Digital noise can be a serious problem for many digital photographers. It is the digital equivalent of grainy film and can be caused by several things including shooting at a high ISO, shooting in low light, or even just having a high-contrast photo. Noise is often present in the darker areas of photos or areas that are not in sharp focus. The following is a simple 3-step solution to reduce digital noise using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
Time: 1-10 minutes
Materials Photoshop or Photoshop Elements
A digital photo you wish to edit
Open the photo you wish to edit. Perform any edits you wish to do aside from dealing with the digital noise. Some types of edits can introduce more noise (such as levels adjustments, brightness and contrast, actions etc.). As such, you should edit for noise as one of the final steps in your workflow. Make sure to save your work before you begin the following noise reduction technique.
This is a crop of the image before any noise reduction is performed
This is how the image looks after noise reduction
Once your edits are done and you have flattened your image (Layer>Flatten Image), duplicate your background layer (Layer>Duplicate Layer)
Next use a blur filter on the duplicate layer (Filter>Blur>Lens Blur). You can also use Gaussian Blur if Lens Blur is not available in your version of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Make the blur quite heavy for a very noisy photo. Don’t worry if the image appears too blurry, the blur will not be shown at 100%. You want to overdo the blur.
The next step is the most important and it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of. With the eraser tool, you want to erase the areas of the subject where the noise is not prevalent or areas where sharp focus is required. You can change the opacity of the brush depending on how sharp or blurred you would like an area to be. After a few tries, it becomes quite easy to gauge how strong your brush should be. The areas that usually need the most erasing are the foreground areas, a subject’s facial features, or anything that has fine details. The eraser brush should be set to a low hardness value so that the edges have a soft, smooth transition. You may need to adjust the size and opacity of your eraser brush several times during this step.
Note that the areas which you want to be slightly in focus can be erased at a reduced opacity to create less blur. You can see this in the cat's tail
Flatten your image again if desired.
The finished product will look something like this
Digital noise can be one of the most frustrating issues for photographers to deal with in post-production, but with these simple steps you can deal with it quickly and efficiently for a beautiful, clean-looking image.