Recover Noisy Shadow Detail

When you need high ISO to capture indoor or night scenes like this, your image will suffer from noise and a loss of detail. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to clean it up with an an incredible tool and how to make the most of it. Be sure to read the full tutorial below, as I go into greater detail than I cover in the video.


There are generally two approaches you can use for reducing noise. You can reduce it right away in the RAW or subsequently on the processed image (but before resizing, adding sharpening, or making other changes that de-noising software is not designed to anticipate). Between these approaches, I have a strong preference for removing the noise in the RAW. This is not only a much more flexible and non-destructive workflow but often leads to better results. There are a number of complex interactions that can make reducing noise later a problem. Even just increasing the shadow slider in RAW before separate application of noise reduction (outside the RAW) can create inferior results. However, there are always going to be times when you forgot to reduce noise or didn’t reduce it enough and want to reduce noise without completely redoing your edit, so it’s still very useful to be able to apply noise reduction later. When I do that, I strongly prefer to do so as a Smart Filter on a Smart Object, so as to work non-destructively. With those two workflows and various goals in mind, there are several noise reduction tools you might consider.


Adobe Lightroom (LR) & Adobe Camera RAW (ACR)

LR and ACR offer the same controls and the exact same results when working with RAW data. If you apply ACR via Filter / Camera RAW Filter (rather than inside a RAW Smart Object), your results will be different and may be inferior. However, the filter approach means you can use the same tool for either workflow. The results are generally very good and this is my tool of choice for a large percentage of my images given simplicity, flexibility, and good results. If the image was shot at ISO 400 or lower, this is nearly always the approach I use. See this tutorial for more details on how to get the most out of these tools. However, for critical images or challenging noise, I also use other tools to help get optimal results.


DXO PureRAW 2 (with “DeepPRIME”)

DXO PureRAW 2 (referred to as DXO below) is the only tool I know of which works directly on the RAW data and outputs a true RAW file. You simply feed an image or batch of images to it, choose from a few simple settings, and it creates a new DNG file which you can edit like any other in LR/ACR or your editor of choice. This new DNG file retains all of the flexibility of your RAW data, but is enhanced to remove noise, improve detail, and can correct lens distortion. The workflow is extremely simple and the results are often better than what I get with LR/ACR.

I’ve found that its DeepPRIME algorithm can do an amazing job with high ISO dark shadow detail as shown in the video above. It can also extract much more star detail, though I find the results can appear to have artifacts (tails on the stars) and it probably does too good of a job, with my preference for leaving lesser stars less prominent. So I like using this result on the foreground and may use the original sky or some blend of the original and DXO sky.

I’ve also found it does great with skin tones shot at ISO 400-1600 (I haven’t tested such images above that), making it a great tool for cleaning up images shot of indoor events. I’ve been very impressed with the results it creates on a range of subjects. It’s important to be aware that it can create some artifacts or shifts in color (which you may find better or worse, but typically easy to manage).

DXO now supports a choice of workflows. You can always open your original image in the standalone app. If you’re using v2+, you can use their LR plugin or right-click the files in your file browser to make it even easier. If you’re using v1, I’ve found the results similar but the convenience of the v2 workflow worth upgrading. I find the LR approach is the simplest, as you can easily transfer existing RAW processing or continue after using DXO. The software will preserve any slider values embedded in the image ignores anything in a sidecar XMP file. Hopefully a future update will address this so that the output matches your source in LR every time. But if you use side car files, you should expect to copy and paste your settings if you started editing before using DXO.

If you’ve read my tutorials on other AI software, you know that I’m leery of artifacts or isolated problems from AI. They are almost never perfect, but frequently very helpful when you add a few simple steps to your workflow. Just use layer masks or opacity to blend the AI results into your original will often yield better or faster results. To do this, you’ll need proper alignment of the original and DXO files, which means you should disable the lens correction in DXO. It does an excellent job, but the ability to mix with the original to fix any artifacts or color issues is more important.

Given all of these considerations, I find the following workflow is ideal for DXO PureRAW is:

  1. In LR: select the file(s) to convert and go to File / Plugin Extras / Process with DXO PureRAW. You can even select multiple images from different folders (use ctrl/cmd and shift to make multiple folders visible and then the same keys to select multiple images).
  2. Use these settings: deepPRIME (this is typically the best algorithm and runs fairly quickly), under optical corrections turn OFF “lens distortion correction” (so that you can blend in the original later), you may try “global lens sharpening” if offered but I generally leave it off, and set output to DNG in a DXO sub-folder. I have found that using “global lens sharpening” improve some chromatic aberration, so it can have surprising effects either way and I recommend testing if you see edges you think may benefit from more/less sharpening or less aberration.
  3. If you started processing the image before conversion, embedded settings will be transferred but those from a side car will not. It’s simplest to do step #1 before adjusting anything, but you can simply copy and paste the RAW settingsDXO will never transfer noise reduction, sharpening, or lens correction settings.
    1. You should definitely copy or sync any lens correction settings so that the exact same LR corrections are applied to both versions for proper alignment later when blending the original and DXO RAW.
    2. You may copy sharpening settings, but I would review carefully as the optimal is probably not the same for both.
    3. DXO tries to take care of color issues for you and you don’t generally need to set the color noise reduction. But there are times when it will be very helpful for issues which resemble chromatic aberration. You can also run into some very odd niche issues, such as the significantly altered mask results as shown in the video above.
  4. Open both the original and DXO RAW files as RAW Smart Objects in Photoshop to merge the best of both.
    1. If the DXO shows unwanted color: In most cases, you can simply tweak the white balance (including the tint slider under camera calibration) for the DXO layer to achieve similar color. Otherwise, put the DXO layer above the original in PS and set the blend mode to “luminosity”. This will give the noise reduction benefit without the unwanted color shift.
    2. If you used the luminosity blend mode but do want the color in some places, you can duplicate the DXO layer, set it to “color” blend mode and use a layer mask where needed.
    3. Finish by putting a layer mask on your DXO layer (or group if using two copies of it) to combine the best of the DXO and original layers.

One minor note: you may read that DXO outputs a “linear” DNG. There is some confusion on the topic and you might think this means you may get improved highlight recovery. That is not the case. What is blown out in the original will remain blown out in the DXO layer. This is just a high quality file format that you can use like any other RAW with improvements in noise and detail based on what was captured in the original.


DXO Photo Lab

Photo Lab is DXO’s full-featured RAW processor (at least as of v5) also includes DeepPRIME. Just like PureRAW, you can process and export a RAW file that you can use in other editors. It offers a much greater range of options in general, with DeepPrime specifically offering luminance and dead pixel sliders for more control over those features. Other corrections like vignetting are split out and lens sharpness offers more detailed controls. If you want the ultimate control or wish to do everything in one place, this may be a better choice for you than LR + PureRAW. Just use the export and DNG option if you need to send the image back to LR. Personally, I don’t find the extra control here matters much as I can generally achieve similar effects by blending layers in Photoshop, prefer to use LR as my primary RAW processing tool, and find the integrated workflow with PureRAW much simpler than exporting from Photo Lab to LR.

Some tips for working with the Photo Lab version of DeepPRIME:

  • The main window is a rather low quality preview of denoising results, which may show a lot of artifacts and color noise which won’t be in the final processed image. You should only use the magnifier window in the controls to determine the best settings for denoising, lens sharpness, and chromatic abberation. I wish there was a way to get a larger but still accurate preview, but that does not seem to be an option currently. I’d happily wait the 20 seconds it takes PureRAW to generate teh whole image for me to move around. It’s a challenging limitation to only be able to review such a tiny portion of the image at a time which I feel limits my ability to make optimal choices.
  • Try setting the luminance slider around 40-75%.
  • Note that some sliders (such as dead pixels) are hidden and require you to click the + at the bottom of the tab, and the help for the denoising section lists all sliders (including many which only apply to the HQ or basic Prime algorythms), which is a little confusing at first.


Nik Dfine

Nik Dfine also comes from DXO, as part of the Nik Collection. It works as a great counterpart to PureRAW as it works as a Smart Filter on Smart Objects. It doesn’t offer the potentially eye-popping improvements of PureRAW, but it does a nice job tackling typical noise on your processed images. The interface is extremely easy to use. So if you’re using or interested in other Nik tools like Color Efex Pro, this is a great tool to consider using in addition to ACR. When you need more control for your processed images, I’d look to DeNoise or Neat Images.


Topaz DeNoise AI

Topaz DeNoise AI does offer a true RAW output, however I find it alters the crop by a few pixels and alters the color/luminosity significantly (in a negative way). It also does not let you lighten dark shadows in the RAW, making it hard to choose optimal settings. Because of this, I find that the current design does not adequately support the RAW workflow. However, it’s still very useful for reducing noise on an existing image and can therefore be very helpful in situations DXO cannot manage (since it only works on the RAW). So overall, I use LR/ACR on simple images, DXO on more complex RAW, and DeNoise or ACR as a filter to reduce noise after I’ve started processing. That said, it is still best to use this before applying clarity, texture, sharpening, etc and that does limit its use for me a bit.

I recommend the following workflow for DeNoise:

  1. Convert your target layer(s) to a Smart Object so you can work non-destructively
  2. Go to Filter / Topaz / Topaz DeNoise AI
  3. Try clicking “compare” to evaluate the difference between the different models (standard, clear, etc).
    1. Standard is a good general option, Clear seems to sharpen detail quite a bit, Low Light and Severe Noise are good options for high ISO, and I skip the RAW model (its meant for work on RAW images, which I’m not doing here).
  4. Set “remove noise” and “enhance sharpness” to the lowest values that get the job done. I tend to leave the sharpening off.
  5. If you see  inconsistent sharpening (such a patches of smooth sky mixed with noisy sky), try increasing “recover original detail” until things look more consisten.
  6. I generally leave “color noise reduction” at the default 0.
  7. Apply and use the Smart Filter to apply the noise reduction locally where helpful/needed.

Note: As of v3.6.2, I am seeing DeNoise crash a fair bit when updating RAW Smart Objects. PS does not crash (you won’t lose your image), it’s just that the plugin may fail to update its noise reduction when you try to tweak it or update the Smart Object. Deleting the filter and recreating is a workaround when this happens. I’ve reported the issue and I would expect Topaz fixes relatively soon it given their history of support/updates.


Neat Image

Neat Image holds a special place in my heart as the first program I used well over a decade ago to get great results. The interface is much more complicated and probably confusing to most users. However, it’s still a great option for some images. Since it is not based on AI, I find it less prone to artifacts and can be a good option for tricky high ISO images.


ON1 No Noise AI

While I own it and it is generally a fine program, I not currently do not use No Noise AI. It will open RAW files but ignores any adjustments you’ve made in RAW. It will output a DNG, but apparently with RAW data (LR/ACR treat it like a TIF). So it does not support the RAW workflow I like to use. It also does not work as a Smart Filter on a Smart Object, so it does not support the other workflow I recommend. At this time, I recommend DXO or Topaz. If I’ve missed something or the program is updated to address these limitations, please let me know and I’ll review again and update my findings.


Capture One

Capture One is a direct competitor to LR/ACR and many people believe superior for their work. I am personally of the opinion that it is better in some ways and worse in some ways and ultimately not really better or worse across a large number of images. The edit the RAW conversion right inside Photoshop gives LR/ACR an enormous advantage and is the reason I prefer it over Capture One. I find that this flexibility allows me to do my best work, which ultimately gives me a better image and with less hassle given the flexibility of the workflow. For the sake of discussion here, I recommend using either CaptureOne or LR/ACR and then considering one of the other specialized tools for important or tricky noise reduction jobs.


Starry Landscape Stacker

Starry Landscape Stacker uses a completely different workflow specific to reducing noise in starry night sky images like the Milky Way. Instead of improving your RAW or processed image, it lets you combine multiple images to reduce noise. This is often like shooting at ISO 400 or 800 instead of 6400. It rotates the sky image to align multiple exposures, which is the digital equivalent of using a star tracker. You can also combine the use of this technique with the others above to push the results further.



My overall use of these tools looks like this:

  • Images <ISO 400, use LR / ACR unless making a massive enlargement.
  • Images ISO 800+, use PureRAW2
  • On images I’ve already processed, use ACR, Dfine, DeNoise in roughly that order based on how challenging the job is. I try to avoid AI tools when simpler tools do the job because they fail in more predictable ways (less need to look over every little detail in the image to check for issues). For complex jobs where DeNoise shows artifacts, I would also try Neat Image.
  • For Milky Way shows where I can shoot a sequence of 10+ images, use Starry Landscape stacker. Typically in combination with noise reduction in LR or PureRAW2) first. Then I may do additional noise reduction targeted through a luminosity mask to help keep sharp stars.


[Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I have purchased all the software referenced above and only endorse tools I personally use and recommend. If you purchase through these links, a small percentage of the sale will be used to help fund the content on this site, but the price you pay remains the same.  Please see my ethics statement if you have any questions.]

Adding atmosphere to a sandstorm

Summer sale: Lumenzia, Web Sharp Pro, and all my courses are on sale this week for 25% off with discount code SUMMERSALE via my store. And if you get all 3 courses and Lumenzia by the end of the sale, I’ll give you a bonus course with completely unique content for free. Just email me if you qualify (prior purchases count toward this offer).

Extreme weather makes for powerful memories, but that doesn’t mean your photographs will necessarily convey the excitement of the moment. In this tutorial, you’ll see how I added sunlight and contrast not only to make the image more visually stunning, but also to help make the blowing sand clouds stand out to help convey just how powerful the wind was. You’ll also learn a very simple trick to make perfect masks for adding light to an image.

A 40MPH wind storm was generating substantial clouds from these sand dunes. The amount of fine dust in the air was unreal. I changed lenses from inside my car and taped a plastic bag around my camera to avoid ruining it. There was so much dust in my ears by the end of the shoot that I was still cleaning them out 3 days later. The visibility was rather poor, as you can see from the distant mountains just barely peaking out of the dust clouds, so I chose a wide angle lens to help capture clear details in the foreground to compare to the blowing sand. At the same time, the light was also flat and created a very low contrast RAW image which fails to convey a sense of the wind because the blowing sand and rigid dunes aren’t clearly differentiated. This is where enhancing the sense of sunlight in post helped truly bring the image to life.

The general processing here uses a mix of techniques I teach in much greater depth in my Exposure Blending and Dodging & Burning Master Courses. The key here was to generate a sense of sunlight and then reveal the glowing air with a radial gradient and across the sand highlights using a midtones luminosity mask.

Gradients are a great way to help reveal anything that looks like sunlight or some other light source. However, getting the perfect gradient can be a little finicky. You’ll often want to squish or rotate a radial gradient to create an angled oval and then move it into place – but transforming and moving the mask will often leave you with a gradient with a clipped edge. The problem is that you cannot paint anything outside what you can view in the mask, but there’s a simple workaround. When you need an oval-shaped gradient mask, the following workflow will help you get perfect results quickly and easily:

  1. Add a radial gradient by dragging from the center of the mask to the closest edge. This should leave you with a round white gradient which is fully black before touching any edges. You may have clipped edges if you dragged to the corner or a further edge, or didn’t drag from the center. If you want to start from the exact center, show rulers and change them to percentages so you can target 50/50 on the rulers as you move your cursor. If you have any clipping, start over. It’s important to get this step right. Once you do, you’ll be able to move this gradient outside the edges of the mask without clipping (the clipping only occurs at the moment you’re painting if some of the paint goes outside the image canvas).
  2. Click <cmd/ctrl>-T to transform. You’ll see a box around your gradient (Photoshop creates the smallest rectangle which includes all non-black pixels in the mask, which makes it easy to transform and confirm that you’re gradient did not get clipped at the edge).
  3. Click and drag from inside the gradient to move its center to be placed at the center of the light source you wish to create or enhance in your image. This might be just off the edge if you’re enhancing sunlight or something else where the source is not in the image.
  4. <alt/option>-click and drag the edge or corner points to squish or elongate the the gradient into an oval shape. This modifier key will ensure the center point does not move as you change the shape of the gradient.
  5. Click and drag from outside the corner points to rotate the oval to get the angle of light you desire.
  6. Click <enter> to finalize the changes.
  7. You can come back and make changes anytime by repeating steps 2-6. Your oval will not become clipped as long as you did step #1 originally. You can even paint further on the mask, however that will make further resizing much more complicated. So it’s best to duplicate the layer and use a separate layer mask if you need to reveal more of the layer and do not wish to lose the ability to revise the gradient.

Simplifying color for stronger images

It’s easy to fall in love with beautiful color. And for the same reason, it can also be a distraction when the color jumps out in a way that pulls your viewer’s eyes away from the main subject. In this tutorial you’ll learn how simplifying color can help strengthen your image.

The key adjustment in this edit was to push the yellow hue towards green and reduce its saturation to match. Once the forest was a more uniform saturation, we could then boost it across all the tree and add some contrast to give the image more life. Luminosity masks were helpful at several points to help isolate the adjustments:

  • The yellow hue adjustment was affecting the colors on the forest floor as well as the trees, so a darks luminosity mask helped paint the ground black to avoid unwanted color shift in areas where the original color was not an issue.
  • When boosting vibrance, the blue, red, and magenta values were becoming too strong, so an inverted color mask was used to exclude those problem colors from the mask.
  • Lumenzia’s automatic contrast enhancment feature was used to boost midtone contrast by selecting a general midtone preview and clicking “contrast”. Blendif works great for general DML masks and keeps the file size down. The resulting adjustment has modest opacity by default, so the opacity was increased a bit to add more contrast.
  • To brighten the river, a blue selection helped quickly create an accurate mask of the river to avoid brightening the surrounding areas.

Improved sharpness without noise in Photoshop

Sharpness vs noise noise reduction: you do your best to optimize one, only to break the other. You can tweak until you find some mediocre comprise. Or you can use a few simple tricks to optimize both at the same time, which is what you’ll learn to do in this video.

The key to the process is to optimize both separately and then use a luminosity mask to selectively reveal them in areas where the image benefits.

A quick note on the luminosity mask I created in the video. You might be wondering why I didn’t just use “Select Sky” in PS. I did try that, and the result is that a lot of the buildings are partially included in the result because Select Sky has very soft edges. Using that a a mask would have resulted in a lot of loss in the building detail as the noise reduction would have been applied to much more than just the sky.


Noise Reduction:

Be sure to check out my previous video on how to optimize noise reduction in LR / ACR. You’ll need a way to apply a mask to the noise reduction. So if you’re using LR/ACR, you should either creating a duplicate of your layer or apply the noise reduction as a Camera RAW filter on your Smart Object so that you can use a filter mask. Keep in mind that any noise reduction or sharpening you do on the original RAW may affect the results of subsequent changes, so it’s best to keep the original RAW adjustments modest so that you can still apply either in an optimal way to it externally. For example, your noise reduction probably won’t work as well if you apply it after sharpening.

There are a variety of ways you can create the filter mask. Often the simplest is some combination of the quick select tool and luminosity selections to help paint in the target area with clean edges. In many cases (such as this image), you just need to mask the sky and can directly apply a luminosity mask in one step.



In the past, I used deconvolution sharpening as my primary capture sharpening. It’s still a great option, but I find myself using it more as a starting point these days. Try pulling the details slider left and increasing the amount to get more sharpening with less noise/artifacts (keep the radius very small). And there are numerous great ways to apply creative sharpening such as high pass, smart sharpen, unsharp, and a wide range of 3rd party tools.

Whichever sharpening methods you use, the key is to apply it selectively with a layer mask so that you only apply it where it is beneficial. If you’ve created a high quality mask for noise reduction, you can probably just use an inverted copy of that mask to get the job done. Lumenzia also offers tools to avoid sharpening halos by helping to automatically mask out edges when you sharpen.


Workflow to optimize both sharpness and noise reduction:

  1. Open your image as a RAW Smart Object in PS. Adjust everything as you like, but leave the sharpening and noise reduction off.
  2. Apply the Camera RAW filter (or your preferred de-noising filter) to it with optimal noise reduction. Then use a filter mask to restrict it to the areas that need it, such as clear skies, water, and smooth surfaces. (You could do this with a layer mask on a copy of the layer, but that creates an unnecessary layer and increases file size without any benefit).
  3. Create another regular (not independent) copy of the Smart Object and apply a Camera RAW filter (or your preferred sharpening filter) to it with optimal sharpening only. You may then safely add creative sharpening on top of the the capture sharpening. Then use a layer mask to restrict it to the areas that need it. You can probably just use an inverted copy of the filter mask, so <cmd/ctrl>-click the filter mask to make it a selection, select the sharpening layer, click the new layer mask icon to render the selection as a mask, and click <cmd/ctrl>-I to invert it.
  4. If you are blending exposures, you can put these layers into a group and put a luminosity mask on the group the same way you would have directly onto a single layer when blending it. You can copy all the masks and filters to save time (hold <alt/option> before clicking and dragging to duplicate rather than move a mask).

Remove dust spots and power lines automatically

Use discount code GREGBENZ for $10 off Luminar Neo (valid through May 10).

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get rid of distractions in your image with the click of a button? With the latest artificial intelligence (AI) software you can. But you need to know a couple simple tricks to ensure you don’t just swap one problem for another. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to eliminate 80% of the tedious work required to clone out dust spots and power lines.

I previously demonstrated how you can use Skylum’s Luminar to add beams of light or other creative effects to your images (links below). Skylum has iterated the product quite a bit over the years and the latest version, Luminar Neo, contains a couple of tools that automatically remove dust spots and power lines. You’ll get substantial improvements with a single click. Combine that with a few simple manual cleanup steps and you can great results in a fraction of the time normally required.

Tools built with AI tend to provoke one of two immediate reactions: “amazing!” or “awful!”. That’s generally built on the assumption that the tool should do all the work. Perfection is not a realistic expectation for most AI and overlooks the real value it offers. There are very few cases (now or in the near future) where AI will produce perfect results every time. However, there are many cases where it can help you save time or produce better results if you combine the AI with some additional manual work. Even if your first impression was “amazing”, there’s a very good chance that you can get even better results by viewing AI as one step in a larger process – rather than as a crutch to do all the work for you.

So with that in mind, I’m going to outline a couple of workflows that I believe will help make Neo an incredibly powerful tool for avoiding a lot (but not all) of the drudgery of removing dust spots and power lines.


Removing dust, power lines, and other distractions:

The key workflow with Neo is:

  • Create a single layer to adjust. Ideally this is a Smart Object to work non-destructively. This will allow you to make changes to the underlying content at any time, without minimal to no need to redo the work you’ve done with Neo. For example, you can go back and change exposure or white balance and Neo will update its work automatically.
    • If you need to adjust across multiple layers, <shift>-click to select all of the layers, right click, and convert to a Smart Object.
    • If you don’t like working with Smart Object, create a stamp of your image (via <cmd/ctrl><alt/option><shift>-E) instead so that you preserve your original and can apply Neo’s changes selectively through a layer mask.
  • Select the layer to correct.
  • PS: Filter / Skylum Software / Luminar Neo **
  • Neo: Edit (at the top), Erase (blue icon at right), and click on “Remove Powerlines“, “Remove Dust Spots“, or both.
  • Click “Apply” (you do not have to wait for the preview to update to do this).

** Note that you can record this step as an action in Photoshop to apply more quickly or even as a batch operation. I’d include native support in Lumenzia to further automate the process, but Neo is not currently designed to allow 3rd-party developers to request that it remove dust and power lines. I’ve contacted them to request this, and hopefully we’ll see support in the future.


If you wish to use Neo to remove other types of objects, the top of the same “Erase” tool has an “erase” button to help do that. The basic workflow to use select/deselect to paint a red target area and then click “erase” to fix that red area. If you need to undo, make another red selection and click “restore” (or use the circular arrow at top-right to “reset tool” and undo all the changes).


Visualizing dust spots and Neo’s changes:

No AI is 100% perfect, so it helps to review what it has done so you can refine and perfect the results. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • The dust spot removal is incredible in skies and I would mask it into any sky area without much thought. However, it can cause slightly negative changes to other areas of detail. In particular, I’ve seen some loss of shadow detail. So be sure to review its impact when applying it to anything outside the sky or smooth areas.
  • The power line removal tool is incredible in sky areas as well. Occasionally it misses a line – especially if that line is very thin.
  • Shadows of power lines seem to be ignored, so you may need to manually clone them out.
  • Watch out for areas where power lines cross over buildings or other areas of clear detail. Use the manual refinement steps below to repair these areas as needed.


In practice, I’ve found that Neo is so good with dust spots in areas of clear sky that it’s safe to simply mask it into the sky without needing to confirm. For areas of detail outside the sky, it’s best to review the changes the software is making and use a mask to selectively reveal it only where it is helpful. There are a few ways to do this:

  • You can use the “isolate” (eyeball icon) button in the Lumenzia‘s Basics panel to quickly review what changes a filter is making on a Smart Object. Once you’ve applied Neo to a Smart Object, just select the Smart Object and <ctrl/cmd>-click the isolate button. This will create a visualization showing all the areas which have changes that have not been applied (darker areas either did not change or the changes have been applied because the filter mask is white in that area). Just paint white on the filter mask anywhere you’d like to accept the changes from Neo. When you’re done, click “isolate” again and your edited filter mask will be loaded back to the original layer and the visualization removed (you can alternatively manually delete the layers or click “X” if you wish to discard the preview and any changes).
  • If you don’t have Lumenzia and you’re removing dust, you can use the “visualize spots” feature in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) to see any remaining dust spots (keyboard shortcut: cmd/ctrl-A to invoke the filter, <B> to switch to the healing panel and then <Y> to visualize). This is a more iterative process, since you cannot edit the filter mask while using this visualization, but it is helpful.
  • A more generalized manual workflow (for power lines and such) is to create a duplicate of the layer, change it to difference blend mode (which highlights changes), and you’ll probably want to add a curves or levels adjustment above that difference layer to make the differences more obvious. Make sure you set the layer or filter mask on your working layer to black so that you are comparing the changes (otherwise you’re comparing two versions of the adjusted image, which is identical and will show pure black with the difference blend mode). When you’re done, delete the extra layers (the duplicate in difference mode and any levels/curves you added).


Manual refinement:

Once you’ve reviewed Neo’s changes, you may still need to do some manual cloning in areas the AI missed or where you don’t feel it did a good job (such as possible artifacts when removing power lines in front of detailed buildings). At this point, you should use your normal cloning techniques. I prefer to create a new blank layer and use the clone and healing tools set to “current and below” or “sample all layers”. This approach allows you to work non-destructively by preserving your Smart Object and allowing you to easily undo or update the cloning later.

For power lines, you can save a lot of time by taking advantage of the fact that power lines are typically nearly-straight lines. With the spot healing brush, just click on one end of a straight section and then <shift>-click on the other end of that straight section.*** This will cause the spot healing brush to be applied along the line connecting those two points. If you’ve used a soft brush large enough to cover the line, it should be removed. You might need to touch up a few points, but you’re now doing that detailed work in only a small portion of the image.

*** There are a few things to watch for if you’re using a Wacom pen with the spot healing brush. There are 2 different settings which may cause the spot healing brush to be much smaller than you desire. Both of these set the size proportional to the pressure you use with the pen, but it becomes very unpredictable when clicking on a point (nearly impossible to get the full size). The first one to check is the icon with concentric circles in the toolbar is off / not dark (this has a tooltip which says “always use pressure for size…”). The second is a very hidden dropdown inside the brush options (same place where you have sliders for hardness and spacing). At the bottom of those popout options, “size” should be set to off (if set to “pen pressure”, this has the same effect as the icon button). Alternatively, you can just use a mouse for these steps to avoid issues with pressure-sensitivity.


Other great tools in Luminar Neo

I previously demonstrated a few other features from Luminar 4 which are part of Luminar Neo (in a slightly different locations, but they work the same):

  • The “Sunrays”  filter is amazing for adding beams of light to your images (jump to 9:20 in the video for Luminar).
  • The Accent AI slider can add general “pop” and interst to your image. This  feature is now found under “Enhance” in Neo. The tutorial also shows how you can use luminosity masks to help get the best results with Luminar or any 3rd-party software.

Neo has several other powerful features. My favorites include Atmosphere AI to add fog, Toning for sky color, Landscape (golden hour) for sky color, Sky AI for quick sky replacements, and Develop’s white balance sliders or Color Harmony Color Contrast / Split Color for correcting non-RAW color.


Use discount code GREGBENZ for $10 off Luminar Neo (valid through May 10).

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Greg Benz Photography