Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member

Sharpening

From: Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

Video: Sharpening

If you shoot RAW, then all of your images, no matter what type of light they were shot in, will need some sharpening applied to them. It's just a fact of the way that image sensors work. The image needs to be softened before it hits the sensor, so there's a little filter in front of the sensor that softens it. That's a necessary step for the camera to be able to properly interpret color. That means you need to apply some sharpening effects to get that little bit of softness that's been added, removed from your image. Now, the bad news is that sharpening isn't actually possible. And what I mean by that is you cannot take an image that's out of focus and make it in focus.

Sharpening

If you shoot RAW, then all of your images, no matter what type of light they were shot in, will need some sharpening applied to them. It's just a fact of the way that image sensors work. The image needs to be softened before it hits the sensor, so there's a little filter in front of the sensor that softens it. That's a necessary step for the camera to be able to properly interpret color. That means you need to apply some sharpening effects to get that little bit of softness that's been added, removed from your image. Now, the bad news is that sharpening isn't actually possible. And what I mean by that is you cannot take an image that's out of focus and make it in focus.

All we're doing when we use a sharpening filter in the computer is creating the illusion of sharpness. Now, we may be treading on deep philosophical ground here because really, what's the difference between having an illusion of sharpness and actually having sharpness? If you do it right, there is no difference. The danger about sharpening filters on the computer is that you can take them too far and end up degrading your image. So, let's look at a simple sharpening process here in Photoshop. I'm going to just open one of these images that I shot at the show the other night. Right off the bat, I see that it needs a white balance correction. This should be pretty easy. As we looked at earlier, I'm going to take my White Balance dropper and click on the white of her eye.

And that's pretty good. I'm going to do some other quick exposure adjustments. I'm going to brighten it up a little bit. I think I liked it a little bit warmer, so I'm going to put a little bit of warmth back in with the White Balance slider there. And that's looking pretty good. Now, most of the time I would say you never zoom in to a 100% and worry too much about what you find there. With sharpness, it's different. We actually do need to get in close to the image and see what it's like sharpness-wise. This image was shot at ISO 1600. I know that because, well, because I was there, running the camera.

I also know that because it says ISO 1600 right here. That means that there's going to be some noise in here and so there's a certain level of detail that's going to be obscured by that noise. High-ISO images are always going to be a little bit chunkier in terms of individual detail, like her eyelashes and things here. But overall I can see that this image is soft. The edge of her eyeball right here, that should be a good hard line and it's not. Now, in Camera Raw, I have this Clarity slider here which will put a little bit of sharpness back into the image, but it's not really a full-on sharpness process here.

It's just meant to add a little bit of extra micro-contrast in any edges throughout the image, and it does help. But this image is so soft, it's really not getting me anywhere. So, I'm going to put that back to 0 and move on. I'm going to leave Camera Raw now and go on into Photoshop. So, I'm hitting the Open Image button. And Camera RAW will process the image, convert it into a full-color final result here, and let's take a look at this. Now, before we get to the sharpening, I want to make one other quick change, and this maybe a feature that you're not familiar with. This is in CS5.

It's a great tool for recomposing your shot. I wish I had asked them to get a little bit closer together. The space in here just right in the center of the frame is bugging me. So, I'm going to Select All by hitting Command+A--that would be Ctrl+A on Windows-- and go up here to the Edit menu and choose Content-Aware Scale. This is going to let me squish the image inwards, but it's not going to do a uniform linear squish, it's going to try and figure out where the content is in the image and not modify those bits of the picture. There are handles on all sides of my images right now.

I'm just going to grab this handle and drag this way, and as I do, you see that it is scaling the image so that she is moving but not getting distorted. It's taken all of the unnecessary pixels out of the middle here. There might be a tiny bit of distortion on her. If there is, I can't see it, so I'm not going to worry about it. I like that better. I think this is a cleaner composition this way. So, I'm going to hit the Return key to take that. Now, when it does this scaling, it leaves the canvas size at its original size, and because my background color was set to black, it's filled that excess canvas with black.

I don't need that. Fortunately, I still have my selection here. So, I can go up to the Image menu and choose Crop, and that crops my image down to just that selection. So, I'm going to deselect and now I'm ready to think about sharpening. I'm going to go into 100% here, which I can do by hitting Command+1 or Ctrl+1 if you're on Windows. And again, I can see that I really need some sharpening in here. As it came out of Camera RAW, it didn't sharpen up anyway. There are a lot of sharpening filters in Photoshop. If I go here to the Filter menu and down to Sharpen, I see I have Sharpen and Sharp Edges and Sharpen More.

And I have two at the bottom: Unsharp Mask and Smart Sharpen. These are actually variations on the same sharpening algorithm. It used to be that Unsharp Mask was the sharpening mechanism of choice, and that may sound a little counterintuitive that I would sharpen my image by choosing something called Unsharp, but Unsharp masking is actually a term from the darkroom days. It was a technique of creating an unsharp copy of your negative and using it to build a mask that you could use to create this effect that we're going to create digitally. I'm going to choose Smart Sharpen.

Note, there is no dumb sharpen, so you don't have to get confused there. And that brings up this dialog box. Now, what sharpening filters do, for the most part, is they look for an edge in your image, and edges are simply areas of sudden contrast change. Every edge in an image has a dark side and a light side. For example let's find a good representative edge here, the edge of her nose right here. It has this dark side here on the left and a lighter side here on the right. I can increase the acutance of that edge.

I can make that edge more acute if I darken the pixels along the dark side and lighten the pixels along the light side. What this does is it creates a little halo around the edge, and that makes it appear more acute, just simply makes it more visible. That's what this plug-in is already doing. If you look here in this Preview area when I click and hold the mouse button like this, I can see the original image; when I let go, I see the sharpened image. That's before, after, and it's definitely sharpening up some. Now, the danger of sharpening on a high-ISO image--the type of image you're going to be shooting in low light--is you'll be sharpening the noise also.

That's one of the sharpening dangers that we're going to look at. I have two sliders here: Amount, which is simply how much brightening and darkening it's doing on the side of an edge, and Radius, which is how wide that little halo it's painting is. So, if you really want to see what sharpening does, you can get a very good idea by just throwing these settings to their extremes. I'm going to say, add a whole lot of light and dark and make it really, really wide. Now, you could see that as I'm making these changes, it's also applying them to my original image.

Now, you can see what I'm talking about. We're not actually sharpening the image. We're creating this optical illusion. If I don't do it very carefully I end up with an image that looks like this. It looks kind of a color Xerox. Let me back off on this some so we can see a little more of what it's doing. Something's that's not quite so extreme. I'm going to put it about here, and now you can start to see, on this edge right here below her eyes, watch this white area right here. I'm going to pull this up here. This white area right here, as I drag the Radius slider, it's getting less pronounced.

The dark area right here along this edge is getting less pronounced. As I increase it, you can see that that bit of contrast is simply increasing, and that what's making the image appear more sharp. So, let's put these back to where they were. They were around 1 and an Amount of 100%. On an image with noise problems like this, you're typically going to need an amount that's wider than 100%. These are the default settings for Smart Sharpen. So, I'm going to goose that up a little bit higher and I'm going to make the Radius a little bit bigger.

These are fairly aggressive settings and again, that's just because of the noise. But, let's take a look now at before and after. It's not a huge change, but it's like just this veil has been lifted off of it, and that's really going to show up in print. What I don't want to do is push this so far that I can start to see those halos, that I start making my image appear more visibly noisy, either because I'm actually exaggerating the noise in the image or I'm creating a lots of new artifacts. Finally, there's been More Accurate button. If I click that, the sharpening becomes actually more accurate. And it's just doing a more complex algorithm, and it's actually making it a little more aggressive.

It's changing the accuracy of this preview so that I can really see what it's going to look like when I come out. Finally, I've got this Remove pop-up menu here. We're going to talk about that in the next movie. So, I'm feeling pretty good about this. Again, I'm not worried too much about what it looks like here, because this is a down-sampled image. I will want to print the image or do whatever my final output is going to be and judge my sharpness there. Sharpening always happens after sizing, so you will of course have wanted to resize this image to your final output size before you do your sharpening.

So, when you're working with low light, you're typically going to be working at higher ISOs. So, your sharpening settings are probably going to be a little bit different than what you're used to if you're already accustomed to sharpening images of lower ISOs. They are going to need to be a little more aggressive and you are going to need to keep an eye on the noise and make sure that you don't exaggerate it too much.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light
Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

55 video lessons · 37490 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 2m 27s
    1. Welcome
      2m 27s
  2. 6m 20s
    1. What can you shoot in low light?
      2m 17s
    2. What you need for this course
      4m 3s
  3. 28m 54s
    1. Working with exposure parameters in low light
      1m 13s
    2. Working with image sensors in low light
      4m 35s
    3. Working with shutter speed in low light
      3m 3s
    4. Considering motion blur
      1m 14s
    5. Working with ISO in low light
      2m 29s
    6. Assessing your camera's high ISO capability
      4m 52s
    7. Working with in-camera noise reduction
      2m 4s
    8. Working with aperture in low light
      2m 10s
    9. Understanding dynamic range
      2m 2s
    10. Working with color temperature and white balance
      1m 11s
    11. Exposing to the right
      4m 1s
  4. 34m 39s
    1. Introduction
      1m 36s
    2. Talking with Steve Simon about low-light photography
      13m 46s
    3. Shooting by candlelight
      1m 55s
    4. Choosing a mode
      4m 34s
    5. Exploring the role of lens stabilization
      3m 1s
    6. White balance considerations
      3m 27s
    7. Flash considerations
      1m 18s
    8. Problem solving
      1m 35s
    9. Understanding aesthetics and composition
      3m 27s
  5. 30m 4s
    1. Introduction
      2m 20s
    2. Preparing for the shoot
      5m 25s
    3. Act I: adjusting to the light
      3m 48s
    4. Intermission: reviewing the strategy
      1m 53s
    5. Act II: moving to the back of the house
      2m 35s
    6. After the show: lessons learned
      1m 18s
    7. Reviewing the performance images
      12m 45s
  6. 19m 18s
    1. Shooting in the shade
      2m 55s
    2. Street shooting
      2m 52s
    3. Shooting flash portraits at night
      4m 5s
    4. Controlling flash color temperature
      2m 50s
    5. Adjusting exposure to preserve the mood
      2m 34s
    6. Dynamic range considerations
      4m 2s
  7. 41m 0s
    1. Shooting lingering sunsets
      1m 42s
    2. Exploring focusing strategies
      5m 17s
    3. Composing and focusing at night
      10m 42s
    4. Shooting the stars
      9m 27s
    5. Practicing low-light landscape shooting
      9m 55s
    6. Focusing on the horizon in low light
      3m 57s
  8. 13m 4s
    1. Light painting: behind the camera
      7m 34s
    2. Light painting: in front of the camera
      2m 13s
    3. Manipulating long shutter speeds
      3m 17s
  9. 1h 4m
    1. Correcting white balance
      8m 49s
    2. Correcting white balance with a gray card
      3m 50s
    3. Correcting white balance of JPEG images
      2m 0s
    4. Blending exposures with different white balances
      7m 13s
    5. Brightening shadows
      9m 8s
    6. Reducing noise
      7m 44s
    7. Sharpening
      9m 14s
    8. Correcting depth-of-field issues
      9m 32s
    9. Correcting night skies
      6m 39s
  10. 53s
    1. Goodbye
      53s

Start learning today

Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.

Become a member
Sometimes @lynda teaches me how to use a program and sometimes Lynda.com changes my life forever. @JosefShutter
@lynda lynda.com is an absolute life saver when it comes to learning todays software. Definitely recommend it! #higherlearning @Michael_Caraway
@lynda The best thing online! Your database of courses is great! To the mark and very helpful. Thanks! @ru22more
Got to create something yesterday I never thought I could do. #thanks @lynda @Ngventurella
I really do love @lynda as a learning platform. Never stop learning and developing, it’s probably our greatest gift as a species! @soundslikedavid
@lynda just subscribed to lynda.com all I can say its brilliant join now trust me @ButchSamurai
@lynda is an awesome resource. The membership is priceless if you take advantage of it. @diabetic_techie
One of the best decision I made this year. Buy a 1yr subscription to @lynda @cybercaptive
guys lynda.com (@lynda) is the best. So far I’ve learned Java, principles of OO programming, and now learning about MS project @lucasmitchell
Signed back up to @lynda dot com. I’ve missed it!! Proper geeking out right now! #timetolearn #geek @JayGodbold
Share a link to this course

What are exercise files?

Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course. Save time by downloading the author's files instead of setting up your own files, and learn by following along with the instructor.

Can I take this course without the exercise files?

Yes! If you decide you would like the exercise files later, you can upgrade to a premium account any time.

Become a member Download sample files See plans and pricing

Please wait... please wait ...
Upgrade to get access to exercise files.

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Learn by watching, listening, and doing, Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along Premium memberships include access to all exercise files in the library.


Exercise files

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

For additional information on downloading and using exercise files, watch our instructional video or read the instructions in the FAQ.

This course includes free exercise files, so you can practice while you watch the course. To access all the exercise files in our library, become a Premium Member.

Are you sure you want to mark all the videos in this course as unwatched?

This will not affect your course history, your reports, or your certificates of completion for this course.


Mark all as unwatched Cancel

Congratulations

You have completed Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light.

Return to your organization's learning portal to continue training, or close this page.


OK
Become a member to add this course to a playlist

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses—and create as many playlists as you like.

Get started

Already a member?

Become a member to like this course.

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses.

Get started

Already a member?

Exercise files

Learn by watching, listening, and doing! Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along. Exercise files are available with all Premium memberships. Learn more

Get started

Already a Premium member?

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Ask a question

Thanks for contacting us.
You’ll hear from our Customer Service team within 24 hours.

Please enter the text shown below:

The classic layout automatically defaults to the latest Flash Player.

To choose a different player, hold the cursor over your name at the top right of any lynda.com page and choose Site preferencesfrom the dropdown menu.

Continue to classic layout Stay on new layout
Exercise files

Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.

Mark videos as unwatched

Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.

Control your viewing experience

Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.

Interactive transcripts

Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.

Are you sure you want to delete this note?

No

Your file was successfully uploaded.

Thanks for signing up.

We’ll send you a confirmation email shortly.


Sign up and receive emails about lynda.com and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

Keep up with news, tips, and latest courses with emails from lynda.com.

Sign up and receive emails about lynda.com and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

   
submit Lightbox submit clicked
Terms and conditions of use

We've updated our terms and conditions (now called terms of service).Go
Review and accept our updated terms of service.