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Let's take a look at a more difficult sharpening situation here. This is a promotional picture I took for a Improvisational Theater Company in San Francisco, Bay Area Theatresports. We were working on a fairly dark stage, and I wasn't paying good enough attention, I'll admit it. And I was working with a somewhat fast lens, not great, but the camera opened up wide enough that my Depth of Field was shallow enough that the two people in the background went out of focus. So I need to sharpen them and they're full on out of focus.
So I'm not going to get a great level of detail, but I can make them look a little bit better. But they're going to need very different sharpening settings, than the man in the middle. Now, one thing to bear in mind when you're sharpening is to keep an idea on what your final printed output is going out to be. I'm not going to worry about regaining too much fine details, say, in his hair or his eyelashes, because this is an image that's going to be printed probably pretty small in say a weekly newspaper, or a weekly entertainment guide, or something like that.
So I don't need a lot of great detail, and I'm going to pick up some detail from it going small. I think I can make a pop a little more, what I've done now is size this for kind of midsize poster output. I'm going to be printing this out on an 11 x 17 inch piece of paper for display, in a lobby there will be some graphics going around it. So it's going to be fairly big, it does need to be a little bit sharper. But again, this is the kind of thing where people are going to be looking at it from far away, and they're really going to be seeing it to get information about show times and so on and so forth. They're not going to be analyzing fine detail.
So a lot of times acceptable sharpness varies depending on how you're going to output and how the viewer is going to be looking at it, what they're looking at it for. Still I can get this image looking better. So what I need to do is think about my different sharpening needs. He needs to be sharpened, he needs to be sharpened, and she needs to be sharpened, and I'm not sure that she's defocused to the same amount that he is. It looks like maybe she is, so I think maybe I can get away with two sharpening passes, one for the two people in the background and one for him. I'm going to start with the people in the background, because if I can't get them looking good, I'm going to abandon the image.
So I'm going to do that by duplicating my Background layer, and then going to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen just like I always would. I'm going to zoom into 100% here in the background, and you can see that I've got some noise in the image. However, this was shot at 23 mega pixels, so when I'm looking at this at 100%, this noise is not real significant, I'm not going to worry too much about it. The Smart Sharpen dialog box comes in with the last settings that I used, in this case, 112% and a Radius of 1.2 pixels.
Radius is going to be the critical parameter here. If I think about how sharpening works. The way Sharpening filter works is I look for an edge, and I draw a halo around it. Well, in this case, because the image is soft, the edge is going to be very wide. It's going to need a wider halo to create a good strong sharpening effect. Let's turn Preview off, and we can see there's before, there's after. So I'm getting a lot of exaggeration in the noise, I'm going to want to ultimately mask this.
But for now, I want to just crank my Radius up. What I'm going for is an appearance of good, strong lines around his eyes and hands. And I'm thinking it's maybe going to even be that strong. I'm going to back off a little bit down to about 3, and I'm going to keep it right there. Now you may think, wow, that's really looks awful. But again, we're going to mask this. So I'm going to say OK, to take that and then with my Sharpened layer selected, I'm going to go up to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All, and now do that same technique that we saw earlier.
I'm going in with a white paintbrush, and I'm just trying to hit areas where I want some more definition, and you may think, well you're just painting in a bunch of noise. I am, but I'm trusting that that noise isn't going to be super visible when I go out to print. Again, this image is going to be viewed from far away, what I'm ultimately doing is making all of these lines stronger. And maybe I end up there, now I'm going to zoom out, and let me zoom in a little bit so that it's a little bit bigger on your screen, and watch these areas right in here, before, after.
I'm just getting a little more pop on his eyes. Now I could also go in with a finer paintbrush and deal with some of these noise issues, but I'm not going to worry about them too much. I could also, if I wanted, go hit these with some noise reduction, so let's try that. My mask is still in place, so I'm going to go up to Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise. This is going to bring up my Noise Reduction dialog box, and so far I'm not seeing a lot of improvement, so I'm going to increase the Strength, and I'm going to turn down Preserve Details, and here's a before, here's an after. This really isn't getting me anywhere.
Let's turn off the Sharpen Details, that's before, that's after. A little bit of a change, not a lot. So I don't see a huge change here, but again, let's zoom back out a little bit, before, after. I think this is worth trying. I don't know for sure if the noise is acceptable, I'm not going to know until I print. With all of those settings in place, my noise reduction and my sharpening applied to this layer, I can now just do the same thing, I can go and paint here.
Oops, I was actually painting on the layer there, that's not what I want. I want to select my mask and go here and paint sharpness under her eyes, maybe hit her eyebrows, and just hit a few spots around. A lot of times you can create the appearance of a sharper image just by making a few critical lines sharper, the lines that people are really going to see, like her eyes and the edge of her nose can make a big difference. So that's her before and after.
Her eyes are sharper, they're clearer. Yes, they have some more noise, again, I'm not sure it's going to matter. So that has served to sharpen the two people in the background. I'm going to label this Back Sharpen. Now we need to work on him. So I'm going to duplicate my layer again, and go through the same process. This time I will be masking just him. Sharpen > Smart Sharpen, I come in with the settings that are going to be way too aggressive, so I'm going to bump those back down to 100 and may be about 0.9, and I think even 100 is going to be too strong, because this image does have some noise.
So let's see before and after. I pick up a little bit on his eyes, but I'm going to mask this just the same. Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All, and now with some white paint in my layer Mask I can bring his eyes out a little bit more, and maybe I'll hit a few lines here on his nose. Again, these are going to be things that just make a little bit of difference in print, and we get a before and after, that does make his eyes pop a little bit more.
So now what I need to do is do a print, see if the noise levels are acceptable. I can tell you already I have already played with this print and these noise levels are acceptable, but I want you to know that sometimes you have to take your initial noise assessment on faith, do a test print, see if it's really visible or not. So just to sum up here, I've got a few different things going on here. I have this layer here that is sharpening the guy in the middle. I've got this layer here that's sharpening the two people on the edges. The people on the edges had to have a very aggressive sharpening, because they were actually full on out of focus.
Remember, when you've got edges that are very wide, because they're out of focus, you can often bring them back by applying a really wide sharpening radius around them. If I hadn't had the noise problem in this image, that sharpening would have been much more successful. It works here, but I wouldn't have had to mask so carefully, and I wouldn't have been exaggerating noise. Still, this is how far you can go with a sharpening plug-in. You can't take a completely out of focus image and bring it back, but an image that's little to soft in places with some aggressive sharpening, you can get it back to something useful.
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