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Sharpness is a very subjective thing, and the amount of acceptable sharpness can really vary from image to image. So I can't give you a simple recipe for sharpening, instead you need to develop an eye and an aesthetic for what makes good sharpening and learn to adjust your sharpening settings accordingly for each image, and that's what we are going to spend the rest of this chapter exploring. Right now, I want to talk about when you sharpen. As mentioned before, if you're shooting JPEG, your camera might already have sharpened your image enough so you may not need another sharpening step.
If you're shooting RAW, then your images will be soft straight out of the camera. Photoshop Camera Raw provides a sharpening control that allows you to apply a very small amount of sharpening to make up for what gets lost to the filter that sits in front of your camera's image sensor. However, this sharpening control isn't really enough to get your image sharpened all the way to print. You'll use it when processing your image in Camera Raw and then you'll perform the rest of your edits and then you'll perform a final sharpening after you resize. We size the image before we sharpen for a very simple reason.
As you saw earlier a sharpening filter works by increasing the contrast along the edges of your image. This contrast increase is achieved by creating dark and light halos around each edge in your image and these halos have a specific width. If they're too wide, then your image appears over-sharpened. If they're not wide enough, then you won't see a great increase in sharpness in your image. The problem with sharpening before you resize is that the resizing operation will change the width of these halos. For example, if you enlarge an image the halos might get wider as the image scales up and the resulting width may not make for good sharpness.
Similarly, if you scale down, the halos may get shrunk or even eliminated leaving an image that isn't properly sharpened, or maybe, not even sharpened at all. That's why earlier I recommended that when resizing you always set your image to your printer's native resolution. This will keep the printer from scaling your image and thus prevent the possibility of your sharpening halos being altered into widths that no longer provide a good sharpening effect. Also, if you're scaling an image down, that downsampling process may result in a slight sharpening of your image, so you want to do that downsampling before you sharpen, because you may find that your sharpening needs go down as you decrease the size of your image.
So for raw shooters we have two different sharpening passes, the first one is a slight sharpening in Camera Raw and the second is a more aggressive sharpening that occurs after you resize your image. But there's a third sharpening step that you might want to apply. So far both of the sharpening steps I've been describing are global sharpenings, that is they are applied to the entire image. Depending on your picture you might want to apply an additional selective sharpening pass wherein you will sharpen some parts of the image independently. For example, let's say you're working on a portrait, and it's a little soft, but your subject has very wrinkly skin.
If you sharpen the entire image equally, you're going to exaggerate the wrinkles, which you may not want to do. So in this case, you'd use a selective sharpening pass to sharpen just the eyes and maybe their hair, which would leave their skin alone. Or, maybe you have a lowlight image that has a lot of noise in the shadows, sharpening can really exaggerate noise. So you might want to choose to add a selective sharpening pass, which would let you sharpen the brightly lit areas, but leave those noisy shadows alone. So if you're a raw shooter, you will apply light sharpening in your raw converter, then probably a global sharpening pass later to sharpen up the image and maybe then a selective sharpening pass to improve specific areas in the image.
If you're a JPEG shooter, you might not need any sharpening at all, or as we discussed previously, you might be able to turn your sharpening settings down and regain many of the same sharpening options that raw shooters have.
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