Noise Workflow

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Today’s Question: On a recent photo shoot I had to take these at very high ISO (1600-2500) as the light conditions were poor. I process my images in Lightroom but was considering using a noise reduction plugin like Nik Dfine or Topaz DeNoise. Can you please outline the workflow sequence (including sharpening) you would follow for processing high ISO RAW images?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would actually recommend that you explore the noise reduction capabilities within Lightroom, which is actually very good. If you prefer to use third-party software, I recommend applying most key adjustments within Lightroom before sending the image to a plug-in for noise reduction.

More Detail: The noise reduction in Lightroom is actually quite good, to the point that I no longer feel the need to employ third-party plug-ins for noise reduction within my workflow. I would therefore first suggest that you test the noise reduction capabilities of Lightroom as a first step. Especially at relatively modest ISO settings (which certainly includes values up to 2500 ISO for most cameras) I don’t think you’ll find any real advantage to using software outside Lightroom for noise reduction.

If you prefer to use a third-party tool for noise reduction, it is certainly feasible to incorporate that software into a Lightroom based workflow. In many cases you’ll find that the noise reduction software can be used as a plug-in with Lightroom, so you can send a photo directly from Lightroom to the noise reduction software. In other cases you may need to export a copy of your processed photo and then use the noise reduction software to process the image.

When using third-party software to apply noise reduction, I recommend applying all of your key adjustments within Lightroom before sending the image to the noise reduction software. That would include overall exposure and color adjustments at a bare minimum.

Other adjustments, such as sharpening or perspective correction, are not as critical in terms of applying them to the RAW capture in Lightroom before using noise reduction software to further process the photo.

As a general rule, I prefer to process the RAW capture as completely as possible within Lightroom, before sending the image to other software. However, there may be a need to further refine the image in Lightroom after applying noise reduction. Most of these adjustments will not create a problem in terms of quality.

For example, after applying noise reduction you may find that you need to apply a bit more sharpening to the image. Or perhaps after performing noise reduction you realize you need to apply a perspective correction. It is much less critical that these types of adjustments be performed on the RAW capture, in contrast with adjustments that affect overall tonality and color.

In short, get the image as close to a final interpretation as possible before sending it to a plug-in for noise reduction (or other adjustments), but don’t worry if you find you still need to apply additional adjustments within Lightroom on an image that had been processed using a third-party plug-in.