Green Heron Processed with Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI
Bird Photography,  Photo Processing

How to Rescue Really Noisy Bird Photographs using Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI

It was 6:45 in the morning.  I was watching this Green Heron fishing and waiting for him to make a catch.  Then it happened; he caught a fish that was larger than his head and bill combined.

There was only one problem – There was No Light.  The sun had not risen above the tree line and I was shooting with a high ISO in order to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action.  The result was a really noisy image.

Topaz Labs

Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI are amazing photo processing plug-ins that I use all the time in processing my bird photographs.  But could they save this noisy fishing heron photograph? 

I use both Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI to process this image.  In fact, I used Topaz DeNoise twice on the image.  Once to reduce the noise in the bird.  The second time I used DeNoise selectively to further reduce the noise in the background.  I also used Sharpen AI selectively to additionally sharpen only the bird and the fish.

Green Heron Before and After Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI
Green Heron – Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI (After then Before)

Overall if you look at the before and after images, I think Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI did a pretty good job.  Here are the steps that I used to process the image.

I usually start with Basic Panel processing and Crop the image in Adobe Lightroom Classic.  I don’t do the final crop but crop in some prior to using Topaz DeNoise.

Topaz DeNoise AI

Open the photograph in Adobe Photoshop CC and Launch Topaz DeNoise AI

Tip:  I like to work on a copy of the background layer in photoshop (Command + J – Mac, Control + J – Windows).  This allows me to quickly compare the edits with the original image (click on the eye icon to hide and show the layer), and I can quickly start over by deleting the layer.

Topaz DeNoise AI Comparison View
Topaz DeNoise AI Comparison View

I start with the Comparison View in the View Menu and click the auto button.  I select the AI Model that looks the closest to where I want to go with the image.  For the Green Heron photograph, I selected Low Light.

Topaz DeNoise AI Split View
Topaz DeNoise AI Split View

At this point, I switch to the Split View using the View Menu on the top right of the screen and zoom in on the image.  I adjust the Remove Noise and Enhance Sharpness Sliders until I get the desired amount of noise and sharpness in the bird.  My focus at this point is the bird.  I will run DeNoise a second time focusing only on the background.

Hit apply and save the image in Photoshop.

Topaz Sharpen AI Comparison View
Topaz Sharpen AI Comparison View

Topaz Sharpen AI

Open the photograph in Adobe Photoshop CC and Launch Topaz Sharpen AI

Once again, I start with the Comparison View and click the Auto Button.  Select the sharpening method that works the best for your image.  Go to Split View and Zoom in to the image.  Use the Normal, Very Noisy, and Very Blurry buttons along with the Remove Blur and Suppress Noise sliders to fine tune the sharpening of your image.

Don’t worry about the background for now, focus on the bird.  We will be using a mask so that only the subject (in this case the bird and fish) are sharpened.  You can use the Masking Tool (labeled Selectively Sharpen Your Image) to only sharpen the bird.  However, I like to use Select Subject in Photoshop to select the bird.

Click apply to return to Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop Select Subject
Photoshop Select Subject

Select Subject

With the Sharpen AI Layer Selected, click Subject in the Select Menu.  Photoshop will do its best to select the subject of the image.  You can fine tune the selection using the Quick Selection Tool and the Add to Selection and Subtract from Selection button.  You can also adjust the selection once we turn it into a Layer Mask.

Photoshop Select and Mask
Photoshop Select and Mask

Select and Mask

Use the Select and Mask feature under the Select Menu.  Change the Output To dropdown to layer mask and click OK.  You should now have a layer mask with the bird selected (in white) on the Sharpen AI Layer.

You can clean up the mask by selecting the mask and using the paint brush with white and black colors – white reveals and black conceals.

Layer Masks with Bird and Background Selected
Layer Masks with Bird and Background Selected

DeNoise only the Background

You can run Topaz DeNoise a second time focusing on removing additional noise from the background.  Once you rerun DeNoise and get the background where you like it, use the Select Subject feature again to create a Layer Mask.  Invert the Layer Mask by selecting the mask and pressing Control + I – Mac, Command + I – Windows.  The background should now be covered by the white part of the mask.

Tip: If you did a lot of clean up to the selection / mask created by Select Subject, you can copy the mask from Sharpen AI step by pressing and holding the Option Key – Mac, Alt Key – Windows and dragging the mask to the DeNoise AI layer.  You can then invert the mask by pressing Control + I – Mac, Command + I – Windows.

Below is the before and after of a Great Egret image that I processed using the same method with Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI.

Great Egret - Before and After Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI
Great Egret – Before and After Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI

Written by Martin Belan

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