Applying Noise Reduction With Layers

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

No noise reductions software that I’ve tried so far is perfect and while you may try by working through the many options, choices, and sliders the software offers, you may never achieve digital noise nirvana.

More often than not, you will obtain an image that is too smooth. When that happens to me, here’s how I fix it using Adobe Photoshop.

  • First Undo the noise reduction power tool you just applied and create a duplicate layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer.)
  • Next, I apply that somewhat over-smooth effect to the duplicate layer.
  •  Go to the Layer palette and change the Opacity of the noise reduction layer to 50% effectively blending the noisy original with smoother duplicate layer.
  • Just because I used 50% for this example doesn’t mean you have to. Experiment to find what works best for your photographs.
  • Then flatten the file and “Bob’s your Uncle.”

How I made this shot: The above image of a race car made at 10:40 PM during an ALMS night race at Laguna Seca had all of the ingredients of a noisy image. Camera used as a Canon EOS 50D with EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM lens (at 75mm.) Exposure was 1/250 sec at f/4 at ISO 800 and an on 550EX speedlight was used.

Safety tips: Shooting at any racetrack especially at night can be dangerous. You should only make photographs in designated areas and if you do use flash make sure that you only fire it at the side of the racecar. Using flash when a car is coming directly at you is foolish and places you and the driver in serious jeopardy. He or she has enough to do without being blinded by your flash. In this case, I “dialed down” the power from my Canon 550EX flash by minus one and one-third stops reducing the impact of the flash further on the driver while only providing some fill flash and making the reflective decals on the car slightly pop.


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Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 and used copies for giveaway prices—starting at less than two bucks!