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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.
We apply sharpening for a variety of reasons, including compensating for softness in the original capture, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal and compensating for softness introduced when the image is printed or otherwise shared. As such, it can be helpful to apply sharpening in multiple passes, with each pass optimized for a particular purpose. Let's take a look at how you can approach multiple pass sharpening. I'm going to start by opening a raw capture, an image that has had absolutely no sharpening applied to it at any stage of the workflow thus far. Well, obviously there has not been much of a workflow so far since the only real tasks have been to capture the image and copy it onto my computer. But the point is that even in the camera itself, no sharpening has been applied to this raw capture.
I'll choose file, open from the menu and I'll choose the raw capture that I'd like to open and then click the open button. This will cause the image to be opened in Adobe camera raw, where I can find tune some of the settings. So for example, maybe warm up the image just a little bit. Warm up the perhaps adjust the exposure to fine tune the white point, and perhaps bring back a little bit of shadow detail by lowering the blacks value, and maybe darken things up just a hair, and I might even enhance a little bit of mid-tone contrast.
I could also apply a clarity adjustment at this point, this would be something of a haze reduce in the image. It's not really sharpening, but it is in a similar vein, so sometimes an image can benefit from a little bit of an increase in clarity. But I really want to focus on at the moment is the sharpening settings for my raw conversion. So I'm going to go to the detail panel. And here, we can see my sharpening settings. I can adjust the amount, radius, detail, and masking. And of course, I will want to use a preview of the effect.
So I'm going to hold the alt key on windows, or the option key on MacIntosh. Now, keep in mind that, as I hold the alter option key, and adjust each of the settings here. That I want to remember that I'm really only trying to compensate for the loss of sharpness that occurred in the original capture. In this particular case, I want to enhance a fair amount of detail, but I don't want to overdo it, so I'm going to use very modest settingsUNKNOWN A very low radius value and that will cause very very tiny halos within the image.
That looks to be pretty good, and a modest amount. If I zoom in on the image, I'll set my image to the 100 percent zoom setting, and then turn the preview off and on, you can see that I'm just enhancing texture a little bit. And in fact I'm enhancing texture in areas that are smooth which I'd really rather avoid. So I'll use my masking slider, just increase that value so that we're not going to apply sharpening in those smoothest areas of the image. And now we'll turn the Preview off and on, and that looks to be quite a bit better so I'm just applying a very subtle affect to the image.
Just compensating a bit for the sharpness that was lost in the original capture. I can then open the image in Photoshop. I'll go ahead and click the Open Image button, and now I'm ready to continue working with this image in Photoshop. So I might apply a few adjustments. For example let's say that I was going to increase the vibrance just a little bit to help. Bring up some of the color intensity there. And maybe I wanted to add a curve's adjustment in order to enhance contrast just a little bit. Whatever adjustments I'd like to apply, I could certainly apply at this stage of the game.
But I could also apply some creative sharpening if I'd like. Something of a, an aesthetic sharpening effect I'll go ahead and click on my background image layer, and then I'm going to choose filter, convert for smart filters so that I can convert the background image layer into a smart object which allows me to apply smart filters. I'll then choose filter, sharpen, and then smart sharpen in order to apply a bit of a creative sharpening effect. I'll leave the more detail option turned off.
I'll certainly reduce the amount significantly, and in this case, I want to focus on the finer details within the image, so I'll use a relatively low radius setting and a moderately high amount setting. I'm just trying to produce a more interesting result And I think this portion of the image actually, where the knot in the wood appears is a very good example of an area that I would evaluate. If I click and hold, I'll see the image appears a little soft, and if I release, the image looks nice and sharp. So I think this a great result for this particular image.
I'll go ahead and click Okay. So now presumably I have an image that's optimized and I'm ready to share. In this case I haven't really done all the work that I might otherwise do for example I might do a little bit of rotation and cropping in order to straighten the top of the railing and I might apply additional adjustments as I see fit, but the point is we're going to assume at this point that the image is ready to prepare for it's final output. I will of course want to save the result so I'll choose file save from the menu and because I have not yet saved this with my layers intact, and it was a raw conversion, I need to tell Photoshop where and with what file name I want to save the image. In this case I'll leave the file in the same location as the original raw capture saving it as a Photoshop psd or a tiff file, in this case I'll just use Photoshop PSD so that I can keep all of my layers intact for greatest flexibility.
And now I can prepare the image for it's final output. I'll go ahead and choose image and duplicate from the menu, and I will turn on the duplicate and merge layers only check box so that the resulting copy will be flattened. And I'll go ahead and click okay. I can close the original comfortable that it is safely stored on my hard drive with all of the layers in tact. I can then re-size this image. I'll choose image, image size from the menu. I'll set the output resolution in this case assuming an offset press printing for a book project, 300 pixels per inch, and a width of eight inches.
And I'll go ahead and click OK. The image is now re-sized, and so I'm ready to sharpen for the final output. And here, because I'm printing to an offset press printer, I'm going to send this to a commercial printer for printing, I'll want to apply some relatively aggressive sharpening. We want to choose filter, sharpen, and then smart sharpen, and I'll use a relatively high radius. In the case of offset press printing, very often about two or three pixels, and an amount probably somewhere in the vicinity of 100. Now, if you look at the before versus the after.
This is something that you'd probably consider to be relatively strong sharpening. Let's go take a look at that knot in the wood again, for example. And you can see it's a relatively strong application of sharpening. But this is going to help compensate for dot gain in the final print. So it will help produce the very best result in that print. I'll go ahead and click okay, and now I'm ready to save this image as a tiff file to send off to the printer so they can produce a print with optimal results. There are very good reasons for applying sharpening at different stages of your workflow, especially considering the different reasons we apply sharpening in the first place. That's it.
More isn't always better. Remember the sharpening can cause all artifacts and problems in the images. And applying multiple passes of sharpening only increases the risk. If you're going to apply sharpening in multiple passes, you'll want to be sure to keep each pass of sharpening relatively subtle, so that the final result isn't over sharpened.
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