What is Image Noise, Anyway: Digital Imaging Features Demystified

Cyberlink PhotoDirector makes editing photos so ridiculously easy, any novice can do it. You don’t know have to know your "white balance" from your "vignettes." Just play with the sliders and buttons and watch the changes take place. They happen instantly because PhotoDirector is designed to tap into the processing muscle of Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. What’s more, PhotoDirector allows nondestructive editing, which means you can experiment endlessly and never overwrite precious photo data. Talk about freedom!

But let’s say you are the curious type who does want to know the difference between "noise" and "detail." You’ve come to the right place. Today I’m going to discuss some of the photography jargon you’ll encounter in PhotoDirector — and explain why you might want to zap certain problems from your photos using the manual tools that experts favor.

Noise Reduction. This kind of noise reduction has nothing to do with banning leaf blowers. Digital pictures can be noisy too. Image noise refers to random variations in brightness and color usually caused by shooting in low light. Noise looks like randomly splattered multi-colored flecks of paint. Sometimes it’s really noticeable; other times it’s hard to see.

It’s easy to see how much this photo was improved by reducing noise.

In PhotoDirector, two independent sliders let you remove two kinds of noise from your photos: luminance (brightness) and color. For even finer control, you can lessen the details; this can make pictures look even smoother, to the point of appearing out of focus. Then again, increasing detail can add realism — but too much makes for a doctored look. Finding the right balance is a matter of personal taste.

White balance. If you ever used an old-school VHS camcorder, you might remember that you had to point the camera at something white and press a button to set the "whi

To add visual drama to this fancy dessert I shifted the tint (one of the white balance controls), slightly boosted the black level (a tone control), and reduced some of the noise.

te balance." These days, digital cameras automatically set it for you. They also offer several canned white balance settings from which you can choose for shooting in different kinds of light, such as daylight or under florescent bulbs. Setting the white balance gives the camera a point of reference — hey, this is what white looks like! — so the color in your shots will be accurate.

You can also adjust white balance after you take a photo to remove weird tints. (Hmm, I thought that leaf was green. How come it’s bright blue now?!) Or — if you’re feeling wild and crazy — you can add tints to create nifty artistic looks. (See below.)

PhotoDirector’s sharpness tool includes "radius" and "edge mask" sliders for tweaking the thickness of the edges of the objects being sharpened.

Sharpness. The name says it all. With the "sharpness" tool, you can make less-than-crisp photos look as though you shot them in perfect focus. Sharpening increases the contrast between edges. Used sparingly, it can make you look like a professional photographer shooting with an expensive lens instead of a point-and-shoot with autofocus.

Vignette. This artifact, which appears as darkened corners, is usually the result of lens distortion. PhotoDirector lets you remove unwanted vignettes or add them for creative effect. Both tools are conveniently grouped together.

My point-and-shoot’s flash caused the vignettes seen in the "before" half of this shot. In the "after" half, I’ve removed the vignette and sharpened the moisture on the glass.

Spot removal. This feature is self-explanatory, but I love the way it works, so it bears describing. To illustrate the effect, I pointed my camera at a window in a restaurant. When the flash fired, it produced all kinds of unsightly spots — just what I needed to show you how cool PhotoDirector’s spot removal tool works!

Now you see them, now you don’t: PhotoDirector’s spot removal tool makes quick work of ridding your photos of spots, specks, and other unwanted distractions.

Creating presets. When you’re especially fond of the way you’ve edited a photo — let’s say you made the sky bluer, sharpened everything up nicely, and added an artsy vignette — you can save the settings to create your very own canned preset. All you have to do is give it a name like "bluesky" and it’s saved in your preset library. From then on, all you have to do is open a new photo, click on the label bluesky, and watch as the the photo instantly takes on its new look. Slick and really convenient.

So. You’ve edited your photos and picked up some photography lingo along the way. Now it’s time to share your awesome pictures. We’ll talk about that next time!

Subscribe to the Now Playing Newsletter