Noise removal and sharpening – the leap of faith

Pretty much everything I teach is instantaneous, you know? You try it, and see the results right away. That’s what we love about digital, I guess.

But there’s one thing I teach – again and again and again – whose benefits can’t be seen immediately, and for that reason it freaks people out. I’m talking about proper noise removal.

So many times people say to me: "I can’t remove all the noise, because the photo looks plastic."

And every time I respond: "Be MUCH more afraid of noise than plasticity."

The reason is sharpening. While noise exists in a photo, you can’t sharpen it properly. Once noise is removed, no matter how soft you think the photo looks, it can be sharpened as aggressively as you like, and the results are STUNNING. Way beyond your wildest dreams.

I know you don’t believe me, and I can’t blame you. All I can ask is for you to trust me. If I’ve proven my worth to you in other matters of editing, allow me to prove it here as well. Remove ALL the noise from your photos, and once you’ve taken the Sharpening Class, you’ll be blown away at how amazing your prints look.

This quote from Marny says it all:

Ok, Damien, you’ve sold me. I was reaaaaaaaaally skeptical of your methods after I had to add a ridiculous amount on the luminance slider to some photos in order to eradicate every single speck of noise before sharpening. They looked SO hideous and soft and mushy on screen I just couldn’t imagine that they were going to print well at all. But I sharpened them and put in my order.

I just received them today and they. look. INCREDIBLE. The skin texture that looked like plastic on screen is perfect after the slight sharpening noise and the very subtle texture of the print. And even after adding up to +70 luminance to some of them they are actually sharper and more detailed than previous photos I had printed unsharpened.

I’m blown away. I’ve been staring at these for like 10 minutes because they’re just so stunning!

And from Jamie:

I took Damien’s advice and removed noise from a high ISO photograph of my son that I had printed this week. It was completely out of my comfort zone and I was worried about the print . . . now I can’t stop looking at it. Removing then noise then adding a sharpening filter was key to this beautiful print! I love it!

And from Vivek:

Got the prints yesterday. I never expected them to come out so great. I want to redo all my images again :)

What the biggest eye-opener was the removal of noise - I never had a problem with noise and as you know my min ISO setting is 1600 - so when you said all noise needs to go - I was Yeah, Yeah Whatever - especially when I saw my images becoming soft after removing the noise. But now after this sharpening class - it's goodbye noise.

Awesome Awesome Awesome

None of the above is meant to suggest that you have nothing to fear from noisy images. Of course you must make every effort to light your photos really well, in order to use low ISOs and prevent underexposure. Clean images still print the best.

What I want you to understand is that if you haven’t been able to prevent noise when taking your photo, your best chance of making it look good is to remove all the noise, no matter what.


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.