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The last step in a digital editing workflow is to sharpen the photo. Almost every photograph needs sharpening even if it looks sharp to you already, because just capturing and working on a digital image will soften it. Before I sharpen, I try to make all my major edits to the photo, and importantly if I'm going to resize a copy of the photo, I'll do that first, because the size of a photo does affect how much sharpening it needs. Normally I'll leave the magnification or the zoom level of the photo set to 100% before I start sharpening, so that I can see a preview of what the image is going to really look like at 100% view as I'm sharpening.
Having said that, just for teaching purposes I'm going to zoom in now for a moment. I'll do that by selecting the Zoom tool and then I'm going to zoom in by clicking a few times in the image and I'll hold the Spacebar to change my tool into a Hand tool and drag over to the left so that the eye is closer to the left side of the document window. Then I'm going sharpen this image using the Unsharp Mask Filter. Up in the Enhance menu at the top of the screen there are two sharpening features, Unsharp Mask and Adjust Sharpness.
First I'll show you Unsharp Mask. The Unsharp Mask dialog box that opens when I selected the Unsharp Mask command. It has three sliders in it: Amount, Radius and Threshold. To understand how to use these sliders it's useful to first have a good sense of what sharpening is and how it works, so that you can see that on this image. I'm going to exaggerate the Amount and Radius sliders more than I normally would. I'm going to drag the Amount slider pretty far over and I'll drag the Radius slider over too.
In the dialog box, you have a view of the image at 100% with these settings and here in the document window you can see this at a larger percent. I'm going to scroll up a bit in the document window so you can see the girl's eyebrow there, because it's a good example of what happens when you sharpen. Sharpening looks for an edge in the photo, which is anyplace where dark pixels meet light pixels, like along the girl's eyebrow. At that edge, Elements lightens the lightest pixels and darkens the darkest pixels. Those lightened and darkened edge pixels are called the sharpening halo.
And you can see the light pixels here along the eyebrow and then the eyebrow itself is pretty dark, and there is some more light pixels on the other side of the eyebrow. Now when you look back at this image at 100%, that optical illusion makes the eyebrow look sharper. So what exactly do the Amount and Radius sliders do in the Unsharp Mask dialog box? Well the Radius slider as I move it to the right, expands the width of that sharpening halo, like that. So now there are more pixels on either side of the eyebrow that are white.
And the Amount slider changes the intensity of the light pixels and the intensity of the dark pixels. So I'll drag that to the right and the light pixels become lighter and the dark pixels become darker, making the image look even more sharp, in fact way over sharp in this case. So now that you understand what sharpening is, it's this optical illusion that I just showed you, I'm going to cancel out of the Unsharp Mask dialog box by clicking the Cancel button there, and I'm going to go back to 100% in the Document View by moving to the Zoom tool and double-clicking the Zoom tool.
Now I'm going to go back into the Unsharp Mask dialog box and sharpen this image for real. So I'll go to the Enhance menu and I'll choose Unsharp Mask again and then I'll go down to the three sliders. The way that I approach these is that I usually start with the Amount slider and I drag it pretty far over to the right. I'm going to put this one at about 100, and then I'll move the Radius slider, and I usually don't go beyond about two pixels and as I do this, I'm keeping my eye on either of these previews. They are both set to 100%, so they are giving me an accurate readout.
Now there are some parts of the image that became sharp that I really don't want to emphasize, like some of the texture on the girl's skin here, and in forehead, and that's where the third slider comes in, the Threshold slider. When the Threshold slider is set to 0, everything in the image gets sharpened. But if I drag the Threshold slider to the right, and again not too far, only the true edges in the photo are sharpened and the other parts of the photo, like the blemishes on the skin, are not sharpened. I think that's a bit too far, everything got blurry, so I'm going to go back and in this case I might leave Threshold at about 8.
I like the way it sharpens the important parts of the image like the eyes, and the mouth, and the hair, but protects other areas like some of the skin from over-sharpening. Normally at this point I would click on OK to accept these settings, but I'm going to cancel out of this dialog box rather than except these sharpening settings, so that I can show you the other sharpening option called Adjust Sharpness. So I'll go back to Enhance and down to Adjust Sharpness and that opens a different dialog box. I am going to this one over to the right and this is an alternative way to sharpen to the Unsharp Mask command.
You can use either Adjust Sharpness or Unsharp Mask. They are pretty similar. You can see that here there is an Amount slider and a Radius slider. I'll leave them set as they are for now, and there is an additional field that you don't find in Unsharp Mask and that's this Remove menu. Although sharpening isn't designed to fix really blurry images-- it really is just designed to sharpen up digital softness in an image. This menu contains some features that do make an attempt to fix certain kinds of blur. The first kind of blur, Gaussian Blur, is not very different than what you find in Unsharp Mask.
But Lens Blur is designed to make a blurry image look better by concentrating on sharpening the details in the image, and then Motion Blur is designed to reduce blur that's caused by either a camera moving or the subject moving. Again it's not going to fix a very blurry photo. Let's try it here and see how it does. It does sharpen up the image a little bit. There's also a More Refined checkbox here, which I can check if I want to get more accurate blur removal, and finally there is no Threshold command in this dialog box as there is in Unsharp Mask.
So those are the main differences between Unsharp Mask and Adjust Sharpness. I usually use Unsharp Mask, because it's simpler, but you're welcome to use either. I'm going to click OK to apply these settings and I want to mention a couple of other sharpness features that are here in the Editor. If I go up to the Enhance menu, there is a choice here for Auto Sharpen. Personally I don't like to use any of the auto commands, because I think that the beauty of working in the Full Edit workspace is that I have some control over all of my adjustments. So I prefer to use the adjustments that I've shown you in this chapter including Unsharp Mask or Adjust Sharpness, as opposed to the auto corrections like Auto Sharpen, but you're welcome to try Auto Sharpen if you're in a hurry.
I'm going to exit out of this menu and show you another sharpen feature here in the toolbar and that's behind the Blur tool. I'm talking about the Sharpen tool. The Sharpen tool can come in handy if you just want to sharpen a very small portion of your image. So let's say that I want to add a little more sharpening to the subject's eyes to draw attention there. With the Sharpen tool, I'll move over the subject's eyes and I'm just going to click a few times and as I do, I get just the tiniest bit of additional sharpening. So a couple of things to remember about sharpening your own images.
If you've got a really blurry image due to camera shake or the subject moving, unfortunately the sharpening features aren't going to help you remove extreme blur, but sharpening will make a normal image look crisper and better particularly if you're going to be printing it. Please do get in the habit of sharpening all your images at the end of your digital workflow.
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