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Virtually all digital images need some degree of sharpening to look their best, but it's not always easy to find the right way to go about it. This workshop from leading Adobe Photoshop expert Tim Grey dispels many myths and misunderstandings about sharpening, teaches you the underlying concepts involved in sharpening, shows you a wide variety of methods you can use to apply sharpening, and helps you determine which technique is best for a given image. In addition to Photoshop's native sharpening tools, learn how to make use of the options available in Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, and third-party plugins like Nik Sharpener Pro and PhotoKit Sharpener. The workshop concludes with several projects designed to help reinforce your knowledge of sharpening. See how to apply sharpening and softening to different areas of an image, apply creative sharpening to specific areas, and sharpen a black-and-white image.
The Develop module in Lightroom includes sharpening settings that are aimed at compensating for softness in the original capture, rather than preparing an image for final output. This creates a two-pass sharpening process, with sharpening in the Develop module being the first pass that focuses on optimizing the appearance of the baseline image. In this lesson we'll take a look at how this sharpening can be applied in Lightroom. I've selected the image I want to work with and so I'll go to the Develop Module in order to apply sharpening to this image.
On the right panel, I can scroll down to the Detail section and this includes my sharpening options. You can see we have a preview here. That preview is at 100%, so that we can get the most accurate view of the sharpening effect. And we can see, in this case, the entire image. I could, of course, zoom in on the image. But in general, I'll leave the image set to fit the screen, so that I can easily navigate around as I evaluate different areas of the image while fine tuning my sharpening settings.
Below the preview image, you can see that we have controls for amount, radius, detail, and masking. The Amount slider determines the intensity of the sharpening effect. The more you increase this value, the brighter the halos around the edges of objects will appear. The radius determines the size of those halos. Generally speaking, we'll want to use a relatively small radius for most images. Of course, it will vary depending upon the nature of the image.
If the image contains a lot of fine detail, we'll use a very low radius, typically around 1.0 or even lower. For images where the detail transitions over a little bit larger area, in other words, not a tremendous amount of fine detail, we use a larger radius setting, typically somewhere between about two and three. The relationship between radius and amount is inverse. The smaller the radius, the higher the amount can be. And the higher the radius, the lower the amount needs to be. Let's take a look at the effect in an actual image.
I'll go ahead and increase the radius significantly and I'll increase amount significantly as well. And you can see that we have some very clear halos within the image. The image is looking a bit crunchy at this point. I'll turn off the preview for the detail adjustments, and you can see the image before sharpening. And if I turn it back on, you'll see the effect after sharpening. If I reduce the radius, you'll see that those halos, are considerably smaller. And if I reduce the amount, you'll see that they're no longer quite as bright.
It's important to be aware of the effect of a mount and radius since those are the key controls we're using to adjust the overall sharpening. Fortunately, light room provides some previews that make it even easier to fine tune this adjustment. I'll go ahead and hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh, and then adjust the amount slider. You can see the preview changes to a black and white version of the image, which helps us focus on the actual effect of the Amount slider.
If I move the slider to the left, you see that there is not as much intensity in the contrast being added along edges in the image. And if I increase the slider amount, you'll see that there's quite a bit of contrast being added. I'll leave the amount sent artificially high just so that we can better see the effect of our other controls here. Once again, I'll hold the Alt or Option key, Alt key on Windows and Option key on Macintosh, while adjusting the radius. Now we get something of an embossed view of the image, allowing us to see exactly how far out from each edge we're effecting with our sharpening. As I increase the radius setting you can see that he effect is broadening out beyond the edges of objects within the image.
If I reduce the radius setting, you can see that I'm not having an effect in as wide an area for my overall sharpening. I can also adjust the detail and Masking sliders in order to mitigate the effect of sharpening in specific areas of the image. And once again we can hold the Alt or Option key in order to preview the effect. With the Detail slider, if we hold the Alt or Option key while adjusting the slider, you can see the degree of detail that's being affected by the sharpening.
As I increase the detail slider, you'll see that more and more detail is being affected. As I reduce the slider, fewer details are being affected. If you're familiar with the threshold setting for the Unsharp Mask filter in Photoshop, the detail slider is very similar. Moving the slider to the left is very much like increasing the value for threshold in Unsharp Mask. It mitigates the effects of sharpening in areas of smooth texture. So, if you're working on an image that has an area of smooth texture, and you want to retain that smooth texture, you may want to reduce the detail slider value.
If you have an image with tremendous amounts of fine detail, and you really want to accentuate that detail, then you may want to increase that detail for the Detail slider. Finally, we have a masking slider. And this allows us to focus the sharpening only on the actual contrast edges within the image. And once again we have our preview option, so I'll hold the Alt or Option key and increase the value for masking. You can see that by increasing the masking value, I'm creating a mask for the image. Areas that are white will be sharpened and areas that are black will not be sharpened.
I'll leave this option set to its maximum value and then zoom-out on the image, and once again hold the Alt or Option key while adjusting the masking value, in order to give you a better sense of the effect. You can see that only the high contrast edges within the image will be sharpened with this setting. If I reduce the value, you'll see that sharpening is applied to ever greater areas of detail within the image. With a high masking value, of course, since I'm focusing on just the high contrast edges within the image, I could actually get away with a higher amount and radius setting. In other words, I can focus the sharpening on only the edges within the image and then be a little bit more aggressive with that sharpening. The key is to pay careful attention to the image and adjust your settings for all four of these sliders to produce the best result for that particular image. As you're working on your image you can preview different areas in order to evaluate the settings in multiple different areas. Fro example, taking a look at how you're affecting high detail versus low detail areas of the image.
To change the preview area, you could simply click and drag in that preview area to change which portion of the image you're looking at. But you can also click the target button here and then move over the image to find the area you'd like to focus on. And when you find the area that you want to work with, simply click on that area, and it will become the focus of the preview for sharpening. By focusing careful attention on your image, you can apply sharpening in the developed module of Lightroom to compensate for softness in the original capture and even to apply a bit of a creative effect. This sharpening provides you with a good starting point for any output, and of course, you can apply additional sharpening during the output process.
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