Lightroom and Photoshop Noise Reduction Plug-Ins

Recently, a reader of my Lightroom 2 book wrote to ask me about how to integrate Topaz DeNoise into an automated Lightroom workflow.

DeNoise is a Photoshop plug-in that requires its processing to be done within Photoshop (not Lightroom).

This case study illustrates one very pwerful method of integrating Lightroom’s capabilities with processing files inside Photoshop. Here’s my reply to the reader:

Re: integrating DeNoise in your workflow: since DeNoise is a Photoshop plug-in, you would automate the batch process using a combination of Lightroom Export and Photoshop Actions. (In my book, there is some info in the Export chapter about this; I’m adding more to it for my next version on Lightroom 3.)

You’d set up the Photoshop action first. With a file open, create a new action and give it a meaningful name. Then, while recording the action, launch DeNoise and apply auto settings for noise reduction. (You can set up another action that will allow you to manually adjust, too… I’ll explain this in a bit.) Click OK to apply the DeNoise adjustment. Then, with the action still recording, save and close the file. Then stop recording.

If you want to be able to selectively apply manual adjustments during the batch process, all you need to do is activate the Menu option at the DeNoise part of the script. The window will stay open for you to make your manual adjustments, then when you click OK, the Action will resume.

Next, create a droplet from the action. Depending on your version of Photoshop, it will be somewhere under the File menu; probably under Scripts or Automate. With the Create Droplet dialog box open, select your new action, and save the droplet to your desktop. You can move it somewhere else if you want, but put it somewhere it can remain.

Back in Lightroom, in the Export dialog box, select a sample file and click Export to set up all the criteria for your exported files. I’d recommend you keep them in the same folder as the Originals, enable Add to This Catalog and use TIF as the file format. You can use whatever bit depth and color space you prefer.

Next, select the droplet as a Post Processing action in the bottom section of the Export window. (If you move the droplet later, this link will need to be re-established.)

Finally, make sure to save your new settings as an Export Preset.

To process a batch, select all the files you want to run through DeNoise, and export them using that preset. Lightroom will render the files to disk, then one by one open them in Photoshop, run DeNoise, save and close the files.

(The Droplet containing your action will open and process all the photos for you; you won’t need to do it yourself. All you will see are the windows quickly opening and then closing. That’s the “batch process” in operation in Photoshop.)

A key point here is that Photoshop can only apply settings to one image at a time. And each image has to be open in a Photoshop document window for it to be processed by Photoshop or DeNoise. That’s what we use actions and droplets for.

After Photoshop is done processing and saving your photos, they will be automatically added back into your catalog.

I recognize that this is a somewhat compressed explanation; I hope it presents a clear solution. This method is useful for anything you want to automate between Lightroom and Photoshop, especially plug-ins.

Lightroom 3 and Noise Reduction

A recent question from a colleague:
I have a client who wants an image that needs some significant noise reduction. I’m trying to decide if I should purchase Noise Ninja for this little project or whether I should wait for LR 3 to be released. What do you suggest?

My answer:

Lightroom 3 Beta has greatly improved noise reduction over previous versions.

But currently, I think the best noise reduction software out there is Topaz DeNoise. I think its only drawback is that it only comes as a PS plugin.

Other really good programs:
Noise Ninja
Noiseware
Neat Image
Nik Dfine

All of these will allow you to integrate advanced NR within an automated LR/PS workflow. All of them produce excellent (and similar) results. The major differences between them are the software interfaces and controls.

One advantage of programs that are available as standalone apps (separate programs that don’t require Photoshop) is that you can set them up in Lightroom as External Editors, allowing you to use the Edit In… command to send the file to the outside editor, do your work, save and close and return to LR where the processed file is updated automatically. In this way, a standalone app offers more direct LR interoperability than a PS plugin.

To automate noise reduction between LR and plug-ins within Photoshop, you need to use Actions/Droplets and Lightroom Export post-processing.

There are lots of comparisons online; Google “noise reduction software” if you want to read reviews.

Hope this helps; let me know if you have any other questions about this.

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