Lightroom’s Detail panel

Reducing noise in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom (the controls and results are identical) is easy.

The Detail panel provides tools to reduce two kinds of noise – Luminance (light and dark) and Color. Results can be targeted with the Detail slider into smoother (low setting) or more textured (high setting) areas. The effects for luminance noise reduction can be further modified by adjusting the Contrast slider; a higher setting affects only high contrast noise, while a lower setting affects even closely matched values. And finally, the effects for color noise an be further modified with the Smoothness slider, a higher setting creates a more aggressive effect.

Zoom into an image at 100% magnification and move the sliders until noise is reduced, but image quality isn’t compromised. Use restraint. In a majority of situations, it’s better to preserve a little noise than to blur the image substantially.

All noise reduction blurs images. Sharpening after noise reduction during RAW conversion is recommended. Knowing that you’ll sharpen an image after noise reduction, you may reduce noise slightly more aggressively initially.


no noise reduction


appropriate noise reduction


excessive noise reduction

There are limits to how far you’ll want to go. Noise can be so aggressively reduced that surfaces within images become textureless and begin to seem synthetically rendered with software rather than optically captured photographically. This effect may become more pronounced if contours are strongly exaggerated during sharpening. While sharpening, take care not to accentuate noise further. Develop a sensitivity for texture and contour, and use your best judgment. You know what things look like. Make your images look convincing to you, and you’ll quickly convince others.

RAW converter tools have limits. RAW converter tools do a good job with moderate amounts of color noise. Even high settings don’t tend to compromise image quality; sharpness, saturation and hue variety are all preserved. But sometimes they don’t go far enough. For aggressive noise reduction, especially for larger noise produced by Bayer pattern demosaicing, turn to Photoshop and possibly third-party noise-reduction software.
RAW converter tools do a reasonable job with luminance noise, but aggressive applications may compromise sharpness (some, but not all of this can be compensated for with RAW converter sharpening tools), and at times they don’t go far enough. When you encounter situations like this, turn to Photoshop and third-party noise-reduction software.
Most images can benefit from a little noise reduction and sharpening during RAW conversion. For many situations, this is all the noise reduction you’ll need. Many exposures don’t require substantial post-processing. However, some exposures require more power and finesse than these tools can deliver. When you encounter these, move to more sophisticated tools found in Photoshop and third-party plug-ins. But always start here.


Adobe Camera Raw’s Detail panel

Optimal image sharpening is best done in three stages – capture (Do it during Raw conversion.), creative (Do it in Photoshop.), and output (Automate it.).

This article covers the first stage of sharpening – capture sharpening.

Capture sharpening benefits all images. Capture sharpening compensates for inherent deficiencies in optical and capture systems. All lenses and sensors have specific characteristics and deficiencies. They do not all have the same characteristics or deficiencies.

To speed your workflow, default settings for a best starting point for capture sharpening can be determined for all images created with the same lens/chip combination and saved for subsequent use. To optimally sharpen an image, you’ll need to modify these settings to factor in additional considerations – variances in noise (ISO, exposure duration, temperature), noise reduction settings, and the frequencies of detail (low/smooth to high/fine texture) in an image.

Capture sharpening is determined visually. Perform capture sharpening while previewing an image on a monitor at 100% screen magnification, the magnification that most precisely displays high frequency detail such as texture and noise.

Capture sharpening is best done during Raw file conversion. (Do it after scanning for analog originals.) I recommend importing your Raw files into Photoshop as Smart Objects. If you do this, you can quickly access specific sharpening and noise reduction settings simply by double clicking the image layer. At the same time, you’ll also be able to take advantage of any updates in detail rendering (noise reduction and sharpening) with the click of a button. (Do be mindful that any adjustments you make in Adobe Camera Raw will not be recorded in a Lightroom library.)

Capture sharpening is typically done globally and uniformly to all areas of an image, but on the fly masking routines are recommended for reducing and removing sharpening effects, such as halos on contours and noise in low frequency or smooth image areas.

When performing capture sharpening, err on the conservative side and avoid producing unwanted artifacts. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to fix unwanted sharpening artifacts you could produce at this first stage of sharpening in subsequent stages of image editing; you’ll get better results if you don’t produce unwanted sharpening artifacts at all. Additional sharpening enhancements can be performed locally with more precision in Photoshop during creative sharpening.

Set Clarity before sharpening. It produces a different but related contour contrast. If you change Clarity settings substantially, double check your sharpening settings

Perform noise reduction before capture sharpening. You’ll use slightly more aggressive sharpening settings to compensate for the blurring noise reduction introduces. As with capture sharpening, produce as few artifacts as possible during noise reduction. If you need to perform more aggressive or localized noise reduction, do it in Photoshop. (See my noise reduction series on digitalphotopro.com.)



Lightroom’s Detail panel

The Detail controls in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom are identical; only their appearance varies.

There four Sharpening sliders.

1          Amount controls the contrast of the effect produced.

2          Radius controls the width of halos (light) and lines (dark) produced around contours.

3          Detail skews the effect towards a particularly frequency of detail – high, medium, or low.

4          Masking creates on-the-fly edge masks, removing the effect from smoother lower contrast areas. (You can see the mask when you hold down the Option/Alt key and click on or slide the slider.)

Images with high frequency detail benefit from using smaller Radius settings, higher Amount and Detail settings. (And lower Noise Reduction settings.) Images with low frequency detail benefit from using higher Radius settings, lower Amount and Detail settings. (And higher Noise Reduction settings.) Images with a wider variety of frequencies, especially those that containing significant contours, benefit from higher Masking settings.

If you don’t know where to start, start with an Amount of 100, a Radius of 1.0, and Detail of 50. Then adjust with the above recommendations in mind, but above all look critically at the way the effect affects your image.

There will be many times when you will want to readjust Noise Reduction settings after determining Sharpening settings. The two are intimately related.

Finding an optimum balance involves making trade-offs. Again, be conservative and avoid producing artifacts. This is perhaps the hardest part of capture sharpening, as the tools are powerful and the effects can be compelling so the temptation to go too far is great. Resist. Remember, there’s a second stage of sharpening for localized effects – creative sharpening.

Double processing Raw files with Photoshop will allow you to apply different noise reduction and sharpening settings to different areas of an image with great precision. In one version you can aggressively sharpen high frequency detail with little noise reduction, such as textured stone, and in second version you can minimally sharpen low frequency detail with high noise reduction, such as a clear blue sky. When you do this, you can optimize sharpening settings for one frequency of detail and ignore the artifacts produced in another. With detail settings optimized for different frequencies on separate layers in Photoshop, you can mask the suboptimal areas in the overlying layer and reveal the optimal detail in the layer below. (Here’s an easy way to do this. First, import the first version into Photoshop as a Smart Object. Second go to Layer : Smart Objects : New Layer Via Copy. Third, double click the new Smart Object to change the detail settings in the overlying layer. Note, if you simply Duplicate a Smart Object instead the settings will be reset in both layers. The way you make the Smart Object determines whether the duplicates share the same settings or have different settings.)

Read more in my digital image Sharpening resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

In this episode of Adobe Creative Cloud TV, Terry White shows how to use Camera RAW as a Filter for a non-destructive editing workflow.

View more Photoshop Videos here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Russell Brown presents a super advanced script will convert a standard layer in Photoshop CS5, into a Smart Object that can be edited with the Adobe Camera Raw tools. This is definitely for advanced users only.

Read more in my online learning center here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops here.

Here are five commonly asked questions that, once answered, will demystify camera color spaces.

“Why do my digital camera files have an sRGB profile?”

sRGB is the default color space for most digital cameras today. Most camera interfaces will allow you to change this default. Interfaces and options will vary. The widest gamut default color space most digital cameras support is Adobe RGB (1998). The profile for the camera’s default color space is attached to JPEG files but not to Raw files.

“Is Adobe RGB (1998) the widest gamut I can get with my camera?”

No. The camera sensor is capable of quite a lot more. To access color spaces with a wider gamut than Adobe RGB (1998) you typically need to shoot in a Raw file format. This also allows you to acquire a high bit file – 16-bit instead of 8-bit.

“Where do Raw files get their profiles?”

Raw files don’t have profiles until they are converted into a standard editing space, either with the manufacturer’s software or another Raw file converter like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. Most Raw converters offer a choice of editing spaces including sRGB, ColorMatch, Adobe RGB (1998), or ProPhoto RGB.

“Which color space do you recommend using?”

Use ProPhoto RGB for digital output. It’s the only editing space that can encompass the full gamut of both your camera and your inkjet printer. Use ProPhoto RGB for master files. Make all output specific derivatives from them.

Use sRGB for the web. If a browser isn’t color management compliant, colors won’t be distorted as much as wider gamut color spaces. Use sRGB for derivative files.

“How do I set color space on a digital camera?”

Camera interfaces and terminology vary widely. On the Canon 1Ds Mark II, you can toggle between sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998) by pressing the Menu button and going to the Recording menu (the first icon, a camera), then dialing down to Color matrix and continuing within that to Set up.

Find more digital photography online resources here.

Learn more in my Digital Photography Workshops.


Get over 140 free Camera Raw or Lightroom presets designed by Photoshop guru Jack Davis.

•    Over 140 free Presets to simply and speed up your workflow.
•    Quickly correct color and tone.
•    Easily add creative effects.
•    Save time by streamlining your workflow.
PhotoPresets for ACR and Lightroom now includes two dynamite collections of development presets. The first collection, PhotoPresets with One-Click WOW! includes 85 presets for quick and easy image optimization such as color and tonal correction.

The second collection, PhotoPresets WOW Effects (released in Feb ’09), includes 55 additional presets for adding special effects to your images, taking advantage of the new features in the latest versions of ACR and Lightroom.

The best part is the price – you can download all of these presets for free!

Get the Adobe Camera Raw Presets here.
Get the Adobe Lightroom Presets here.

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