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When I am all done correcting a photo, my last step is to sharpen the photo for output. Almost every photograph is going to need output sharpening, even if it looks sharp to you already, because just the process of capturing and working on a digital image will soften it. There are a couple of things to do before you start sharpening. If I plan to resize a copy of the photo for output, I make sure to resize it before sharpening, using the Image Size command under the Image>Resize menu, which I am going to cancel out over right now, and that's because the size of a photo affects how much sharpening it will need.
Also, if there is more than one layer in a file, in this case there is only one layer, I will make sure to flatten the layers and sharpen the remaining single flattened layer, and that's because you can only sharpen one layer at a time. I will also remember to save this resized flattened sharpened version with a different name than the original file, so that I don't save over the original file with its layers and other photo fixes. Finally, when I am ready to sharpen, I will set the zoom level of the image to 100%, so that the live preview in the document window best approximates the way that the final image will look with sharpening when it's output.
One way to view the image at 100% is just to double-click the Zoom tool here in the toolbar, like that. Having said that, just for teaching purposes, I am going to zoom in closer than 100% on the subject's eye, so that you can get a clearer view of what sharpening does. So with the Zoom tool selected, I will go up to the Options bar and click the Plus symbol and then I will move over the subject's left eye, and I am going to click three times to zoom into about 400%. Then I am going to move her eye over by holding the Spacebar, which temporarily changes the tool to a Hand tool, and then holding the Spacebar down, clicking and dragging in the image to the left.
Now it's time to sharpen. I will go up to the Enhance menu at the top of the screen, and I am going to choose one of the two sharpening commands at the bottom of this menu. I can use either Unsharp Mask or Adjust Sharpness. These are alternatives and you are welcome to use either one, whichever one is more comfortable to you. I will start by showing you Unsharp Mask. The Unsharp Mask dialog box has three sliders in it: Amount, Radius, and Threshold. So that you can see what these sliders do, I am going to exaggerate the Amount slider, dragging it farther to the right than I normally would.
I am also going to exaggerate the Radius slider more than I normally would. Notice that there is a preview here in the Unsharp Mask dialog box of how the image will look at 100% magnification. It's important to always keep an eye on this 100% magnification, because that's the way that the image will look when its output with whatever sharpening settings you choose. I can move the image around in this preview by clicking and dragging.
So I am going to put her eye right in the center there. And when I click and hold in this preview, I see the image as it was originally, without any sharpening. When I release my mouse, I see the image as it will look with the sharpening settings that I have currently chosen. I have cranked up the sharpening here more than I normally would in order to show you what sharpening really does. The way that sharpening works is that it looks for edges in a photo, which is any place where dark pixels meet light pixels. In this case the girl's eyebrow is a good example of an edge.
What sharpening does is take the light pixels at an edge and makes them lighter and also takes the dark pixels in an edge and makes them darker. Here in the 400% view you can really see those light pixels and those dark pixels, which are being exaggerated by the controls in the Unsharp Mask dialog box right now. These lightened and darkened pixels, which create the optical illusion of sharpness, are called the sharpening halo. So that's how sharpening works. Now, what exactly do these sliders in the Unsharp Mask dialog box do? Well, the Radius slider controls the width of the sharpening halo.
So watch what happens as I move Radius to the right, and again, this is more than I would normally do. As you can see here the width of the sharpening halo has really expanded. If I drag the Amount slider to the right, the bright pixels in the sharpening halo get brighter and the dark pixels get darker, because the Amount slider controls the brightness of the halo pixels. So now that you understand how sharpening works, I would like to show you how I approach the sliders in the Unsharp Mask dialog box when I am really sharpening an image.
So I am going to cancel out of this dialog box, and I am going to go back to the image and I am going to make the image fit in the document window, so that I will have at least one view of the entire image as I sharpen. One way to do that is to have the Zoom tool selected in the toolbar, and then to go up to the Options bar and click Fit Screen. Then I will open the Unsharp Mask dialog box again from the Enhance menu. As you can see, it has gone back to its default settings. The way I usually start in this dialog box is to set the Threshold slider, which I will explain in a moment, to 0, and the Radius slider all the way over to the left.
Then I will take the Amount slider and I will drag it way over to the right, which is more than the amount of sharpening I would normally use. With Amount set all the way to the right, I will drag the Radius slider to the right. I am careful with the Radius slider to never go above about 2 pixels, because I don't want the image to look too crispy. Now that I have got the Radius slider set, I will take the Amount slider and I will drag it back over to the left, until the sharpness looks right to me. This is really a subjective decision. I am primarily consulting the 100% view here in the Unsharp Mask dialog box, but I am also going to move the dialog box out of the way so that I can see the entire image, so that I see what the sharpening is doing everywhere in the photograph.
In this case, I think I might take it even lower, maybe somewhere in this neighborhood. If I am preparing an image for print, I usually sharpen it until it looks a little bit to sharp on the screen and then I will get a nice sharp but not over sharpened print. Now I do want to emphasize that there are no magic numbers for sharpening. Basically it's trial and error and your subjective approach to your image. There's one more slider to deal with here and that's the Threshold slider. When the Threshold slider is set to 0, everything in the image is being sharpened.
But sometimes I don't want that. For example, here I really don't want her skin so sharp, because it just doesn't look nice and smooth. So I am going to take the Threshold slider and I am going to drag it over to the right. I don't go too far with it or the image will start to look blurry everywhere. So in this image I might take it back to about 6 levels here. And now her skin looks smoother, but I can see that in the 100% view, her eyes still looks relatively sharp. So that's how to use Unsharp Mask. At this point I would normally click OK in order to apply these settings to the document.
But I am actually going to click Cancel in the Unsharp Mask dialog box, so that I can show you the other method of sharpening, Adjust Sharpen. Adjust Sharpen is just an alternative to Unsharp Mask. Use either one that you prefer. I will go back to the Enhance menu. I am going to choose Adjust Sharpness, and I will move the dialog box up and to the right to get it out of the way, so I can see the entire document. In this dialog box there is an Amount slider and a Radius slider, just like in Unsharp Mask. I am just going to leave them set to their defaults for now.
And notice that there is no Threshold slider as in Unsharp Mask. However, there is a feature that you don't find in Unsharp Mask, and that is this Remove menu. This menu offers three formulas that attempt to reduce different kinds of blur in an image. Gaussian Blur, the default, works just like the formula used by Unsharp Mask. Lens Blur will sometimes make a photo look better by concentrating on sharpening the details in the image. And Motion Blur is for reducing the blur caused by the subject or the camera having moved when the shot was taken.
But keep in mind that Motion Blur won't completely fix a really blurry photo. That's because none of the sharpening commands are designed to fixed blurry content, they are really just designed to counteract the softness that's caused by digitizing an image. So I will try Lens Blur here. Then I am going to go down to the More Refined command here and check that command, which will sometimes produce a better result, although it may take a little bit longer. To apply these settings, I am going to click OK in the Adjust Sharpness dialog box. So that's what you are normally going to do when you sharpen an image at the end of the editing process.
I do want to mention that there are a couple of other Sharpness features, although they are not used as often as Unsharp Mask or Adjust Sharpness. In the toolbox down here, behind the Blur tool, there is a Sharpen tool. The Sharpen tool can be used to add just a little more sharpening to a very small portion of an image. For example, if I wanted the model's eyes to be a little sharper, I could click and drag with this tool over the eye, maybe the eyebrow. The same on the other side. If I am not getting the result that I want, maybe it's too sharp or not sharp enough, I can go up to the Options bar for the Sharpen tool and vary the Strength of the Sharpen tool.
Also, in the Enhance menu, there is an Auto Sharpen command. However, I don't use this Auto Sharpen command very often because I like more control over my adjustments than it offers, and there's plenty of control in the Unsharp Mask or Adjust Sharpness dialog boxes. So I am going to cancel out of there, and remind you to please get in the habit of sharpening all your photos at the end of your digital editing workflow. If you have got a really blurry image, unfortunately, the sharpening features aren't going to help you remove extreme blur, but sharpening will usually make a normal digital image look crisper and better, particularly if you are going to be printing it.
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