Developed by the team at Nik Software, Define is an excellent piece of software for reducing the amount of noise that is present in your images. In this Dfine 2 tutorial we’re going to look at a couple of different methods of noise reduction, one technique for a global change, and one with a little more precise control.
For this tutorial I’m going to use an image I took of the Colosseum in Rome, this was a shot I took a while after sunset, so it was getting very dark. I had no tripod, so had to shoot handheld at f/3.2 and 3200 ISO to get a good result. I used a full frame DSLR (Canon 5D), which has very good low-light/noise performance anyway, but I still want to improve things further.
I use Define as a Photoshop plugin, so once my image is in Photoshop I need to select the plugin by going to the top menu and choosing Filter > Nik Collection > Dfine 2. Below is the Dfine workspace you will be presented with.
At the top there a number of view modes, single image mode, split image preview, and side-by-side preview. On the right are the main controls, with automatic and manual modes available, as well as options to reduce noise via control points or color range.
At the bottom of the right-hand panel is the Loupe, which gives you a preview of how much reduction is being applied with your current settings.
Global Noise Reduction
A ‘global’ adjustment is one that is applied to the entire image, as soon as you open an image in Dfine 2, that image is automatically analysed, the software will determine the areas of the image that most need adjusting.
You can see for yourself how much reduction is being applied by using the Loupe, wherever you hover your mouse over the main image preview will be shown in the Loupe.
You can also see what is being applied in the main image preview of course, but make sure you are zoomed in to at least 100% magnification, so you can get a good detailed view.
With an automatic global change you don’t really need to do any work yourself, Dfine does it all for you, and it does a great job on the vast majority of images that I work with. Once the automatic adjustment has taken place you can just hit the ‘OK’ button and it will be applied to a new image layer in Photoshop.
You’ll also notice there is a Brush option at the bottom, this will apply the Dfine adjustments as a layer mask in Photoshop, so you can brush in specific areas that you want noise reduction applied to.
This is very useful, as in many cases you may only want noise reduction applied to a particular part of the image (often the sky) and retain maximum detail in other areas of the image.
Remember, there is always a trade-off, if you sharpen images you will add to the noise in that image, conversely, if you reduce noise, you are effectively softening the image, so this is always something you need to consider.
Colour Specific Noise Reduction
This time I’m going to have the same global automatic adjustments applied, but then take things a step further by extending noise reduction in the sky via Color Range.
To do this I selected the Reduce tab in the right-hand panel (shown below), then choosing the Color Ranges option in the menu below.
From there you can set the colours you wish to work with via the Eye Dropper icon, simply click this, then click on the colour from your image you want the noise reduction applied to.
In this case I’ve used the two main blues from the sky, the lighter blue from the main area, and then the darker blue from the patches of cloud in the left of the image. You can use as many colours as you like, if you need more just click the ‘+’ icon to add another.
You can then move the contrast and color noise sliders to get the amount of noise reduction that you want, I’ve used very aggressive settings (shown above) which reduces all noise and produces a very smooth-looking sky, this also makes the sharpness of the main structure stand out a little more.
Note that I would never have used such aggressive settings on the main structure of the image, as it would be rendered way too soft, but it really doesn’t matter with the sky in this case as there is little detail to worry about. Let’s have another look a the final image:
Whilst there are reasonably good noise reduction tools available in Lightroom and Photoshop, I find Dfine offers better results.
The global changes are quick to use and generally give excellent results, but some images need more attention, so I really appreciate the precise control options if offers me, whether that be via control points or colour specific adjustments.
If you’re an Nik Software user, you may also like to check out our Color Efex Pro tutorial.