Where does noise reduction fit into workflow?
Below is a simple diagram outlining a basic workflow for reducing noise in images. Step one is quite obvious in that it’s best to prevent noise from getting into an image in the first place. You can learn how to do that here: How to prevent image noise. Once you take a digital image into software there are a few more options. As a general rule it’s best to remove noise as soon as possible, and prior to making other edits. The reason for this comes down to noise basically being individual pixels that have been allocated an incorrect photon count. It’s an error and unless you want to incorporate that as a style of technology, then it’s best to reduce those pixels prior to other adjustments to avoid spreading the noise. If you’re using the noise reduction built into Lightroom then it does’t matter when you apply noise reduction because it’s non destructive anyway, but as soon as a noise reduction plugin is used (or other plugin that requires the image to be exported and permanently adjusted) then the general rule of getting rid of noise early kicks in. The problem with applying noise reduction early however is that plugins like Nik Dfine 2, Noiseware, or Topaz Denoise take time and effort. It makes far more sense to work on a handful of keepers, rather than apply noise reduction on the 500 out takes. There is however a work around which I’ll explain below that gives you the best of both worlds.
A way to apply noise reduction later in the workflow
If you’re using software like Lightroom to store and edit your images then there is a relatively easy workaround for applying noise reduction later in your workflow.
- Edit the image set within Lightroom like you normally would (I say within Lightroom because if you export to photoshop or a plugin like the Nik suite prior to applying the noise reduction this will not work)
- Refine your images and choose the keepers that require noise reduction work.
- Create a Virtual Copy of the image.
- Reset the copy so that no adjustments have been applied.
- Now use your noise reduction software of choice (This is typically done via photoshop, but not always)
- Save the noise reduced image back to Lightroom
- Now use Lightroom‘s Sync function to apply the edits you originally made to the new noise reduced copy.