There’s nothing worse than taking a beautiful sunset shot and then processing it to find that Photoshop or Lightroom has been really lazy and lumped lots of subtle shades together to create bands of colour, totally spoiling your photograph.  Here’s an example of what I mean.

_1AT0023 bands

The algorithms that work these things out are designed, I guess, to save on processing but it’s a disaster for those of us wanting to create photographs with nice smooth gradients.  The workarounds are very simple and only take a minute or two.  It’s not ideal but it certainly helps.

The first thing to check is if you really have a banding problem.  The resolution of the photographs from my Nikon  D800 is 7360 x 4912 pixels.  These are big pictures and when editing in Photoshop, I’m usually working on the images at about 12% of their actual size.  This means that banding may be evident that isn’t evident if you view your pictures at 100% or when you print.  If this is the case, you can reduce the resolution of the picture to fix the issue.

If you’ve looked at your pictures at 100% and there is still banding evident, this is what you can do.
It goes against the grain (pardon the pun) but adding a little noise to your images can make the banding simply disappear at best or reduce it significantly in images where contrast and brightness setting make the problem particularly bad.

First things first, duplicate your layer and making sure the layer is selected.

I wouldn’t recommend adding noise to all RGB colour channels, perhaps just to the channel where the noise is most evident.  This will in all likelihood be the blue or green channel if the banding is evident in the sky.  The RGB channels can be accessed by left clicking on the channels tab next to the layers tab in Photoshop.  Adding between 4 and 11% I’ve found works pretty well.  The less the better obviously.

Noise 1Spacer 150mmNoise 2

If the problem persists, again duplicate your layer add a gradient of another colour by clicking the fx button at the bottom of the layers palette.  I’ve found that adding an orange gradient, set to around 2 or 3 % so it’s barely perceptible works well, being the opposite side of the colour wheel to blue.  Plus, if it’s a sunrise or sunset shot, any slight colour cast may well add to the impact of your shot.  Select ‘overlay’ as the blending option.Noise 3These fixes, and they may take a bit of trial and error to get right, should give you markedly smoother gradients on your sunrise and sunset shots.  Despite exaggerating the problem with this image for demonstration purposes, you can see that adding noise has improved the banding problem with this shot considerably..

_1AT0023-frLogo 1 tall

19 responses

  1. Loving your tutorials. Great shot, too!

    July 29, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    • Thank you Gunta! :-)

      July 29, 2013 at 8:29 pm

  2. Great stuff, thanks!

    July 29, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Simon.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:29 pm

  3. Very useful blog post this.

    July 29, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    • Thank you Mark.

      July 30, 2013 at 6:52 am

  4. Thanks. Unfortunately I only have Lightroom.

    July 30, 2013 at 12:50 am

    • PS Even though you posted this about 6 hours ago, it still hasn’t appeared in my reader. I only found it because I was waiting for this post and searched your site. My reader just seems to be missing some new blog posts and not updating them until about 24 hours later.

      July 30, 2013 at 12:55 am

    • Noise ninja works with Lightroom and does allow you to add as well as remove noise.

      July 30, 2013 at 6:52 am

      • Thanks. I might see what I can do with noise using the local adjustment brush in LR first.

        And I have just now scrolled through the last 24 hours of my reader. 3 posts have appeared from about 8 hours ago which weren’t there before and your post has not appeared yet. Very frustrating.

        July 30, 2013 at 8:29 am

      • I have contacted WordPress again. I will wait to see what they have to say. Thank you again for your comments and info.

        July 31, 2013 at 11:49 am

  5. Love the photograph.. I will need to open up GIMP and do this step by step.. Would love to learn these things.. Thanks;;

    July 30, 2013 at 8:31 am

    • Thank you Lisa and it’s a pleasure to pass on these tips.

      July 31, 2013 at 11:50 am

  6. Great tips! The lighting in the last photo is very soft and calming. The black & whites are lovely too (:

    July 30, 2013 at 11:31 am

    • Thank you very much Angela.

      July 31, 2013 at 11:50 am

  7. Your tutorial posts are always very helpful, Adrian. Thanks for posting this!

    August 1, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    • Thank you Karen. Appreciate that. :-)

      August 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

  8. Great photo Adrian. Like your tutorial but that part of photo shop is above my classification . I am still working on number 2.

    August 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    • Thank you James. No worries on having PS2, you should still be able to add noise I think.

      August 13, 2013 at 6:11 am