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Easily fix noise reduction in long exposure photos

Joel Tjintjelaar
June 17, 2015
Time to read:
12 Minutes

All images © Joel Tjintjelaar

As a black and white photographer specialized in architectural, black and white and long exposure photography, I frequently run into noise issues when taking long exposure photographs. Especially in low light conditions and longer exposures, chances of having noise in your photographs are very likely.

There are several plugins available to get rid of the noise but I’m very picky to what I choose as a tool. Getting rid of the noise is one thing, but retaining all the details, especially in architecture, is another thing. You don’t want to lose all the details, just the noise. And that’s exactly where some plugins are better than others. I need a good balance between reduction of unwanted noise on one hand and retention of details on the other hand. And preferably I need a lot of control so that I can accurately target a specific kind of noise in my image without affecting the rest of the image. For an architectural photographer this balance is essential. I’ve tried many plugins but the last few years I prefer to use Topaz DeNoise AI as it gives me very good results.

Of course the best thing is to avoid noise, something I succeed in, in the last few years, but it can’t always be avoided. And sometimes I like to add a bit of noise, in especially skies, to get that analog look.

Let’s have a look at a few examples.

Example 1: Visual Acoustics XI – Silence and Light – Pantheon – Rome

Final photo
Original photo

This is the original color photo and the final black and white photograph of the Pantheon in Rome from my Visual Acoustics series that’s now being exhibited in galleries in New York City and Las Vegas in very large sizes (60 inch and beyond), so detail is critical. The photograph consists of many details like all the cracks and holes in the façade that I wanted to retain. But there was also some noise in the building itself as a result of a combination of very hot weather in Rome on that day and a long exposure time of more than 5 minutes. As the sensor gets quite hot during those conditions it will result in unwanted noise, in this case all the small red dots you see in the close up screen grab.

Before I applied DeNoise AI, you can see all the small red dots that I obviously wanted to get rid of. At the same time the details in the columns need to be retained.  After I applied DeNoise there were no more small red dots and at the same time it didn’t affect the details in the columns. Key is to be careful with the sliders, including the detail recovery sliders. If you slide the sliders too much to the right then the details will obviously increase, but also the noise will return but now in another color. It’s a matter of trying out for yourself what gives you the best results and being subtle. I don’t need to increase the sharpness with software, so I was happy if the image quality didn’t deteriorate as a result of DeNoise. And it didn’t.

Another screen grab to check other details in the building, in this case the tympanum with the cracks and holes and the letters.

As you can see from before and after, the image quality stayed the same.

Another Example: Visual Acoustics VII – Silence and Light – Erasmus Bridge

Final photo
Original photo

This is the original color photo and the final black and white result of another image from my Visual Acoustics series: the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam. Which happens to be another image that’s being exhibited in galleries in Las Vegas and New York City in a very large size. Again, details are critical here too and they need to be visible when being displayed as a 64-inch print in a gallery. Without the noise!

This is a part of the image in the sky where you can see a lot of red dots, again caused by the combination of long exposure and warm weather. What I need to take care of now is not only to get rid of the noise but make sure I won’t get any banding in the sky due to the noise reduction.

In the after image you see that I got rid of the noise and at the same time added some grain, something I like in my skies for the analog look and to eliminate the banding too. The sky looks pretty smooth like this.

To ensure I don’t have any loss of details in critical areas in my image check out this screenshot:


In long exposure architectural photography a lot of the times you will end up with unwanted noise as a result of the extended exposure time in combination with low light conditions and/or warm weather conditions. Getting rid of the noise is a priority but also the details in the architectural subjects need to be retained and unaffected by the noise reduction. I find that Topaz DeNoise gives me so much control that I don’t have to compromise the quality of the architectural details when getting rid of unwanted noise.

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Joel Tjintjelaar

Joel Tjintjelaar is a multiple award winning black and white photographer, educator and author. More information on his work, the workshops he teaches and the tutorials he writes can be found on his website