How to optimize your “gray working space” for better luminosity masks

Few aspects of photography cause more confusion and frustration than “color management”. I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to throw your hands up and just pray for decent results rather than trying to figure it out. But it’s worth investing some time in understanding it if you want the best quality images.

It turns out that color management affects luminosity masking in surprising ways. If you optimize properly, you’ll get the luminosity masks and selections you expect. If you don’t, you may find issues such as white in areas of your layer mask you thought you protected. (Note: If you believe you’ve got this covered by setting your gray gamma based on your RGB working space, be sure to keep reading… that setting does not have the impact you may be thinking).

There are several Photoshop preferences for “working spaces” (under Edit / Color Settings). These are the color spaces Photoshop will use there is some ambiguity. For example: If you go to Image / Mode / RGB, your image must be converted to a specific RGB profile, but this menu command gives you no way to specify which one. So Photoshop will use the RGB working space in that case (unlike when you use Edit / Convert to Profile, where it will use the RGB profile you select). Or if you open an RGB image which does not have an embedded profile, Photoshop will assume your working RGB profile for this ambiguous image. But that is rare, and the RGB working space setting won’t matter if you are working with images with embedded profiles (which you probably are and definitely should be).

 

The importance of the Gray Working Space

The Photoshop preference for the “gray working space” sounds like it wouldn’t affect your color images. But it actually has a significant affect on your RGB images if you use luminosity masks and selections, as channels are always treated as grayscale (even within RGB image). The reason is because your RGB pixels (even if they are black and white RGB) must be converted to grayscale pixels when working with luminosity masks. The midtone gray values for both RGB and grayscale spaces are specified by a “tone response curve”, which is typically a “gamma” value. The math involved is complicated, but the bottom line is that your RGB “gamma” and grayscale “gamma” should match if you want high-quality luminosity masks and selections. Otherwise, the conversion will be too dark or too light (i.e. the luminosity mask will select too much or too little). And in the case of painting through luminosity selections, things get worse with multiple brush strokes, resulting in problems with exposure blending or dodging and burning.

Photoshop does not automatically match “gammas” for you (though Lumenzia will as described below). Photoshop just assumes the “gray working space” is correct and uses it no matter what RGB space is embedded in your image. And unlike the RGB space used for your image, the gray space for your masks/selections is never embedded so the grey working space always affects any conversion between RGB and grayscale. This includes the creation of luminosity masks, luminosity selections, and even the way your paint color may affect your layer mask when brushing without luminosity masks or selections. And because it is the relationship between the actual RGB space (the embedded profile, not the working RGB color space), the correct working gray space choice is not based on the working RGB, it depends on the document on which you are working. So you should ideally be confirming/updating the gray working space under Edit / Color Settings every time you open a new image or change documents if you want the highest quality luminosity masks and selections.

 

What happens if you use the wrong gray working space?

The most common gammas used are 1.8 (ProPhoto) and 2.2 (Adobe RGB is 2.2 and sRGB is very close though best matched using “sGray” in newer versions of Photoshop). If you use more exotic color spaces, you may run into other gammas (such as gamma 2.4 for Image-P3 or gamma 1.0 if you use lines profiles like ACES for video or computer graphics), and these problems will likely be worse when mismatching these more unusual gammas.

If you use the wrong working gray space (comparing gray gamma 1.8 vs 2.2):

  • The mask/selection will be stronger than expected when using the wrong gamma with ProPhoto RGB (wrong being 2.2 here). This is is bad because it means that areas you expect to be protected will likely change far too much when painting through a selection, resulting in dodging or blending areas of the image which should be protected. The difference can be substantial. For example, what should be a 3% selection would become a 5% selection, or 10% becomes 15%. So each time you paint outside the lines, the damage builds up an extra 50% or more in areas which you want protected. Completely deselected pixels are still completely deselected, but luminosity selections include of near deselected values that protect your image too. Getting the wrong results at the transitions is a recipe for frustration and poor results.
  • The mask/selection will be weaker than expected when using the wrong gamma with Adobe RGB or sRGB (wrong being 1.8 here). This isn’t ideal, but is less of a concern, as you won’t be prone to accidentally painting in areas you thought were protected.
  • If you create masks without using luminosity selections, they are also affected, but the impact is not as great. When working with selections, the error gets worse with each brush stroke and can therefore have a greater impact. So creating luminosity masks by painting through luminosity selections (which you should do for exposure blending or dodging & burning) will mean that mistakes in the gray working space are more problematic.

Of course, there are other gray spaces and they have different degrees of failure. If you never set your gray working space, it is probably some default 15-20% “Dot Gain”. 20% Dot Gain is closest to gamma 1.8, and 25% is the closest to 2.2 (30% is also close, but brighter and therefore a worse error). In any case, you shouldn’t use any of the dot gain spaces if you want optimal luminosity masks.

Lastly, you might be wondering how the choice of working gray space if you work in black and white. It does not matter for two reasons:

  1. Black and white work should be done in RGB mode, not in Grayscale mode. The only benefit I can think of for grayscale color mode is that it creates smaller documents. RGB offers the ability to use the original image color to make more targeted masks and selections, access to the full range of Photoshop and 3rd party tools (including luminosity masking software), and the ability to add a bit of color tone to your black and white image. Unless you work in newsprint, I strongly recommend RGB for your black and white work.
  2. Even if you disagree and wish to work on your in grayscale mode, you can embed the grayscale profile so that the working gray space does not affect your work (just be sure to convert to grayscale by using Edit / Convert to Profile instead of Image / Mode, so that you can specify which grayscale profile you wish to use and ignore the working gray space).

Also note that if you convert RGB profiles, your layer masks are not adapted during conversion (your grayspace does not matter, so any change in the RGB gamma will produce different layer masks if there is any other than pure black or white in them). As a result, the appearance of your image may change substantially (this is a good example why Photoshop sometimes warns you to flatten layers when making changes). This is a very good reason to create a FLATTENED copy of your ProPhoto RGB image before converting to sRGB for the web (Adobe RGB is fine because the 2.2 gamma in Adobe RGB and L* tone response curve used in sRGB are very similar).

 

What to do if you use Lumenzia?

Fortunately, if you use Lumenzia, you don’t have to think about any of this. Starting with v8.1, Lumenzia will automatically optimize your working gray space automatically for every document. Even if you are constantly switching between documents with different RGB profiles, Lumenzia will update the working gray space to the optimal result anytime you create a mask or selection. It supports all major (sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB) and secondary RGB working spaces (eciRGB v2, beta RGB, ACES CG, REC 2020, any many more). If you edit your master file in an unknown RGB space (such as device-specific profile for your printer paper profile), the gray working space default to the safer gamma 2.2. By default, this option is enabled – so if you’ve updated to Lumenzia v8.1, you’re already getting the best quality results automatically on all your images.

If you wish to retain full manual control, Lumenzia also offers you that option too. Simply go to the Utilities menu in Lumenzia and disable the option to automatically optimize the gray working space and it will leave it alone.

Please note that Lumenzia never changes the RGB profile of your document, this feature only affects the working gray space to give you the best possible luminosity masks.

 

What to do if you use my free panel or another method for creating luminosity masks/selections?

Any time you work with an image which uses a different RGB color profile (the embedded profile is what matters, not the working RGB space), you should ideally update your Gray space to get optimal results. But updating it for every document manually is painful and prone to making mistakes. Instead, I would recommend one of the following approaches as the most reasonable solution for manually managing the gray space with minimal masking issues:

  • If you use ProPhoto RGB exclusively for all your images, set your working gray space to Gray Gamma 1.8.
  • Otherwise, set your working gray space to Gray Gamma 2.2 (even if you occasionally use ProPhoto, as the errors with gamma 2.2 are more tolerable as described above). Gray Gamma 2.2 is the right choice for Adobe RGB and is very close to the slightly more accurate sGray that should ideally be used with sRGB (note that you don’t have an sGray should for Photoshop CS6 or older, so Gray Gamma 2.2 is your best choice anyway). This is a very reasonable approach (prior to Lumenzia v8.1, this was my general recommendation, as manually updating for every document is tedious and prone to errors.)

These won’t give you perfect masks every time, but should be close enough to avoid the worse issues with mismatched gammas.

 

 

 

Black Friday sale

Black Friday is here! Now through Monday (Dec 2), you can save at least 25% off any of my products with discount code BF2019. This includes the Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop, the Exposure Blending Master Course, and the new Dodging & Burning Master Course. You’ll save even more when you choose bundle upgrade options at checkout (see here for alternative bundles if you need help finding the specific mix of products you need).

Unlock the bonus course if you buy all three products by Dec 2

I have a secret exposure blending tutorial that I make available on rare occasions. This course is never for sale, you can only earn it. And you’ll earn it if you have purchased all three of my products (Lumenzia and both courses linked above) by the end of Monday, Dec 2. Any previous purchases you have made count toward this offer. But don’t delay, purchases made on Dec 3rd or later will NOT be eligible and there will not be another opportunity to get into this course for quite a while. No exceptions.

This tutorial includes a video tutorial on how to process the image shown below, PDF notes for the video, and the source RAW image – all hosted on the Teachable platform.

If you qualify, you will be notified via email when the course is added to your account next week. Please do not contact me about the bonus course before Dec 5, as I will be spending some much needed time with my family for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend here in the US and then will set up course access next week. If you have still not received notice by Dec 5, please contact me at that time for assistance.

What’s new for photographers in Photoshop CC 2020?

Adobe has just released Photoshop 2020 at Adobe MAX. As usual, there is a long list of updates to cover a variety of audiences. First, a quick note for those of you using my Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop, it is fully compatible with Photoshop 2020.

 

Here’s a quick summary of changes that should be of greater interest to photographers (starting with what I consider the most impactful changes):

  • Auto-sampling with the New Content-Aware Fill. When you set the sampling area to “auto”, the green areas will be set more intelligently for you (instead of a generic green rectangle).
    • In my experience, this new auto option tends to do a very good job when you start with a reasonably isolation selection to target the area for fill. It’s a very nice enhancement that makes this powerful tool even faster to use.
    • See my previous Content-Aware Fill tutorial for how to make the most of this amazing functionality.
  • Transform Warp. When you warp (Edit > Transform > Warp or Cmd-T and click Warp Button), you can create custom grids to control transform much more precisely.
    • This offers some very nice functionality similar to what I demonstrated in my Perspective Warp tutorial.
    • Use the split or grid options in the toolbar to define your grid, and then drag intersection points (or their handles to rotate content).
    • You can select and move several points at once by <shift>-clicking and dragging a box around them with your mouse (or just <shift>-clicking multiple points.)
  • Erase while using Brush Tool by holding the “grave accent” key (this is the <`> key on the top-left of your keyboard).
    • While this may sound trivial at first (especially if you are using to using the <E> key to activate the eraser), this is actually very powerful because it gives you an eraser with the exact same settings as your brush (size, hardness, flow, opacity, etc). This makes it much easier to erase without constantly toggling settings to match what you just painted, especially brush size.
    • Note that when working on a layer mask, the eraser works in a very strange way. You would assume that it makes the layer mask black so that the layer becomes more transparent. However, the eraser actually works different on the layer mask than it does on the layer pixels. On the mask, it simply paints with the background color. If that happens to be black, you’ll get the expected results. But if it is some other color, that’s what will be used. So this may make your pixels less visible or more visible. If you see strange results, just click <D> while the layer mask is selected and paint colors will revert to black background (and white foreground).
  • Smart Object Selection Tool. This tool intelligently refines marquee or lasso selections around objects (ie, this is like having a “magic lasso” or “magic marquee” tool).
    • Do not expect a perfect selection, this is a tool to help you get to a good result more quickly. If you draw a reasonably well defined selection around a clearly defined object, it does a pretty good job of enhancing the selection for you to save time. You can then refine the selection as need (such as via additional selections or refine edge) to perfect the selection.
    • Turn on “Object Subtract” in the toolbar to use the same smart enhancement when using <alt/option> to remove part of the selection, such as removing portions of the interior of your initial selection.
  • Enhanced Properties panel now includes more capability to edit your layers (including alignment, rotation, flipping, remove background, and select subject) or text (numerous new properties).
  • Cloud documents. This allows you to edit the same document more easily across multiple devices (such as saving your work from your desktop computer and then opening it on your iPad), and is even designed to support offline workflows (so your changes are synchronized once you reconnect to the internet).
    • If you are going to use the new Photoshop iPad app, you should get familiar with this functionality to help more easily work across devices.
    • To save: Use the “Save as Adobe Cloud Document” option via File / Save As. Once you save a given document in the cloud, it will default to saving in the cloud going forward (unless you do another “save as” and choose different options).
    • To open: Use the “Open Adobe Cloud Document” option via File / Open. When you open a cloud document, any changes will go back to the cloud by default (unless you use “save as” and choose different options).
    • Cloud documents include support for offline workflows, meaning that you can open, edit, and save a document when you are offline. You may open a “cloud document” offline if it was recently used and your computer still has a local copy.
    • You may view your documents online in Adobe Assets.
    • Learn more on adobe.com.
  • Other changes:
    • Free transform lock is now sticky. The <shift> key is now used to toggle between constrained and unconstrained based on the lock status.This makes it easy to set a default, but you can always quickly click <shift> to change the behavior
      • Various adjustments (paths, masks, etc) are now treated in the same manner for consistency.
      • However, the crop tool does not use the same logic (it will follow any constraints you type into the toolbar, otherwise it is unconstrained by default and constrained if you continuously hold <shift>).
      • If you prefer the legacy behavior (ie unconstrained by default and constrained if you continuously hold <shift>), there is now a checkbox to enable “Legacy Transform” behavior under Photoshop’s General Preferences.
    • Improved Lens Blur.  Go to Filter / Blur / Lens Blur.
      • This filter now uses the GPU for much faster performance.
      • New click to focus (crosshairs icon) for images with a “depth map”. This gives you creative control over depth of field, such as found on many new smart phones. Depth maps are primarily saved with images from a Smart Phone with 2 or more cameras and appropriate settings to save an HEIC file (not something you’re going to get from your DSLR, though there are ways you can manually create one).
    • 32-bit Curves and Levels. If you are using 32-bit files (such as HDRs created inside Photoshop, not Lightroom), this is a welcome enhancement to use some critical tools without converting to 16-bit.
    • Faster new document interface.
    • Extract layers from a Smart Object. Just right-click the Smart Object and choose “Convert to Layers”.
      • Lumenzia has actually had this capability for a while (see this tutorial), but it is nice to see it in natively supported in Photoshop as well. Note, however, that the new Photoshop utility will not extract any saved paths or channels. So if you have been putting this content into the Smart Object (which Lumenzia can do to reduce the size of the parent document), you should continue using Lumenzia to extract preserve channels and paths from the Smart Object.
    • Select Subject” has been updated for faster results.
    • Open images directly from your iPhone (Mac only, sorry Windows users). Just go to File / Import from iPhone or iPad.
    • “CompCore” (which was introduced in PS 2019) has been further updated. This should be a seamless change, but there were some bugs when first launched in 2019. In the unlikely event that you see any issues with blend modes or other layer-related issues, try disabling CompCore via Preferences / Performance / Legacy Compositing.

 

Luminosity masking is easier than ever with Lumenzia v8

Version 8 of the Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop is now available as a free upgrade for all customers. This is by far the the most ambitious update ever, with over 350 new features, updates, and bug fixes in total. It’s never been easier to create the perfect luminosity mask or selection to make beautiful photos. And the updates have been designed to avoid changing any existing workflows, so you can jump right in. Be sure to see the highlights and initial demo videos below (more to come in the months ahead).

Lumenzia v8 is featured extensively in my new Dodging & Burning Master Course. This comprehensive course goes well beyond simple “dodging and burning” to help you learn how to add dimensionality, movement, and depth to your images through a deep understanding of artistic principles and novel techniques to apply them.

My Exposure Blending Master Course also includes a new section to highlight ways you can take advantage of new features in v8. And at the same time, the panel design and workflow has been carefully designed so that you don’t have to change any of the workflows you’ve learned. You get new capabilities without a new learning curve.

Buy Lumenzia v8 now.

 

New features in Lumenzia v8 include:

  • Compact interface mode. Will the new slider capabilities in v8, you can now hide 34 button in Lumenzia to simplify the interface and save substantial space on your screen, while retaining the full capabilities of Lumenzia. This reduces the height of the panel by 35%, which is enough to show approximately 3 more layers in the layers panel on a typical laptop if you doc Lumenzia above layers like I do in my videos.**
  • Dramatically faster performance! Panel performance has been optimized in numerous ways, especially when using previews and the sliders.
  • New slider capabilities, including**:
    • Sliders for BlendIf! You can now create highly customized BlendIf masks quickly and without opening the layer styles dialog in Photoshop. This allows you to target intermediate values (such as L1.5), as well as a greater range with options such as L0 and L7.
    • Slider for Smart Filter Mask feathering.
    • Slider for Mask Density. This helps allow you to easily bleed adjustments through.
    • <ctrl/cmd>-click “Mask” to convert any Lumenzia preview into a layer. This gives you new ways to create black and white art, as well as use blending modes for creative effects.
    • Wider value slider for more precise control.
    • Continuous full-screen previews when adjusting feather via precision slider.
    • Workflow enhancements (double-click to reset feather/density, more text input options, improved tooltips, etc).
  • Improved Dodge and Burn:
    • Luminosity-only (color neutral) gray or transparent dodge/burn layers! This makes it easy to dodge and burn on a single layer using familiar techniques while working on portraits or other images that where color shifts should be avoided.
    • Edit “Dodge” visualizations. This makes it much easier to create precise / high-quality results, as you can easily ensure that brush strokes are consistent and do not spill outside intended areas.
    • Revise the brightness/color of your dodging/burning paint at any time. This makes it incredibly easy to revise your results, especially when trying to find the perfect color to mix for desired results.
    • Painting sunlight into bright highlights with the new “Extreme” blend mode. This helps easily add color to near-white pixels.
    • Improved workflow for visualization and working with multiple dodge/burn layers. You now have a single interface to create visualizations or new dodge/burn layers, keep the active selection when visualizing, visualize dodge layers using BlendIf, etc.
  • Improved selections:
    • “Sel” has been updated to allow you to visualize saved selections before loading or combining them. [Note: this feature is not available in all versions of Photoshop].
    • “Sel” can now load saved selections to a layer mask.
    • “Sel” can now add, subtract, and intersect saved selections with a layer mask.
    • Color” can now be used to refine an active selection. For example, you may use this to target highlights in the blue sky (without adjusting the white highlights of a snow-capped mountain).
    • Use Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) to modify the preview when creating a selection (<ctrl/cmd>-click “✓Sel” while viewing the orange preview layers).
    • Expand and feather selections as you create them.
    • Use any channel when loading or combining selections.
  • Improved BlendIf support:
    • Convert any BlendIf to a layer mask (for both “underlying” or “this” types of BlendIf). This allows for custom refinement, as well as being an excellent way to help better understand how BlendIf works. This includes support for BlendIfs targeting underlying layers, this layer, and even color BlendIfs created with Lumenzia.
    • <shift>-clicking “Vignette” will automatically add a BlendIf for advanced control and results.
    • Apply or remove BlendIf from multiple layers simultaneously.
    • Multi-channel BlendIf. This is helpful for advanced targeting (such as using L2 Red with Not L2 Blue to target the warm colors in the sunset for increased saturation, without adding more blue to the sky).
  • Improved sharpening:
    • Automatically generate edge/lights masks to avoid sharpening noise.
    • Improved and simplified options to avoid sharpening halos along high contrast edges.
    • Enhanced BlendIf masks to help avoid clipping highlights and shadows, especially loss of color in highlights.
    • Improved High Pass sharpening can now avoid color fringing (sharpen luminosity only) and offers gray visualization to help choose the ideal radius.
  • Edge and Surface masks via “Edge”:
    • Create an edge mask from a Quick Selection or luminosity selection to help target and fix halos!
    • Automatically create edge or surface selections and masks for better targeting of sharpening or noise reduction.
    • Create beautiful line art with one click.
  • Workflow enhancements, such as:
    • Use Content-Aware Fill on Smart Objects.
    • add more layers to an existing stack via “PreBlend”.
    • create an independent Smart Object by <shift>-clicking “PreBlend”.
    • use “Split” when multiple documents are open.
    • improved tooltip appearance and performance.
    • and many more enhancements to subtly improve the speed and experience of luminosity masking.
  • These are just some of the highlights. There are over 350 new features, updates, and bug fixes in all.

** Note for CS6 users: While Lumenzia v8 includes hundreds of enhancements for CS6, several new interface updates require CC (such as compact interface mode and BlendIf sliders). This is unfortunately due to limitations of the >7-year old CS6 platform. Differences are primarily in appearance or workflow. Functional capabilities generally remain nearly the same. And of course, you automatically have access to the CC panel if you ever update to Photoshop CC. See the release notes for full details.

Buy Lumenzia v8 now.

 

 

Existing customers can download any time via the links on this page (which is also linked from the bottom of all my newsletters).

How to reduce noise in Photoshop

There are two common scenarios where noise creeps into our photos. One is when shooting at high ISO, typically indoors or at night. The other is when we try to lighten and extract detail from the shadows. In both cases, the problem is a lack of light and the solution is to either gather more light when shooting or use noise reduction during post-processing. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to reduce noise in post with Adobe’s solutions.

There is a lot of debate about which software does the best job of reducing noise. There are many great options, and some of them can outdo Adobe in some  scenarios. But I still prefer using Lightroom or ACR (Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop) most of the time for a few reasons. First, while I’ve seen some results that are better, the ones I’ve tested are only slightly better (sometimes worse) and not very compelling in my opinion. I typically find that LR / ACR provide results that are good enough (indistinguishable from other options in 40×60″ print sizes I use most). Second, the Adobe tools are generally much simpler to learn and use than other options (which sometimes have dozens of confusing sliders). Third, it is typically much faster to adjust a few sliders when you’re already working in LR or ACR. And fourth, there is some convenience in being able to adjust the settings in a RAW Smart Object (though you can apply many 3rd party filters to a Smart Object as well).

Lightroom / ACR offer several tools that can affect and control noise in the “details” tab. These tools fall into a few bucks including sharpening (the first 4 sliders), luminance noise reduction (the next 3 sliders), and color noise reduction (the last 3 sliders). While this tutorial briefly covers sharpening (because it affects noise), you should definitely check out my tutorial on deconvolution sharpening to learn how to make the most of sharpening. Also, while this tutorial is demonstrated using ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) in Photoshop, the sliders work exactly the same in Lightroom.

Sharpening

Sharpening is very important to set correctly, as sharpening adds noise and therefore has a strong impact on noise reduction. (You may <alt/option>-click any of these sliders while sliding for an enhanced grayscale visualization).

  • Amount: Controls the overall amount of sharpening, per the next three sliders.
  • Radius: Controls the size of the sharpening effect.
  • Detail: Controls the sharpening algorithm used (unsharp mask when set to 0, deconvolution when set to 100, and a blend of the two in between).
  • Masking: Creates an invisible mask that limits sharpening to areas of detail when set to a value greater than 0. This is intended to help avoid sharpening noise, but tends to create strange artifacts/transitions. This is usually best left at 0.
  • Recommended workflow: Set radius to its minimum (0.5) and detail to its maximum (100) for deconvolution sharpening. Set masking to its minimum (0), as this slider tends to produce artifacts when used. Then adjust amount to whatever final value looks best (when viewed at 100% or closer).

 

Luminance Noise Reduction

These sliders are the critical tools for noise reduction and where you should pay the most attention. (You may <alt/option>-click any of these sliders while sliding to visualize in black and white).

  • Luminance: Controls the overall amount of luminance noise reduction, per the next two sliders.
  • Luminance Detail: This is like “masking” for sharpness. It controls the pixels that should NOT get noise reduction.  Slide to the left to get maximum reduction, and slide to the right to preserve fine details (such as secondary stars, or the edges of the brightest stars).
  • Luminance Contrast: This helps restore contrast lost to noise reduction, such as the softer gas clouds in the night sky. Try increas
  • Recommended workflow: Adjust sharpening first per the above workflow (or temporarily set to zero if the image is extremely noisy). Then, set luminance temporarily to a high value so that you may more easily visualize while tweaking detail and then contrast (in that order). Once you’ve optimized detail/contrast, adjust luminance to whatever final value looks best (when viewed at 100% or closer).

 

Color Noise Reduction

These sliders can be important in certain niche scenarios, but are generally fine at defaults. If you want to keep things simple, you can generally ignore these.

  • Color: This controls the overall amount of color noise reduction, per the next two sliders. Most cameras have a “Bayer filter” to capture color and need some color noise reduction, so decreasing below the default 25% is generally a bad idea. Increasing towards 50 may be helpful in some high ISO images, though very high amounts tend to remove too much color at edges.
  • Color Detail: This is also like “masking”. It controls the pixels that should NOT get color noise reduction. Slide to the left to get maximum reduction, and slide to the right to preserve color at edges. The default 50 is generally very good. Try sliding to lower values if you want to eliminate color on edges (such as around stars). You should avoid high values, as this is prone to showing color noise (anything over 70 is typically a risk). So 25-50 is generally a good range.
  • Color Smoothness: This helps smooth color over larger areas of the image. Very low numbers can improve color glow around small objects, but can also result in local blotchiness. Larger numbers can create more uniform color, but may also dull finer details. The default 50 is generally great, but you might want to experiment.
  • Recommended workflow: Adjust sharpening and luminance noise reduction first per the above workflows. Then, set color temporarily to a high value so that you may more easily visualize while tweaking detail and then smoothness (in that order). Once you’ve optimized detail/smoothness, adjust color to whatever final value looks best (when viewed at 100% or closer).

 

How to further improve noise reduction

While this tutorial covers global noise reduction in a single RAW, there are some tricks you can use to push the results even further for high ISO shots of the night sky, including:

You can use the workflow shown above with either of these techniques to help get the best overall results.


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