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Turn down the Noise!

Is it loud in here or what? Noise, something that can ruin your day. If your photo looks anything like this out of the camera, sorry, it can't be saved. We've added noise for effect on this one. Err.. Unless you want noise, which can be good to make a photo look dated, which is not great for typical stock art. Umm... For the most part. Anyone have a shovel? The hole we're digging is getting a little large.

Let's skin this cat!

Always try to reduce noise with your camera settings by lowering your ISO, have adequate light, and use noise reduction on long exposures. In less than ideal conditions, you'll run into unwanted noise. Let us show you how to fix it after your photo is all mucked up.

If you can go back to your raw file, try reworking your file in Adobe Lightroom, or Adobe Bridge. A minor adjustment to your 32 bit file can be just what the doctor ordered. For this tutorial we are going to assume you have hours of work into your .PSD, and going back to raw isn't an option. Or there is too much noise for minor tweaks. We are going to use the Reduce Noise filter, so you'll need Photoshop CS2 or higher to follow along.

There are a few different types of noise. We are going to focus on removing Luminance Noise, simply because other types of noise aren't as common with SLR cameras. We can't remove noise without loosing quality, so always keep your edits to the bare minimum.

Keep in mind, at Solid Stock Art, depending on the image content we may allow a little noise. Try uploading before you edit to see how we feel about that particular photo.

Let's start with this photo of an amusement park ride taken at dusk. The large gradient making up the sky and long exposure makes this a prime candidate for noise. It looks pretty good as a little thumbnail, but lets take a closer look.

At 100%, you can see the problem areas. The whole photo isn't plagued with noise, so only fix what's broken.

To start: Drag the background layer (or effected layer) down to the new layer icon, or Cmd + J, (PC) Ctr + J. This will give us a copy of our current layer.

Next: Open the Noise Filter dialog box. Go to Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise.

The Reduce Noise dialog box utilizes a large preview area on the left so you can see the changes you're making in real time. Check and uncheck the preview box to see the filter applied and removed. There are sliders and radio buttons on your right. We recommend lowering all the sliders to zero to start with. Because this tutorial is focused on Luminance Noise, which is made up of dots of varying brightness levels, these adjustments are fairly basic.

Reduce Noise as much as possible with the Strength slider, then bring back detail with Preserve Details. We also Reduce Color Noise a bit, to help remove chromatic aberration (purple fringe) around the high contrasting edges in this particular photo.

You can also dive into the Advanced dialog box. Same method, but now you are effecting each color channel separately. Play with your settings until you feel you've reduced the noise to a more tolerable level. Remember, keep it simple. When you are finished click Okay.

Now that you've applied your filter, let's paint it on the effected areas, leaving the rest of the photo unaffected by the filter.

Add a layer mask. You can hold Option as you click the Add Layer Mask icon to fill it black, rendering the layer invisible, or after you've applied the layer mask, you can fill it black.

With the mask still selected, grab a soft brush and paint the noisy areas with white so the filter shows through, reducing the Noise only where you paint.

Now, go upload that sucker!!!!

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