right camera settings so that our camera does not generate noise.

The first advice and possibly the most important will be to know your camera. Each camera is different and knowing the limitations of your own equipment is essential.

In order to prevent digital noise, in addition to reading your camera instructions, you should practice as much as you can, especially photographing in all kinds of situations and lighting conditions.

Best camera settings to reduce DIGITAL NOISE

Briefly, these are the best camera settings for digital noise reduction:

  • Shoot in Raw.
  • Get a correct exposure.
  • Keep the ISO under control.
  • Be careful while taking long exposures.
  • Use large apertures.
  • Leverage your camera noise reduction.
  • Take advantage of your camera high ISO noise reduction (if you shoot in Jpeg).
  • Use cameras with full frame sensors.
digital noise reduction in night photography iceland

Digital noise reduction by using the right camera settings. 3 sec, f/9, ISO 1000

 

Shoot in RAW to reduce the noise

To avoid digital noise in our photos, the first and most basic step is to shoot in Raw.

Jpegs file can’t capture as much information as Raw files, and the Jpeg compression will make the noise more evident and more difficult to remove in processing.

Get a correct exposure

We must always try to expose our photographs correctly, without shadows and black areas lacking information that will have to be processed by our cameras generating noise.

To make sure our exposure is correct when shooting, don’t use the camera light meter, but the histogram, where we can see if we have part of the image on the blacks or highlights, that will be difficult to recover.

The “Exposing to the right” (ETTR) has been considered as the basic digital noise reduction technique and has generated an endless debate in the photography world. This technique consists of using parameters aimed at having, as a result, a histogram exposed as to the right as possible without reaching the pure whites.


reducing the digital noise in Northern lights photos

How to reduce digital noise in Northern Lights photos Gluggafoss Iceland
Reducing the digital noise exposing properly our images 1,6 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 – 25 sec, f/2.8 ISO 3200

 

ISO and Digital Noise – Keep it under control

Out of the three parameters that compose the exposure triangle: Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, the latter will be the most significant when talking about digital noise reduction.

The higher the ISO we use, the more noise will be generated by our camera.

As we increase the ISO, we will increase the sensitivity of our sensor to the light, and this will make our camera processor create random information and, therefore, generating more digital noise.

To avoid this, we will try to use a low ISO whenever it is possible.

There are circumstances where the lighting conditions require to raise the ISO as, for example, in night sky photography, so it is crucial to know our camera well and to try to control the ISO as much as possible.


How to reduce digital noise photography Milky Way

Reduce digital Noise Milky Way photography Canadian Rockies
Digital noise reduction by decreasing the ISO and increasing the exposure time. 5 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 – 30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200

 

* Invariant ISO/ISO less sensors and Noise:

While the Exposure to the Right technique that mentioned has been classically seen as one of the best shooting techniques to avoid digital noise, nowadays some new cameras use sensors called ISO invariance (“ISO Less”). In short, using this type of sensors you can get the same result shooting at a native ISO (ex. ISO 100) and overexposing the image later in the processing than shooting at a high ISO.

This way of shooting has advantages, especially when we have high lights in the image which run the risk of being blown out if we raise the ISO, such as a strong Aurora, lampposts or any other source of strong light.

Some examples of cameras that use an ISO invariant sensor are:

  • Sony A7RIII / Sony A7RII
  • Nikon D810 / Nikon D750 / Nikon D 7100 / Nikon D7100 / Nikon D5500
  • Fuji XT1 / Fuji X100 / Fuji XE1
  • Pentax K5

If your camera is not on the list, I suggest you test it to know if the type of sensor you use is ISO less.

The way you photograph will be different if you use a conventional sensor or a ISO invariance sensor when noise might be a problem in the image.

Be careful with long exposures and avoid chromatic noise

As we have already explained, taking long exposures is one of the most common causes of noise in digital photography.

As the sensor temperature heats up after a long use, the amount of noise increases, especially the chromatic noise.

To reduce it, try to avoid long exposures of several minutes or to take many shots without stopping.

This is inevitable in certain types of photography such as Star trails or time-lapse but should take this into account and keep it under control whenever it is possible.

Northern Lights photography Skogafoss how to reduce digital noise

Band of color noise resulting from a long Northern Lights session at high ISOS. 2.5 sec, f / 2.8 ISO 5000

Use large aperture AND LARGE APERTURE LENSES

One of the best tips to reduce digital noise is to use large apertures in your lens in low light conditions.

Although the aperture does not directly affect the amount of noise, a small aperture in low light situations will force us to take longer shutter speed or a higher ISO; parameters that will make our photography grainier.

Use as large aperture lenses as possible, with low f values.

Milky Way photography Jasper Canadian Rockies digital noise reduction

Photograph taken with an aperture of f/2.8 to capture more details in the sky and avoid noise. 2 sec, f / 2.8, ISO 3200

Leverage your camera noise reduction

In order to avoid digital noise, today’s cameras have a built-in automatic noise reduction system.

Through this system, after having captured the image, our camera will carry out an automatic process where it will capture an exposure of the same time as the original photograph.

Pros of the automatic noise reduction

It allows reducing digital noise automatically in the RAW file and without having to use any software later.

Cons of the automatic noise reduction

We cannot use the camera for the entire duration of the process (always same time as the original shot).

In this way, if we take a 30-second shot, our camera will be busy another 30 seconds applying this process.

In my case, I don’t use this system, since I prefer to apply digital noise reduction more selectively through different noise reduction software.

Long exposure digital Noise Reduction in camera NR

Nikon D800 menu: Long exposure Noise Reduction (NR)

 

Take advantage of your camera high ISO noise reduction (If you shoot in Jpeg )

If you are not going to edit or process your photos and you prefer to shoot in Jpeg format, you can use this automatic noise reduction on your camera to reduce the digital noise of your images.

In my case, I shoot always in RAW, so this option is disabled on my camera.

Use cameras with full frame sensors

In order to avoid digital noise, our camera sensor will play a key role.

One of the main differences between cameras that use crop sensors (APS-C) and cameras that use full-frame sensors, is the amount of noise they generate.

The size of the sensor is essential for capturing more light and collecting more information. In other words, cameras with full frame sensors will generate much less noise than cameras with APS-c sensors.

In some types such as Milky Way Photography or Northern Lights photography, the difference will be very significant from using one type of camera or another.

photography Milky Way New Jersey beach digital noise reduction

Photography taken with Nikon D800 Full frame camera and Nikkor 14-24 f / 2.8 lens. Panoramic of 5 vertical photographs at 15 sec, f / 2.8, ISO 4000

If your camera has a crop sensor and you are planning to take night sky photos or you are taking a trip where you expect to shoot at high ISOs, my advice is to get a Full frame camera if quality is something matter to you.

Full frame sensor cameras are not particularly cheap, but you can also rent the gear for a photo shoot or a trip. In my, case it is something that I do often, renting mainly cameras and large aperture lenses through Lensrentals.

TIPS FOR reducing the digital noise in your prints

Printing images without noise is one of the main goals that we seek so the attention of the viewer is not diverted from the main elements of the image.

How to print photos without noise

In order to avoid noise in our photography prints, follow the next tips:

  • Use techniques to prevent noise when shooting, as this is the best way to have a sharp and clean print.
  • Remove the noise in your photography before making the print through one of the different noise reduction software in the market.
  • Keep a close eye on the homogeneous areas of the image that take up a large space and have a uniform tone or color, such as clouds or water, as the noise will be more visible.
  • Keep in mind the size of the print, since the bigger the print, the more obvious the errors of the image will be, such a noise.
  • Consider the vision distance; even if the impression is of a large size, if it is going to be seen from a long distance, the noise will not be noticeable.
  • Print on paper of the best quality and use the surface that better adapts to the type of photography in order to avoid digital noise. On bright surfaces, noise often goes unnoticed.
  • Check with your lab the aim of your print. They can advise you the right size considering the digital noise of the image.
how to reduce digital noise in prints Antelope Canyon Dan Zafra

Print Antelope Canyon on aluminum dibond without noise

Conclusions about digital noise reduction

As you have seen, the key to avoiding noise is to know the best digital noise reduction techniques on camera, always shooting with the right settings and making sure that we are getting an image as clean and sharp as possible.

However, there are cases where, due to circumstances as low light or lack of time, we cannot get the shot in the best conditions and our picture shows noise in one or several areas.

In these cases, it is recommendable that we know well all the anti-noise software and plugins and, especially, how to reduce noise in Lightroom and how to remove noise in Photoshop, since they are the most effective tool to remove noise in our images.

Finally, if the noise is likely to be due to a technical limitation, my advice is to get photography equipment designed to avoid noise like large aperture lenses and Full Frame cameras.

If the budget is a problem, you can always rent the camera/lens for the photo shoot or trip through a photography rental company such as Lensrentals or buy second-hand gear through MPB.com (in the US, UK or Europe) since they offer a 6-month warranty.

As the last tip I’ll tell you not to zoom until you find it because, in the end, all the photos have noise. Worry about fight it when it’s visible to the naked eye, but don’t get obsessed with digital noise reduction.

AND YOU? What techniques do you use to reduce digital noise in your photographs?

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