Photography can often be a troubling trade when little things don’t go according to plan. After all, if you only have one chance to take a photo, you had better get a good one. Post processing has become a big part of modern photography, from amateur tools like Snapseed to more professional apps Photoshop, Aperture, or the increasingly popular Lightroom.
But simply owning Photoshop or Aperture isn’t enough. You must keep it up to date and use the best plugins for your trade. I’ve been doing a lot of concert photography lately, so I decided it was time I got a better way of reducing noise (a high ISO is required with my fairly slow lens). Imagenomic’s solution, Noiseware, seemed most appropriate, so I began with the 30-day trial. During that time, it was useful enough to sell me on getting a full license. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this plugin better than Photoshop’s built-in noise moderation.
Important: This plugin is compatible with Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Apple Aperture, and doesn’t run as a standalone app. We mistakenly originally mentioned that it works with Lightroom. While it’s not officially supported, there’s a droplet in Noisware’s forums that may get it working in Lightroom, however.
Installation instructions for Noiseware can be found on Imagenomic’s Web site and will vary depending on what editor you’re using. It takes less than five minutes to install the plugin and there are hardly any complications — it’s just like any other OS X app that isn’t delivered with the Mac App Store. If you bought the software, you’ll have to input a license key unique to your email address and name. There is a 30-day trial, otherwise.
The biggest challenge with reducing noise is keeping the detail. To reduce noise in an image, the program glazes over the details to create a new, speckless image. It may look good when zoomed out, but sometimes the image needs more than that. Text can often become blurred, edges softened, and little details get lost. Noise isn’t always bad, and getting rid of it doesn’t always improve a photo, but with the right tool, an image with a lot of noise can definitely be improved.
You should always remember that all noise reduction dulls the image, so a layer of clarity is lost. This happens with every method.
Noiseware’s main adjustment tab is the Detail tab. It allows you to add luminance, color, sharpening, and contrast to an image. There’s also an Edge Smoothing drop-down that improves the detail of the edges buildings, people, or any figure. Tweaking these can improve the detail quality or destroy all detail. It’s important to leave sharpening at zero in most scenes because otherwise, all detail will be lost to an ugly blur.
Another extremely important tab is Frequency. All noise is not simply “noise”. It’s there for a reason, with certain characteristics assigned to it. You can fix some types of noise while leaving other areas of a photo intact — no detail lost. This is the most important function of Noiseware, and it’s the main weapon in the fight against Photoshop’s built-in plugin. Big chunks of noise are low-frequency, while small ones are high-frequency. Armed with that knowledge you can tweak certain areas of a photo without hurting the rest of it.
Nobody wants to run a bunch of modifications on an image unless they’re absolutely sure it’s going to look nice. Noiseware renders a fast preview by default. It’s close to the final image, but you will notice a difference if you did something wrong. To get the image you’ll see when finished processing, click Accurate. This setting is set as default only because it saves time on a slower computer. How much time? Only a few milliseconds, on a 2012 MacBook Air, at least. It’s better to ensure the image looks good rather than swiftly process it.
Presets: Are They of Use?
Anybody who spends $79.95 on this software should know what they’re doing. Presets are usually something for amateurs: they’re fine for learning, but are not going to yield the best image. I had some fun messing with the presets, just to see if they were worth using. Since the concert photos I have were taken indoors, I selected the Night Scene preset first. It didn’t remove as much noise as the default setting. A higher ISO is always required at night, and it knew that, so it didn’t want to destroy the details.
In some areas, the Night Scene preset helped, but in others it went too far. The problem is it applies the same setting to the whole image, when it really needs different treatment in some areas. There’s actually an easy solution for this: select the portion of the image that needs noise removed and adjust the settings for it alone. Things might look uneven if done quickly, but quality will show if you pay attention to what you’re editing.
But that’s not all you can do with presets, thankfully. If you have a few photos that include the same scene and colors, consider saving your adjustments for those. The Save button in the top left of Noiseware’s interface will let you put settings away for another time. You can load them by clicking the Presets button beside Save. It’s an easy way to keep processing fast, yet high quality.
How Much Noise is Removed?
Many photographers are looking for a way to make noise disappear without losing detail. If you’re one of those, go buy a new lens that’s f/1.8 or larger. Less noise means less ISO and if you don’t want to blur everything, consider investing in a faster lens. Any ISO above 800 will show noticeable noise. If that’s not an option, then Noiseware is your next best option. It does the job, and does it great if you’re up to doing some manual tweaking. Sure, you can have a two-click system that removes noise from a photograph. It’s not going to look as pretty, though, since that’d be using the default preset.
Noiseware is a great piece of software if you know how to use it. There are adjustments for each color, just like in the RAW editor — think of it as Camera Raw for noise. The many manual settings help it go well beyond Photoshop’s integrated noise reduction tool, which has four simple sliders and a more complicated color adjustment function. If you can afford it, Noiseware is the best noise reduction software available for Mac at this price.