No phone is perfect when it comes to capturing photos. Even the ones that are blessed with incredible cameras (such as Nokia Lumia 920 and iPhone 5) fall to their knees when it comes to keeping the noise low, capturing accurate colours and details, and yielding optimal exposure, especially in extremely bright or low light. Captured photos appear pristine on vibrant AMOLED and high-resolution displays, but you can at once point out the flaws in 100 percent view or when you view them on your PC—presence of noise (graininess) in dark areas, colour noise, blown out highlights, lack of details in shadows, incorrect brightness and contrast are some of the commonly faced issues. This is worse when it comes to some of the entry-level phones that are equipped with mediocre cameras. We have noticed undesirable noise and erratic exposures in shots taken with phones even in broad daylight. At times such shortcomings ruin some of the best moments you’ve captured, and you wish you had a digital camera.

What if we said, it’s possible to make photos shot with any phone look like they’ve been taken with a digital camera? And that too without using Photoshop or any sort of advanced photo editing technique! We are going to use only IrfanView, which is one of the best freeware photo viewing apps.

Before we move on to the tutorial, here are a few tips that will help you get crisp shots:

  • Keep your hands as steady as you can to avoid blurry shots.
  • If the camera under or over-exposes the frame, use the EV slider to increase or decrease exposure accordingly.
  • Clean the glass that protects the lens with a lint-free cloth. Settled dust particles and smudges on the glass could lead to blurred photos or flaring of bright highlights.

Getting ready

You need to download and install IrfanView (get it from here). Also, get all the plug-ins for IrfanView, available as a single installable package. In addition to these, you’ll need a noise reduction plug-in to cure grainy photos. Topaz DeNoise is one of the best noise reduction plug-ins for Photoshop that can also be used with IrfanView (get it from here). 

Copy Topaz DeNoise plug-in file to IrfanView's plug-in folder

Copy Topaz DeNoise plug-in file to IrfanView's plug-in folder

Install Topaz DeNoise after installing IrfanView and its plug-in pack. After installation, navigate to the installation folder of Topaz DeNoise and copy the plug-in file (tldenoise5ps.8bf) from the “Plugins” folder and copy it to “PluginsAdobe 8BF” folder in IrfanView’s installation folder.

You’re now ready to go!

Step 1: Load a photo and fire up Topaz DeNoise

Load a photo in IrfanView. To make it easy, you can associate the common image file types (JPG, TIFF, BMP, PNG, GIF and PSD) to IrfanView. After loading the photo, go to “Image | Effects | Adobe 8BF filters” or use the shortcut “Ctrl+k” to access the same. To add Topaz DeNoise to the list, click on the “Add 8BF filters” button and specify the folder to which you copied the plug-in file in IrfanView’s installation folder. If you did everything correctly, you should now see Topaz DeNoise in the list. Double-click on it to run it; the filter’s UI will be presented to you in a new Window. Time for action!

Load a photo and get started with Topaz DeNoise

Load a photo and get started with Topaz DeNoise

Step 2: Noise reduction

The goal is to reduce graininess and colour noise as much as possible without losing too much detail. Use the zoom control in the top right corner to set the zoom to 200 percent to get a clear view of the noise. Drag the frame to bring forth the portion of the image in which noise is most prominent. Now you can use the presets in the left panel for quick results or drag the sliders manually for more precision. Drag the “Overall Strength” slider a few units (0.03 to 0.05) at a time until the graininess is almost gone. Don’t overdo or else you will lose details. If you see colour noise (in the form of purple, green and blue blobs), use the “Clean Color” slider. Again, use it sparingly, just to the point where all the colour noise is gone. If the details in the image appear flat, you can use the sliders in the “Detail Recovery”. Tinker with the “Add grain” slider; it makes a big difference. Click the OK button after you’re satisfied with the result. The plug-in will take a few seconds to process the image, which brings us back to IrfanView.

Before: Plenty of grains and colour noise

Before: Plenty of grains and colour noise

After: It's all gone, magically!

After: It's all gone, magically!

Step 3: Boost the colours and contrast

Use the keyboard shortcut “Shift+W” to fit the image to the Window for a complete view of the image. Go to “Image | Color corrections” or use the shortcut “Ctrl+G” to bring up the colour corrections dialogue box. Use the Contrast and Saturation sliders to add punch to your photo if it looks too drab; a slight boost should make it look more vibrant. If the photo is under-exposed, use the “Brightness” and “Gamma correction” sliders to correct the exposure. Click the OK button to apply the values to the photo.

Tinker with contrast and saturation to add some punch

Tinker with contrast and saturation to add some punch

Step 4: Rotate, crop and resize

Follow this step if you want to correct tilt, crop a portion of the frame or rescale your image to a lower resolution, else continue to the next step. If your frame is tilted, go to “Image | Custom/fine rotation” and specify the rotation angle. The preview should help determining the optimal correction. Negative values will rotate the frame anticlockwise and positive values clockwise. Decimal values can be used for fine rotation. Use the Crop function to eliminate the redundant areas after rotation or to extract a portion of the frame. Click and drag to select the area you wish to crop, and then use the shortcut “Ctrl+Y” or go to “Edit | Crop selection” to crop out the selection.

Crop what you need and get rid of the rest

Crop what you need and get rid of the rest – click for full view

You may want to rescale the photo to lower resolution to reduce the file size or share the photo via email. To do so, go to “Image | Resize/resample” or use the shortcut “Ctrl+R” to bring up the dialogue box. Set the new size (in pixels or percentage) and click the OK button to apply the changes. 

Resize the image to reduce the file size

Resize the image to reduce the file size

Step 5: Add some sharpening and save

Sharpening the image will bring out details and make the image look crisper. Use the shortcut “Shift+S” (once or twice) and you’ll see a slight difference in crispness. After you’re done, use the S key to save the image. Choose the image format; you may want to use the quality slider to set the compression level and quality settings for file types such as (JPG, PNG and GIF).

Specify the file type and compression parameters

Specify the file type and compression parameters

Final result:

Before: Grainy, drab colours and lack of details

Before: Grainy, drab colours and lack of details

After: No noise, punchy colours and sharper details

After: No noise, punchy colours and sharper details

The above procedure also applies to grainy and drab-looking results from digital cameras. Be patient, take your time tinkering with various parameters, and you’ll be surprised with the results.

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