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Even if a photo looks sharp to you, almost every digital photo will look better with some sharpening. Sharpening just before outputting is most important; some people also do capture sharpening at the beginning of their editing workflow and some creative sharpening during their workflow too. When you're doing output sharpening, you want to resize your photo or a copy of your photo to the size at which you plan to output it, either to print or to screen, and then sharpen the resized copy, since the amount of sharpening that a photo needs depends on its size.
To accurately preview sharpening, make sure that you're viewing your photo at 100%. If you're not, double-clicking the Zoom tool as a shortcut for bringing the photo to a 100% in the Document window. To sharpen this photo, go up to the Enhance menu. From here, I can choose either Unsharp Mask or Adjust Sharpness. I'll go with Unsharp Mask to start. In the Unsharp Mast dialog box, there is another preview of the image that's set to 100% zoom by default. If I want to see a different part of the bird to check whether that is sharp, I can click and hold in this Preview box and drag to another area.
And when I click and press down, I can see the image with no sharpening, when I release my mouse, I see how it looks with whatever settings I have down in these sliders. Right now I've just got the default settings. I am going to drag the bird back so we can see his head and eye in this Preview box, since that's the focal point of the image. If my monitor is big enough that I can see the image out here in the Document window too, I like to leave the Preview checkbox on so that I can see a live preview out here in the Document window too as I adjust these sliders.
Understanding how sharpening works will help you to adjust the sliders. Sharpening looks for an edge between light and dark pixels, like this edge at the top of the bird's head. When it finds an edge like that, it makes the light pixels on one side of the edge lighter and the dark pixels on the other side darker, and that increase in contrast creates the appearance of sharpness. The Amount slider in this dialog box determines how dark and how light the pixels of those edges will become. So watch what happens if I drag the slider way over to the right which is more than I normally would, you can see that the edge at the top of the bird's head in this preview and over here has become whiter on one side and it's also become darker on the other side.
The Amount slider works in conjunction with the next slider, the Radius slider because the Radius slider determines how wide that area of sharpening is going to be. That area is sometimes called the sharpening halo. So if I drag the Radius slider over to the right, you'll see the sharpening halos get wider. I usually don't take radius any higher than about 2 pixels or you can get this sort of crispy critter effect in an image. So I am going to drag that back to the left. In this particular image, I am going to take this even lower, maybe about there.
And then after I get the Radius set, I'll take the Amount slider and I'll fine tune that. I'll move it until the image looks just sharp enough to me and I don't see the halos at the sharpening edges. Exactly where these sliders go and how sharpen image should be is a subjective decision. There are no magic numbers here. One thing to keep in mind is that if you're preparing an image for print, you might want to sharpen it so that it looks a little too sharp on your screen since the very process of printing makes an image look less sharp in print.
There's one more slider here and that's the Threshold slider. The Threshold slider determines what gets sharpen in the image by telling Elements what to consider a sharpenable edge. When this slider is at 0, every part of the image is getting sharpened. As I drag the Threshold slider to the right, fewer parts of the image will be sharpened. So that's probably too far in this case. I'll drag back to the left. This is insurance against sharpening things you don't want sharp, like this blurry area in the background, or maybe grain in a bright sky.
After I've set my sliders, I'll usually check things by moving the image around here, unchecking and rechecking Preview and if I need to, I can reset all of the settings back to their defaults by holding the Alt key, that's the Option key on a Mac, and clicking Reset. This time I'm going to click Cancel because I want to show you the alternative Adjust dialog box for adjust sharpness. I'll go to the Enhance menu and this time I'll choose Adjust Sharpness. In the Adjust Sharpness dialog box, you'll see some of the same features that we saw in the Unsharp Mask dialog box.
A 100% preview, a Preview checkbox for previewing the image in the Document window, a Cancel/Reset button, and an Amount and Radius slider that work the same way as the Amount and Radius sliders in the Unsharp Mask dialog box. There is no Threshold slider here, but here's something that we didn't see in Unsharp Mask, the Remove menu. From here, I can choose the type of blur that Adjust Sharpness is going to try to remove. Gaussian Blur is the same kind of blur that Unsharp Mask deals with.
Lens Blur can sometimes correct a little bit of a blur due to shallow depth of field, and Motion Blur can sometimes correct a little blur that's due to camera shake or subject movement. I usually just try out each one of these and go with the one that I think looks best. In this case, I like Lens Blur. I usually leave this checkbox, More Refined checked, because this gives me the most accurate preview of the image with the settings that I choose in this dialog box. If I like the settings that I have, I'll click OK and that closes the box and applies those sharpness settings.
There's one more sharpening feature I want to show you and that is the Sharpen tool. That's located over here in the toolbar in the flyout menu that I can access by clicking and holding on the Blur tool. I'll select the Sharpen tool, and then I'll move into the image and say, I want to sharpen this bird's eye. I am going to click and drag over the eye. The problem with the tool is that it can very quickly make things too sharp like that. So I'm going to undo by pressing Ctrl+Z, that's Command+Z on a Mac, and I'm going to come up to the options for this tool and reduce the strength a little bit, and then I'll come back in and now when I move this tool over the eye, it sharpens but it doesn't do as extreme of job.
So remember that the purpose of sharpening is to bring back the inherent softness that's caused by digitizing an image. Sharpening isn't designed to make a really blurry image look sharp, but it can make almost any good digital photo look even better.
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