Grainy, noisy photos are just a fact of any photographer’s life. They can happen regardless of what kind of camera you’re using and are especially common if your photography involves a lot of low light shooting.
Sometimes noise can make retro-looking effects that look great if done right. However, graininess can be a problem that should be addressed if it is possible.
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Fortunately, most unwanted noise in photos can be easily fixed through several different software editing solutions, so don’t despair yet.
You can follow the steps and suggestions to avoid graininess and fix it if you do.
What Causes Grainy Pictures?
Graininess in digital camera shooting is also known as digital noise, or just “noise”, and it can be caused by multiple factors. Most of these revolve around the following:
- Luminance noise: The single biggest cause of image noise is poor luminance, mainly from setting the ISO too high or wrong for a low light shot. All cameras can suffer this problem regardless of their price, but it’s especially common in those with less than exceptional ISO performance. The camera sensor will make any light signals it captures more prominent to compensate. This results in excessive noise.
- Color noise: Color noise isn’t caused by lighting conditions so much as being a product of an overheated sensor. This can be seen in long exposure photos that were taken in low light, or in time-lapse photography. This is often seen in dark scenes and can be described as a form of blotchiness.
- Sensor size: Grainy photos can happen in any camera if its capacity for light absorption is stretched to the limit or if its settings are improperly calibrated, but there is a definite connection between graininess and smaller sensors with lower resolution. Full format sensors of high quality have many millions of light-absorbing pixel to compensate for low lighting. These sensors also tend to have high ISO sensitivity.
- Low exposure: An underexposed photo can be a very noisy photo and sometimes the graininess is caused by using the wrong exposure setting for your composition.
Filter noise can also happen if you’re using filters, and noise from any of these causes can also be worsened by improper focus or shooting photos from a distance.
These problems are usually simple and can be fixed with simple solutions. Make sure you focus your camera properly, and get closer to your subject whenever possible.
Right off the bat, the best way to fix grainy photos is by avoiding them in the first place. This will save you time and effort later.
That’s right. Overexposing your photos is not only a problem in many cases, but it can also help to prevent graininess. To make this work, avoid raising your camera’s ISO settings, since doing this will just create the risk of more digital noise.
Instead, increase your exposure by one stop and use an increased aperture to take a photograph. This can be used to slow down your shutter speed, but this may not work well for low light shots of subjects moving.
Check out our guide on overexposure vs. underexposure.
Using a lower ISO
Lowering your ISO settings won’t necessarily work if the ambient darkness of the scene you’re trying to capture is too deep, but lower ISO does usually mean less noise.
It is possible to lower the ISO by increasing the aperture and shutter speed.
Metering the shot onto the brightest possible object
Setting your focus to the brightest possible object in your composition and taking a photo with the camera metered to this particular luminous point can also improve brightness and reduce noise.
It can help the camera avoid overextending itself when capturing details from dark areas of a scene.
For more information, see our guide to metering.
Activating noise reduction
Not all cameras have a noise reduction setting built into their controls but, if yours does, it can be a handy in-camera tool for eliminating grainy photos.
The option to reduce noise will vary from device to device but try activating it and setting noise reduction to a low or moderate level to avoid detail loss
Taking photos in RAW
The RAW image format is much more versatile for correction and details than JPEG, which is compressed inside the camera to begin with.
Thus, if you’re unsure about the quality of the pictures you plan on taking, setting your digital mirrorless or DSLR camera to take both a RAW and a JPEG shot of your compositions is a useful tactic, for noise correction and for general versatility.
Working with more light
This is probably the most obvious preventative solution on this list but it deserves mentioning. If you want to avoid graininess in the first place, see if the photo scenarios you’re working in can be augmented by more light.
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Some photographers hate using flash for their work (I’m definitely one of them) but other more subtle lighting devices like a reflector or soft box might work in some settings.
External flashes can be very useful, provided they are used properly and the light can be diffused so as to not expose too much.
Obviously, you can’t always work with more light. Sometimes, you have to make the most of the digital camera you have. This is why you need to fix grainy photos or noise in post-production.
Fixing Graininess With Photoshop
If you still have noise in your photos, your next step is going to be a software fix. Let’s start with fixing grainy photos in Photoshop, one of the best-known photo editing programs in existence.
Step 1: To reduce noise in Photoshop, you need to launch your edition of the software, select and import the photo you think looks grainy, and then zoom in by 100% with the magnifying lens to confirm how much noise is in the details of the photo.
Step 2: Click on the Filter menu at the top of the Photoshop application and drop down to Noise. Next, select Reduce Noise. You will see a pop-up window with sliding controls to do this.
There will be three sliders available: one to reduce noise and one to sharpen details. One is for preserving details. Tweak each of these to the left or right until you you’ve sharpened your photo as much as possible.
Step 3: If you still don’t like the Photoshop noise reduction you see, open the Shake reduction tool by clicking on Filter > Sharpen, and then select Shake Reduction. You can use this tool to check if blur caused from a slight shake at the time the photo was taken is possible. If so, you will be able to sharpen your image.
Using Lightroom To Repair Grainy Photos
Lightroom is Photoshop’s leaner cousin from the Adobe family of software products. While the two programs look very similar, Lightroom offers more image manipulation tools.
For reducing noise in Lightroom and cleaning up high ISO, you’ll only need to use a small selection of this program’s tools.
Step 1: Open Lightroom and import your photo to open it up. To the top right of the photo, you’ll see several menu options. Click on Develop.
Step 2: On the right panel, you’ll see several options. Scroll down to Detail and click on it. In here, you’ll have several slider options for photo sharpening and noise reduction.
Step 3: The sharpening and detail sliders can also be adjusted to clean up your photo, but for noise reduction, the sliders for Luminance, Detail, Color and Contrast will adjust the levels of noise caused through these respective characteristics.
You should keep in mind that setting these values at lower levels can cause you to lose fine visual details.
Fixing Grainy Images Without Photoshop or Lightroom
Photoshop and Lightroom are famous and superbly professional options for photo editing, but they’re not the only ones available. There are a few other desktop and mobile options that you might be interested in.
Fixing Grainy Photos With Capture One
Capture One is a professional desktop photo editing suite that’s very similar to Adobe’s two big hitters.
One major difference between Capture One and Lightroom or Photoshop is that it’s aimed more at editing RAW photos, which should be useful if you followed preventative advice I mentioned above about shooting in RAW.
Like Photoshop and Lightroom, Capture One isn’t free, but the cost is reasonable and a trial period is available from its maker.
The software suite can also clean up noise on imported photos. If this isn’t enough to get the most out of an image you want to clean, here’s how to fix graininess and noise manually:
Step 1: Open up Capture One and import the photo you’d like to repair. Once it’s open in the editor interface, go to the Details tab and open it. This is the magnifying icon at the top left of your image.
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Step 2: In the Details tab, a series of Noise Reduction options will appear below. The first option is for Luminance noise and the second for Color noise. Details smoothens the image’s surface. All settings are defaulted to 50.
Step 3: Adjust the above three settings gently to get the best balance of noise reduction and reduced graininess in your image. With the Single Pixel slider, you can fix artifacts from long exposure shots (a common problem).
Step 4: Above the Noise Reduction sliders, there’s a Sharpening tool as well. To adjust how sharpening is applied in detail in your photo, you can adjust the Threshold slider.
Step 5: Capture One sometimes adds simulated grain for a film look to photos taken at higher ISO. You can change this manually by reducing Impact slider.
Fixing Grainy Photos on Your Android Phone or iPhone
Quick-fix solutions for grainy photos are available for both Android and iPhone devices. These can be extremely useful if your goal is to edit images without having to download and install the larger software suites.
Noise Reducer Pro
Noise Reducer Pro does exactly what it’s name claims and it’s a quick n’ dirty solution that you can download for free to clean up grainy photos.
This little app is available for both Android and iOS devices, and it’s easy to learn since it provides only three settings for the single problem of image noise.
To You can use Noise Reducer by downloading the app to your Android or iPhone, opening it, selecting the photo to be cleaned, and then applying one of the three noise reduction settings. There are three options: Light, Medium and Custom.
You can adjust the noise removal level between minimal and severe.
The app allows you to compare the original image and the edited one side-by-side so that you can see how your editing worked.
The Noiseware app is exclusive to the iOS platform but it offers a very professional noise reduction capacity for its size. It isn’t free but the $3.99 one-time price shouldn’t be much of a budget-breaker.
Noiseware is very easy to use. It offers three preset options to get rid of noise once it’s installed: Strong, Weak and Default.
There’s also a custom option in which you can selectively reduce noise while balancing for better detail preservation. Night Shot is a feature that allows you to fix low-light photos.
Lightroom for Mobile
Finally, if you already use Lightroom desktop edition on your computer, Lightroom for Mobile might work for quick fixes.
The app is free for both Android and iOS users and provides a simplified functionality, including a simple, but effective tool to reduce graininess.
Unlike the desktop edition of Lightroom, the mobile version doesn’t offer correction sliders for luminance and color noise. Instead, one slider changes the noise balance. If you have Creative Cloud Photography, you will be able to access additional editing tools through the app.
How To Fix Grainy Photos FAQs
What does grainy picture mean?
A grainy picture is one that’s not smooth and clear, specifically because of dots, specks, or visible pixels. A grainy effect that resembles film photography is desirable but noise or grain in digital photos caused by low lighting or poor sensors is something you should avoid.
Can you fix a grainy picture?
You can fix a grainy photo with the right software. However, you may not be able to salvage some photos if they were taken in raw format. Raw images can be easier to fix as they have more information.
What app can fix grainy photos?
Topaz Denoise, an app that fixes grainy photos, is a great choice. It can also be used with image editing software like Photoshop Lightroom, Capture One, and Lightroom. You can also use an app like Noise Reducer Pro or Noiseware for Android or iPhone.
Fixing grainy photos is mostly about repairing noise from light and ISO-related problems caused during shooting. As I mentioned above, it is best to shoot in low light conditions.
It will help you save hours of post-production time if you make this a regular practice.
The desktop and smartphone solutions can be used to fix noise in photos, even from the most talented photographers.
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