Reducing Noise with Adobe Photoshop

  • Thread starter Cameron
  • Start date


May 10, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #1
One of the most common questions photographers ask is, "How can I reduce the noise in my photos?" If you aren't familiar with noise, or grain, it's those little specks or dots that appear all over a photograph, usually when the photo was taken in situations when less light was available. When you look at a "noisy" image, you'll see a random pattern of brightness or color. If bad enough, these specks can ruin a photo. If not too bad though, they can be dealt with in post-processing applications such as Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, or Photoshop. While most types of noise can be corrected during post-processing, it's important to note that the process can be overdone. If you apply too much correction, you can transform what once looked like a normal photograph into something more akin to a cartoon. So be careful.

In today's post, I'll discuss the process required to remove noise from a photo while using Photoshop. It's not a particularly challenging procedure, so this shouldn't take very long at all. But first, let me show you the image I found for this tutorial. I grabbed this from a free stock photography website.


I think it's clear that this image contains a lot of noise. I definitely won't be able to remove it all, but at least I can show you the process that can help.

Convert to Smart Object​

After opening the image in Photoshop, I'll right-click on the layer in the Layers panel and choose the Convert to Smart Object option. Converting a layer like this places the original in sort of a protective and editable bubble. It's a method used to avoid using destructive practices in Photoshop.


Accessing the Reduce Noise Filter​

Next, I'll navigate to the Reduce Noise filter at Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise. When I do that, a palette will appear.


This is what the palette looks like. It usually opens with random settings already in place.


Removing the Noise​

As you can see, there are a few options to choose from. I like to always keep the Preview box checked, just so I can see what I'm doing. I have no idea why anyone wouldn't want that box checked. That would be like wearing a blindfold. Also, if you'll notice down underneath the preview image, there are two magnifying glasses. Those enlarge and shrink the preview, which can be extremely helpful while editing.

If we move over to the right column, we'll see the bulk of the settings. As I said, I like to keep the Preview box checked. I also like to keep the Basic option selected. And since I don't have any Settings other than Default, I'll ignore the drop-down box.

Down at the bottom of the column is an option called Remove JPEG Artifact. I advise that you keep this box checked. Why? Because it'll help you remove some of the artifacts JPEG compression leaves behind. Every time you shoot a JPEG image with your camera, compression occurs and with that compression, odd colored pixels sneak into the photo. Every time you work on a JPEG in Photoshop or a similar application and save it in a compressed manner, more of these little pixels sneak into the file. So it's just a good idea to let Photoshop try to remove some of these.

So, after we deal with all of these options, what are we left with? Yes, four sliders that really do the brunt of the work. I'll explain each slider below.

Strength: Just as the name suggests, the Strength slider controls the power behind the noise removal. When moving this slider, you'll quickly learn how far you can go before going too far and losing detail. Your goal with this slider is to start on the left and gradually move to the right. You want to shrink the specks. The moment you see too much detail (contrast between pixels) being lost, stop.

Preserve Details: This slider almost acts as a sharpener. It adds contrast back to the image. After you're done with the first slider, go ahead and start with this one on the left and slowly move it to the right. Just until you see the specks begin to return. The goal with this slider is to sharpen the edges of what's left after some of the noise has been removed.

Reduce Color Noise: Depending on what type of noise you have in your image, you may not even need to use this slider. If you've got random colors in your noise through, give this one a shot. Again, start at the left and slowly push to the right until you see the colored pixels begin to disappear. Don't go too far though, or else you may alter the actual colors in your photo.

Sharpen Details: This is a weird slider that you should use only under very special circumstances. While the Preserve Details slider attempts to sharpen the real edges in an image (the macro edges), this slider attempts to sharpen, or add detail back to, micro edges, such as noise itself. So unless you know what you're doing, you may want to experiment with this slider, but keep it pushed to the left.

The Final Image​

At this point, I'll push the Strength slider all the way to the right and keep all of the other sliders to the left. I'll then press the OK button to close the palette. I couldn't do much more with this photo because it was so bad, but what I did do helped. Let's take a look at the final edited image.


It's not great, but it helped.

Editing the Filter​

Remember up top when I converted the regular layer into a Smart Object? Let's take a look at the true power of this Smart Object feature. Back in the early days of Photoshop, once someone made an edit like I just did, they'd be stuck with it. It would be considered what they call "destructive," meaning, once the edit is completed, it's burned into the file, never to be undone. Today though, after converting a layer to a Smart Object, we have the ability to go back and edit or remove what we just did. For example, if I wanted to change the strength of the noise removal, all I would need to do is head over to the Layers panel and double-click on the Reduce Noise Smart Filter, which I've circled in red. That'll open the palette back up where my earlier edits are still active. How's that for flexibility? And the best part is, after saving the file as a PSD, I can come back in and edit the same thing over and over again. The ability to do this never goes away.


I hope I helped you out with removing noise from a photograph using Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions or would like to add something, please write to your heart's content down below. Thanks!


May 10, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #2
The best thing you can do as a photographer is to avoid noise altogether. To do this, keep your ISO values low. Noise is introduced to photos two ways; through long exposure shots and through a high ISO. If you find that you're getting a lot of noise in your shots, try using a slower shutter speed, a larger aperture, or both. You'll need to use one of the priority modes or full manual mode to do this. Lock your ISO to a maximum value of something like 800 to force your camera to look for light by other means. The trouble is, if you're in a low light situation, your camera might want to slow your shutter speed down too much, resulting in camera shake. If you're taking photos of a stationary object, definitely use a tripod. If you're taking photos of moving objects, you may need to use a lens that offers a larger maximum aperture.

Also, if your camera comes with a noise reduction feature, you might want to give that a try. That reduces noise caused by a high ISO. The only problem is, you'll need to take a few shots first and analyze how bad the noise is, because this feature needs to be set beforehand. It's adjustable and can be too much or too little.


May 10, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #3

Using the Reduce Noise Filter in Adobe Photoshop​

If you use Adobe Camera Raw in conjunction with Adobe Photoshop, you probably take advantage of Camera Raw’s noise reduction capabilities. Camera Raw handles getting rid of an reducing noise like a champ. Inside the Detail panel of this application, there are six sliders that focus on two aspects of noise reduction; luminance and color. I talked about all this in one of my previous posts. If you’d like to look at that, please follow the link below.

Removing Noise in Photos Using Adobe Camera Raw

The way I work is like this; I open an image into Camera Raw and make my edits, which most likely include some sort of sharpening or noise reduction. When I’m finished doing as much as I can do there, I bring the photo into Photoshop to resize it, do any necessary masking, touching up and cropping. Sometimes, because of the cropping and resizing, I take a second look at the photo’s sharpening and noise reduction. While the effort I made in Camera Raw is great, Photoshop can oftentimes make an image look even better.

In today’s post, I’m going to quickly introduce you to the Noise Reduction filter in Adobe Photoshop. I’ll use a sample image to demonstrate how to open this particular filter, what each aspect of the Reduce Noise panel means and how things look after I make a few changes. By the time you’re finished reading this post, you should feel comfortable enough to practice reducing noise in some of your own photos.

The Starting Image​

To demonstrate what I need to, I’ll use the picture below. I tried to find something that had a bit of existing noise to it. Since this was taken in relatively low light, it certainly isn’t perfect, which will be good for my uses.


In general, photos that were taken in good lighting have minimal noise to them. It’s when you get inside that things go awry.

Preparing the Photo​

To begin, I’ll launch the photo into Photoshop. Then, I’ll head over to the Layers panel, right click on the only layer there and select the Convert To Smart Object menu item.


The reasons I’m doing this are clear. To find out why, please read the following posts:

What are Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop?

Why Smart Filters are Important in Adobe Photoshop

Now that the image is all set up to have a filter applied to it, I can move forward.

Opening the Reduce Noise Panel​

To open this panel (or window – whatever you want to call it), head up to the Filter menu at the top of Photoshop. Click that and then roll over Noise and then click on Reduce Noise.


Once you do this, the Reduce Noise editor (we’ll call it that from now on) will appear.


Working in the Reduce Noise Editor​

Upon launching this editor, some basic settings will automatically be applied. If you were to hit the OK button, those settings to alter the photo. Whether or not that’s good would be up to you. Personally, I like to customize things myself to make sure the image looks as good as it possibly can.

In this section, I’ll cover most of the aspects of this editor, just like I did in the post I wrote about reducing noise in Camera Raw. Some items of both applications are very similar, so if you read that one, you’ll probably have a good handle on this one as well.

The very first thing I want to do after entering this editor is to find some good noise to work on. To do this, I’ll use the preview box that sits to the left of the editor. I’ll click and drag around the image until I find an area that clearly shows the noise in the photo. Then, if necessary, I’ll shrink or magnify the preview by clicking on either of the two magnifying glass icons.


Next, I’ll move over to the right column of the editor. Once there, if I want to see a preview of my changes (which I do), I’ll check off the Preview box. After that, I’ll choose which mode I want to keep the editor in. For the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with Basic. In another post down the road, I’ll show you how you can clean up noise in your photos via the red, blue and green channels. Oftentimes, one specific color channel will be the noisiest of the three and by limiting your editing to that one channel, you’ll keep any changes you make somewhat limited and less destructive. For now though, I’ll keep this setting on Basic, as opposed to Advanced because it’s the most straightforward. Also, reducing noise per channel really does deserve a post all of its own.


The four sliders inside the Reduce Noise editor are what actually control how much noise you can remove. I’ll go through these sliders one by one to give you an idea of what each one does. Before reading below, please remember that you’re not going to make your photo perfect. It’s really a give and take relationship when using many of these types of features inside of Photoshop. One slider may reduce noise while another increases detail. While both of these adjustments may appear to work against one another, you can achieve very good results by carefully watching the preview panel and making slight adjustments to the sliders.

Strength: This slider controls how much noise you’ll actually remove from a photograph. If you leave the slider all the way to the left, you’ll remove nothing. If you move it all the way to the right, you’ll remove as much as Photoshop will allow. The trick is to not move the slider so far to the right that you lose a lot of detail. Photos with no detail look just as bad, if not worse, than noisy ones. The goal here is to gradually push this slider to the right, just until you hit the point of diminishing returns. Then stop.

Preserve Details: This slider works well with the previous one. Once you hit the sweet spot with the Strength slider, you can begin at the left side with the Preserve Details slider. Again, gradually push to the right slowly until you see that you’re reintroducing noise into the photo. Your goal here is to keep the lines in your photo as sharp as possible without counteracting the changes made with the Strength slider.

Reduce Color Noise: Sometimes, photos contain a lot of color noise. For a great example of this, please see the bottom photos in my previous post. If this is the case, again, you’d want to slowly push this slider to the right until as many of those red, blue and green pixels have disappeared. You need to be careful to not disrupt the actual colors of the photo though, so be sure to grab the preview with your mouse and drag it around a bit, just to get a more macro look at what you’ve done. If you don’t have a lot of color noise in your photo (like the one I’m using for this post), you’ll see that this slider doesn’t really do much.

Sharpen Details: This is actually an odd slider to include in this collection. It sharpens pixels on a micro scale, which is similar to what the Sharpen filter does. With that in mind, unless you have a very good reason to push this slider around, you should probably keep it to the left. If you do happen to push it to the right, you’ll notice that you’re actually sharpening any noise that’s leftover in your photo. Probably not a great idea.

Remove JPEG Artifact: When you take JPEG images with your camera, your camera automatically compresses the photo. Sometimes, when it does this, it leaves artifacts behind. And every time you work on a JPEG image and re-save it, you leave more artifacts, such as small, barely visible squares. If you check off this option, Photoshop will attempt to remove those artifacts that have been left behind in your image. The result of checking off this box will entirely depend on the quality of compression and how many of these artifacts are visible. It’s possible that you’ll see no change after using this option.

In my case, I’ll push the Strength slider all the way to the right, since there is very little detail in the photo. I’ll leave the Preserve Details slider to the left, push the Reduce Color Noise slider all the way to the right and finally, I’ll leave the Sharpen Details slider to the left. Oh yeah, I’ll also check off the Remove JPEG Artifact check box. This is the maximum amount of noise I’ll ever remove from the photo while using the Basic setting. I’ll click the OK button and see how things look.


Now, the great part about making the layer a Smart Object is that once I apply the noise reduction changes, I may change my mind after I see the entire photo. If I wanted to head back into the Reduce Noise editor to alter some slider settings, I could simply double-click on the Reduce Noise text in the Layers panel.


Once I do that, the appropriate editor will open right where I left off, waiting for me to act.

Keep your eyes peeled for a post in the future that covers how to reduce noise by color channel. Also, if you have any questions or concerns about what I shared above, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!

COMMENT: Thanks for this post! Quick question. In two places you say this: “if you check off this option”
I am curious if when you say “check off”, do you mean that the box should be checked or should it remain un-checked? The word off is making me unsure.

COMMENT: Yes, when I say “check off,” I mean to keep the box checked. I totally understand where you’re coming from here. “Unchecked” is to remove the check and “check” or “check off” is to add the check.

COMMENT: I found the last image (with the noise reduction) flat en a bit blurry. What was wrong with the original. Details pops and the image is alive; it’s real. The other one looks a bit artificial.
But, that’s my opinion.

COMMENT: I agree. There really wasn’t very much wrong with the original. Still, I don’t think that inhibited the visual representation of what the post was about. Thanks for the comment!