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When an image is formed by the camera lens its focus is defined. The moment you press the shutter release, you accept that focus and store it as a permanent attribute of the photograph. If the photograph is slightly out of focus, it stays out of focus. No postprocessing solution can build more clearly defined edges than what the camera actually captured or fill in missing or murky detail. So how can I do a chapter on sharpening an image? By faking it. Well. I won't be faking it. I'll be completely sincere. You'll be faking it and with Photoshop's help.
Although Photoshop can't reach back into your camera and adjust the lens element for a better shot, it can simulate the appearance of enhanced focus by comparing neighboring pixels and increasing the amount of contrast between those pixels that trace the already existing edges. Your brain thinks it perceives a differently focused image, but really it sees an exaggerated version of the focus that was already there. But so what if it's a contrast trick? Does that say anything less of Photoshop's sharpening capabilities? Not to my way of thinking. After all photography itself is a trick that simulates reality, very specifically geared to human eyes and brains.
If Photoshop sharpening augments that trick, more power to it. I just want you to know what you're doing. After all, the magician who truly understands his bag of tricks is better equipped to perform magic and sharpening magic, or at the very least parlor trickery, is what this chapter is all about.
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