Fixing Banding Problems – the Key is Prevention

Occasionally I get questions from followers about specific problems they might be having. Such was the case here with an image by Phil Scalia. Often the key to avoid banding is to make sure you are not introducing banding at the RAW processing stage. Many things can happen in ACR/Lightroom or any other raw processing software, mostly involving noise suppression or saturation adjustments. I go through an input-to-output workflow here to achieve a B&W rendering that doesn’t suffer from bad banding in the subtle gradients of the sky. NOTE: there is always a fair amount of video compression that goes on in an online video and most of the subtle banding artifacts that you seen in the video are the result of the compression and not actually present in the file. You can definitely see the bad banding in the original though. So here is is:

So… the two takeaways here – make sure you are not using any noise suppression in the raw processing, and make sure you add noise into any gradients you might use in a layer mask – then use the Fade command (after running the filter) to apply the noise in soft light mode!

What about working in 16 bits? Doesn’t that prevent banding? I hear this all the time! Unfortunately, when you work in 16 bits you are actually viewing your work on an 8 bit display, so you don’t really know if you are seeing banding or not, even if you look for it in the individual channels! Typically, real banding will show up only in a print – even if you print from 16 bits! Banding will occur in the conversion from RGB to whatever print colorspace you are outputting to. I’d rather not discover banding after I’ve made or purchased an expensive print! Banding in sky gradients can occur just as badly in 16 bit files as it can in 8 bit files if you don’t take the same precautions. I’d rather be able to see the banding in 8 bits and fix it before it gets to the printer. If you eliminate banding in the 8 bit file, it will not reappear in the print. There are a number of techniques for eliminating banding besides what I’ve shown here. You can check out some in this video here:

I have an open invitation to anyone willing to share with the world – send me your sick, tired and downtrodden images, and I’ll see what I can do to improve them here in the blog!