A Brief Discussion about Sharpening and Noise Reduction in LR CC

pathfinderpathfinder Super Moderators Posts: 14,700 moderator
edited June 17, 2016 in Finishing School
Taz, I have been thinking about how to respond to your question about the lack of noise in my images shot recently of the cardinals off my back porch. - http://dgrin.com/showthread.php?t=257118 -

I posted several images shot at ISOs from 640 to 8000, but the ISO 5000 and 8000 images were shot with my 1Dx, and it does handle noise better than my 7DMk II, much better. I started shooting wildlife in Tv mode with a high shutter speed in AUTO ISO about 3 years ago and one thing I noticed is that I ended up with images shot at ISOs much higher than I would have ever chosen - 6400, 12800, and those were quite high in 2012. BUT - when I exposed in Tv, they were exposed properly for that ISO, they were not under exposed and then tried to correct in RAW editing. I was amazed at the number of quite useful images I got, despite the high ISO and its noise. The 1Dx does a pretty good job with noise, but above 1600-3200 it does start to get really noisy - but most of the noise in in the lower quarter tones on the histogram - not in the highlights where all the data really is. Tv allowed me to keep my shutter speed fast enough even as the sun set or we drove back into the forest in the deep shadows, where if I tried to shoot with Manual or Av mode I would have under exposed or found my shutter speed had slowed way down longer than I wanted. Tv with Auto ISO does mean one will be shooting with their lens wide open often, and if that is not acceptable in terms of depth of field, then one has to change something.

So to answer your question, one point is a good camera body, and then to have your images in sharp focus. I was shooting handheld in my blind, because trying to track small birds with a tripod mounted lens is just too frustrating for me. I like Wimberley mounts for cranes and big raptors, but for song birds it just doesn’t work for me, I shoot handheld most of the time. I used good glass with IS capability, although I am not sure that IS means very much at shutter speeds of 1/1600th sec means very much. 1/1600th was a compromise, I would have preferred 1/2000th but with heavy overcast I had to compromise somewhere.

The ISO 5000 image is here - It definitely does have noise when I look at it at 2x on my 4K monitor. Of course, each of those pixels one sees on screen, will result in 5-12 dots of ink when it is printed on a modern ink jet, so……


My Develop settings are here


My Sharpening and Noise Reduction settings are here


I remind you that developing in Lightroom is an iterative process - that is each step you make has a small effect on all your previous steps, so that after I perform a few steps I go back again an refine my previous steps. In particular, I pay great attention to my histogram and try ( if appropriate ) to keep my white points at the far right side of the histogram, and my blacks to the left. I grew up back in the days of Photoshop where you started with each image to set a proper white point and a proper black point and we still do that in Lightroom. I usually start with my black point, and work up the Develop module from the bottom to white, then Shadows and Highlights. I would show you my steps in sequence, but I copied and pasted the steps for this image from other previous images, so I don’t have a precise sequence of steps I can produce for this specific image. I will display one for a different image below.

My sharpening and noise reductions steps are performed just as they are listed in LR - I start with the Sharpening slider, and then I hold the Option ( or Alt on a WIN machine ) key down and adjust the Masking slider to limit my sharpening to just the edges of the subjects I want enhanced. I usually leave the radius at 0.9 or 1.0 - if you really want more sharpening you can go to 1.1 or more, but it can get ugly fast too. I have found the detail sliders really help getting the sharpness I want without mucking up the image. Noise reduction varies depending on the image and on the ISO used, but for higher ISOs- say 3200 I will raise the Noise Reduction Luminance slider up to 20 or 30. As you do this you will blur the image a bit, but when you slide the detail slider beneath the Luminosity slider, to the right - say 50 ->80 or so you will regain the sharpness without the noise - I know it sounds crazy but it seems to be true to my eye. If there is much color noise I will blur that as well from 30->50 or even 60, and use the Color Detail slider to keep things sharp.

I do always use the lens profiles, and I usually adjust for color aberrations with 1 pixel each in the red and green borders. Usually i don’t have to actually do this, but is doesn’t seem to have a real image cost to my eye. It really is nice to own a whole closet of lenses these days, NONE of which have show chromatic aberrations after editing their images in Lightroom.

I DO like the DEHaze slider too - for landscapes it can really help, but it can be overdone as well, so use a light touch. By the time one has added DeHaze, Clarity, steepened the Curve, and set black and white points, one can really over do it if one is not careful. You end up with sunny day contrast on an overcast day and that looks weird...

Usually by the time I have Developed, Sharpened, and Noise Reduced, I go back and look at my histogram to see if it is still extending across the whole scale - it frequently is not and I need to make small changes in my black and white point settings again.

Here is another image shot with a 7DMkII and a Tamron 150-6000 lens at ISO 1250. It definitely has noise and looks flat. Here is the unedited RAW file as a jpg


Here is my final rendered image after editing and cropping. I did make a pass through PS to clone out parts of the wire in the lower left corner, but I did not do any noise reduction in PS. I could have used NoiseWare there, and sometimes do, but I did not in this image so you can see what LR can do.


Here are my Develop settings for this image


And my Noise Reduction settings for the red cardinal


I would recommend you take my settings step by step through an image of your own and see how it responds. Obviously, the settings I have used will not be correct for your image, but as you work through the steps and then go back and recorrect your steps in the re-iterative process I think you will see how my sharpening and NR seems to work. As I said, if an image really needs NR in a buzzy sky, I am quite willing to go to PS and NoiseWare to do that, but most images of mine do not get to that point today much. One other point, most of the noise is in the darker tones, so just raising your black point a bit ( sliding the black point slider to the right or the foot of the curve to the right ) drops a lot of that noise into totally black and the noise disappears, - IF one does not need that image data in the deep shadows. Some images are much better without all that shadow detail - Folks burned a lot of images in the darkroom to get those blacks in the shadows many years ago.

I will be happy to try to answer any questions about this post, and how I process my files.
Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin


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    SamSam Registered Users Posts: 7,419 Major grins
    edited February 19, 2016
    Thanks for your incredible effort writing this! clap.gifclapclap.gif

    Good info.............................

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    Eldon SheaEldon Shea Registered Users Posts: 145 Major grins
    edited February 19, 2016
    Thank you Pathfinder. This is an excellent article. I so appreciate that you took the time to write in such detail and with such clarity. I will be putting your teaching to work this weekend. When you write the definitive book on Lightroom CC I will be standing in line to buy it.

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    StumblebumStumblebum Registered Users Posts: 8,480 Major grins
    edited February 20, 2016
    God Bless Jim! I can't tell you how much I appreciate this! Thank you for sharing this info! Cheers!
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    JuanoJuano Registered Users Posts: 4,884 Major grins
    edited June 15, 2016
    Excellent post! Thanks!
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    slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,200 Major grins
    edited June 17, 2016
    Oh, this was a WONDERFUL explanation!! Thank you so much. I really learned quite a bit from this one post. Thanks for taking the time to write this out for us. clap.gifclapclap.gifclapclap.gif
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