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Sharpening

From: Photoshop Elements 11 Essentials: 02 Editing and Retouching Photos

Video: Sharpening

The very processes of shooting, editing and outputting a digital photo all introduce unavoidable softness to the photo. You may not notice that softness at first, but you'll usually find that your printed photos or photos you're viewing on screen at 100% had more punch after you sharpen them. In this movie I am going to focus on sharpening a photo for output, after you've done all your editing and just before you send a copy of the photo to your printer or share it online. When you are sharpening for output like this, it's best to resize a copy of your master photo first to the size that you need for output.

Sharpening

The very processes of shooting, editing and outputting a digital photo all introduce unavoidable softness to the photo. You may not notice that softness at first, but you'll usually find that your printed photos or photos you're viewing on screen at 100% had more punch after you sharpen them. In this movie I am going to focus on sharpening a photo for output, after you've done all your editing and just before you send a copy of the photo to your printer or share it online. When you are sharpening for output like this, it's best to resize a copy of your master photo first to the size that you need for output.

Because the size of a photo affects the amount of sharpening that it needs. So let's assume that I've corrected and resized this photo. When I'm ready to sharpen I'll go up to the Enhance menu and I can choose either Unsharp Mask or Adjust Sharpness. I'll start with Adjust Sharpness, mainly because it offers a larger preview. Here in the adjust sharpness dialog, there is a 100% view of the image as the preview. As you're sharpening it's very important to be previewing the image at 100%, because otherwise you just don't get an accurate view of what's sharp and what's not.

I've left my document window set to a zoom percentage other than 100% on purpose, because I want you to notice that as I'm sharpening here in the Adjust Sharpness dialog. But often I'll set my document window to a 100% too, so that I have two places to preview the work that I'm doing in the sharpening dialog. In the Preview in the sharpening dialog I'll click and drag so that I can see the focal point of the image in this preview window. Notice that when I click and hold here, the image looks more blurry. Clicking and holding is showing me the image with no sharpening at all, and when I release my mouse, I can see how the image looks with whatever sharpening settings I happen to have over here in the Settings area on the right, and yours may start off differently than mine are now.

There are two sliders in the Adjust Sharpness dialog box, Amount and Radius, these sliders work together to sharpen the image. So I am going to start by dragging both sliders all the way to the left, and then I'm going to take that Amount slider and I'm going to drag it pretty far to the right to start. The Amount slider determines the strength of sharpening, and I'll explain more about what that is in just a moment. But first, I want to drag the Radius slider to the right as well. And as I do, the image looks sharper and sharper, to a point where it's obviously too sharp.

So what is this slider doing? Well if I click and drag down here, so you can see this edge, I think that will help explain what the Radius slider does. When you're sharpening an image like this what's really happening is that Elements is looking for high contrast edges, edges where like pixels meet dark pixels in the photo. And at those edges it's darkening the dark pixels and brightening the light pixels, and that gives the illusion of crispness or sharpness. So that's what sharpening is. What the Radius slider does is increases the width of those dark and light pixels at high contrast edges. Those are called the halos.

So as I increase the Radius slider, you can see the width of the sharpening halo get bigger and bigger. As I increase the Amount slider, I am changing the darkness of the dark pixels and the brightness of the bright pixels. So this is obviously too much, I am going to drag that Radius slider back over to the left. And I want to emphasize that I usually use a very light hand on the Radius slider, because I don't want those sharpening halos to be visible or obvious in the image. Now I'll take the Amount slider and I'll move that back until the image looks to be just about the right sharpness to my eye.

When I am sharpening an image that I'm going to share online, I'll just sharpen it until it looks right to my eye. But if I'm preparing an image for print, I'll usually make it look a little bit too sharp on screen, because the process of printing will further soften it. So if I were preparing this image for print I might take it up to about here. There's one more menu here, that's the Remove menu. By default this is set to Gaussian Blur and I usually leave it here. But sometimes I'll experiment with these other choices, Lens Blur or Motion Blur, which just change the shape of the sharpening. I'll put that back to Gaussian Blur, and I usually leave More Refined check as well to get the most accurate preview of my sharpening.

At this point I would move into the preview and drag just to make sure that all the parts of the image look right to me, and when I was satisfied I would click OK. But in this case I'm going to click Cancel, because I want to show you the other sharpening feature here in the Expert edit workspace. Before I do, I am going to take my document to a 100% view, so I'll double-click the Zoom Tool. Then I'll go up to the Enhance menu and down to Unsharp Mask, and that opens a smaller dialog box with a smaller preview, but that's okay because I'm previewing the image at a 100% in the document window, so I'll be able to see a live preview of the sharpening that I am doing here over in the document window as long as Preview is checked in the Unsharp Mask dialog.

I'll click and drag in this small preview so I can see the focal point of the image there, and I'll adjust my sliders as I want them to be. Again, I am going to take that Radius down a bit and I'll take the Amount down too. In this dialog box there is an extra slider that we don't have in the Adjust Sharpness dialog box, and that is the Threshold slider. When the Threshold slider is set to zero, then everything in the image is getting this sharpening treatment. Sometimes that can make the background or the out of focus parts of an image look a little bit grainy.

If that's the case, then I'll increase the Threshold slider telling Elements not to sharpen those parts of the image that don't really qualify as Contrast edges. When I'm down here I'll click OK, and there is my sharpened image in the document window. Finally, a word about how many times to sharpen an image. I've focused on sharpening just before output in this movie because that's crucial. Some photographers also sharpen at a couple of other times during the editing process. They might sharpen slightly when they first open a photo into the editor to counteract the inherent softness introduced by the digital process, and they might sharpen again for creative reasons during editing.

If you do sharpen an image more than once, just be sure that you use a light hand, because sharpening does add up and over-sharpening a photo can make it look unnatural.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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  1. 6m 14s
    1. Welcome
      1m 10s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 30s
    3. Overview of the editing workspaces
      3m 34s
  2. 43m 14s
    1. Touring the interface
      4m 21s
    2. Making the most of the tools in Elements
      4m 6s
    3. Arranging the panels
      4m 32s
    4. Zooming and panning
      4m 3s
    5. Viewing multiple photos
      3m 51s
    6. Undoing
      5m 15s
    7. Cropping
      3m 46s
    8. Resizing
      7m 18s
    9. Saving images and examining formats
      6m 2s
  3. 19m 23s
    1. Understanding layers
      7m 59s
    2. Managing layers in the Layers panel
      4m 33s
    3. Creating new layers
      6m 51s
  4. 38m 28s
    1. Why use selections?
      4m 20s
    2. Selecting with the marquee tools
      3m 56s
    3. Selecting with the lasso tools
      6m 40s
    4. Selecting by color and tone
      6m 22s
    5. Refining a selection
      4m 51s
    6. Selecting hair
      5m 42s
    7. Hiding content with a layer mask
      6m 37s
  5. 46m 54s
    1. Why use adjustment layers?
      5m 15s
    2. Adjusting color with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
      4m 32s
    3. Correcting lighting with a Levels adjustment layer
      3m 32s
    4. Adjusting part of an image with an adjustment layer
      5m 19s
    5. Exploring auto adjustments
      3m 55s
    6. Improving shadows and highlights
      2m 14s
    7. Removing a color cast
      1m 47s
    8. Fine-tuning with Color Curves
      3m 16s
    9. Converting to black and white
      2m 26s
    10. Correcting camera distortion
      5m 32s
    11. Reducing noise
      2m 56s
    12. Sharpening
      6m 10s
  6. 20m 51s
    1. Creating a panorama
      5m 6s
    2. Merging bracketed exposures
      6m 0s
    3. Removing people from a scene
      5m 25s
    4. Combining group shots
      4m 20s
  7. 29m 24s
    1. Removing blemishes
      3m 42s
    2. Reducing wrinkles and circles
      4m 16s
    3. Enhancing eyes
      5m 19s
    4. Removing red-eye
      3m 15s
    5. Adjusting skin tone
      2m 21s
    6. Removing dust spots
      4m 7s
    7. Removing content
      6m 24s
  8. 52m 36s
    1. What is Camera Raw?
      5m 18s
    2. Using the latest Camera Raw controls
      3m 16s
    3. Camera Raw basics
      6m 22s
    4. Making use of the histogram
      3m 45s
    5. Setting white balance
      3m 44s
    6. Adjusting lighting
      4m 28s
    7. Adjusting color saturation
      2m 9s
    8. Cropping and straightening
      3m 58s
    9. Reducing noise
      3m 33s
    10. Sharpening
      3m 38s
    11. Synchronizing edits to multiple photos
      3m 36s
    12. Outputting from Camera Raw
      6m 14s
    13. Using Camera Raw with JPEGs
      2m 35s
  9. 48s
    1. Next steps
      48s

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