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How to selectively reduce noise in photographs using Photoshop

In the days of analog film, the price you paid for high-ISO film was grain — that speckled array of silver-halide particles that often ruined an image, or at the very least prohibited you from enlarging it much.

Nowadays, the byproduct of high-ISO photography is noise. Sure, each few years brings along better high-ISO performance, but even the best of cameras have their limits.

Thankfully, noise is much easier to deal with in the digital age than grain ever was in the days of darkrooms. Not only is it possible to reduce noise in images, there are dozens of ways to accomplish the task.

To demonstrate just one of the methods, Blake Rudis of f64 Academy has shared a wonderful tutorial. Throughout the eight minute walk-through, Rudis takes viewers through one of the more unconventional ways of getting rid of unwanted noise. It’s by no means a simple solution, but with a little bit of Photoshop knowledge, it turns out to be one of the most effective.

Something worth noting before diving into the tutorial is that noise most often affects an image in the shadows, due to a range of limitations of the pixels on a camera’s sensor. Thus, to minimize any unnecessary image quality loss, Rudis’ technique focuses on compositing the image using various clipping masks and layer styles so that only the shadows of the image are affected by the noise-reduction technique.

It might take a few watches to catch on to the entire process, but once you have it down, you’ll have the process in your arsenal to use when needed. To further simplify it in the future, you could even create a series of Photoshop actions to automate the process a bit more.

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