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In Photoshop Elements 9 Essential Training, Jan Kabili highlights the key features of this comprehensive image organization and photo enhancement application. She shows how to correct and enhance photographs, and how to organize a growing collection of digital photos. The course also explains how to use photos in creative projects like photo books, calendars, and greeting cards, and how to share work online and in print. Exercise files accompany the course.
Almost every digital image can benefit from sharpening. That's because the very process of capturing and working with a digital image can soften it so that your final print or other output may look a little softer than you would like. Some people sharpen throughout their editing workflow. At the beginning when they first capture an image and then from time to time as they're working on the image. I think it's particularly important to sharpen just before you output the image. When you do so, you want to resize to your final output size first, because the amount of sharpening that you'll apply will depend on how large the image is.
When you're ready to sharpen, you want to view the image at 100% which is the only way to accurately judge sharpening. So I am going to go to the toolbar and I'll double-click the Zoom tool to view this image at 100%. Then I can use the Hand tool or I can press the Spacebar to temporarily access the Hand tool to pan around to the area that I want to see. To sharpen the image, I'll go up to the Enhance menu and I can choose either Unsharp Mask or Adjust Sharpness. Let's look at Unsharp Mask first.
That open the Unsharp Mask dialog box. Here, there's another preview and I can pan around in this preview by clicking and dragging. If I want to, I can zoom in by pressing the + symbol or zoom out by pressing the - symbol here in the small preview in the Unsharp Mask dialog box. When I press-and-hold here I see the image as it would be without any sharpening and when I release my mouse I see how the image will look with sharpening at the settings that I currently have in this dialog box.
There are three settings here. The Amount and the Radius settings work together. So, the way that I approach these is usually to drag the Amount slider all the way over to the right. Then to start increasing the Radius slider until it starts making the image look too crispy and then I'll back off. But before I back off I want to increase a little more, because I want you to understand what sharpening is doing. Sharpening looks for an edge and that means a place where there are light pixels right next to darker pixels.
Then to give the illusion that those areas are sharper; the pixels on the dark side of that edge are made darker and the pixels on the light side of the edge are made lighter. That increase in contrast at edges makes the image appear to look sharper. I hope that explanation will help you to understand what the Radius and Amount sliders do. As I drag the Radius slider over to the right, it is increasing the number of pixels out from an edge that are getting the treatment that I just explained. So, you could see a wider band of dark pixels at this point along the edge of the dog's nose and a wider band of white pixels.
As I move back on the Radius slider, those bands of pixels, sometimes called the sharpening halo become narrower. The Amount slider controls how intense that effect will be by determining how dark the dark halos will be and how light the light halos will be. So as I drag Amount back, the dark pixels along the sharpened edge are becoming less dark and the light pixels are becoming less white. So, the question is how much to sharpen and really that's a matter of taste.
Although, you may keep in mind that if you're sending an image to print, you might want to sharpen it so it looks a bit too sharp here on your screen, because when you do send it to print the image will soften a bit more. I generally don't drag the Radius slider too high, because then you get this crispy sort of look. I tend to leave it lower than 2.0. So in this case maybe I'll put it just about there. Where you put the Amount slider does depend in part on where the Radius slider is as you've just seen. I'm going to leave my slider as they are now for this image and then I'm going to go down to the Threshold slider.
This image was taken through a screen door and I can see a vague imprint of the screen on the dog's face and I certainly can see the little pieces of the screen here in the background. When I sharpen, I want to sharpen just the dog, not the screen and that's where the Threshold slider comes in. When Threshold is set to 0, everything in the image is sharpened to the same amount. But as I drag Threshold to the right, Elements tries to decide what the most important details are and focus on sharpening those and not the other things in the image like the screen.
Now, I think I went too far there, because the area around the dog's eye now isn't very sharp. I do want to make sure that the eye is sharp, because that's a point of focus. So I am going to back off on Threshold a little bit and with those settings I'll check a before and after view by unchecking Preview. So, that's how soft the image was to start and that's how the image looks now with these sharpening settings. If I'm satisfied I would normally click OK, but I'm going to click Cancel so that I can show you the other sharpening feature, Adjust Sharpness under the Enhance menu.
That opens a different dialog box. This one also has an Amount and a Radius slider. So, I get those set to the way I like them and then I'm going to come down and click More Refined which gives me an even more accurate view of the sharpening. There is one more choice in this dialog box that I don't have any Unsharp Mask dialog box and that is the Remove menu. This gives me a choice between three different formulas for sharpening the image.
Gaussian Blur is much like the kind of sharpening that we saw in the Unsharp Mask dialog box. Sometimes Lens Blur can bring back some of the detail in an image that's set to a shallow depth of field. I actually think that gives me a worse result in this case. Then Motion Blur can sometimes bring back a little bit of blur that's caused by camera shake or by motion of the subject. Again, I like Gaussian blur the best in this case. I also want to mention that this kind of sharpening is not really intended to sharpen a blurry image due to camera shake or the subject moving or a shallow depth of field.
This is more about sharpening the kind of softness that comes from the digitizing workflow. When I'm satisfied here, I'll click OK. Now, there are a couple of more sharpening features you should know about. Over in the toolbar, here behind the Blur tool there is a Sharpen tool and this can be used to sharpen specific areas. So, often in portraits I'll run the Sharpen tool over the eye or here I might run it over the nose to sharpen those areas a little more so that your eye focuses on them when you look at the photo.
But you don't want to go too far with the Sharpen tool because it tends to give these odd results like underneath the dog's eye here where I think it looks a little bit too sharp at this point. There's also under the Enhance menu an Auto Sharpen command. So, if you are in a hurry you might want to try Auto Sharpen. But I tend not to use Auto Sharpen or actually any of the other auto commands under this menu, because the advantage of working in the Full Edit workspace is that you get to make the correction decisions rather than use these auto commands. If you want to use auto commands, you might want work in the Quick Fix workspace or in the photo fix options in the Organizer.
So, remember that when you're doing your final sharpening for output view the image at 100% and resize the image to the output size before you sharpen in order to correct for the softening that is an inevitable part of the digital workflow.
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