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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.
In this lesson, I'd like to introduce you to a software product that many photographers find very helpful for sharpening their images. That program is Sharpener Pro from Nik Software. There's no question that Sharpener Pro produces excellent results when sharpening your images. But the primary reason I frequently recommend this product to photographers is that it's easy to use and it helps to make sharpening a bit more approachable. Let me show you some of the basics of using Nik Sharpener Pro. Nik Sharpener Pro does support smart filters. And so, the first thing I'm going to do is convert my image to a smart object, so that I can use smart filters. So, I'll choose Filter, Convert for Smart Filters from the menu, and then click OK to confirm that choice.
At this point, I'm ready to apply my first pass of sharpening and this would be the capture sharpening, to compensate for the loss of sharpness that occurs in the original digital capture. This step should be done as soon as you've converted your raw image. And it's important that if you're going to use this option, that you do not sharpen in your raw conversion. For example, if you're using Adobe Camera Raw, you would want to turn off Sharpening for the images sharpening only the Preview Image. To apply that capture sharpening with Sharpener Pro, we can now choose Filter, Nik Software, and then Sharpener Pro RAW Presharpener.
Shaperner Pro let's me know that because I'm working on a smart filter, which means there will be a layer mask attached to that smart filter, that the brush will not be available, that's no problem. I'll just go ahead and click OK. And the Sharpener dialog appears. You can see that I'm working in a split screen display. The left side shows the image before sharpening and the right side shows the image after sharpening. This makes it quite easy to evaluate the results for the image.
Now, keep in mind that the sharpening applied at this stage of the workflow should be very minimal. This is just compensating for the loss of sharpness in the original capture. So, I don't need to get too sophisticated. I'll work with my Adaptive Sharpening, moving to the left will actually soften the image up a little bit, and moving toward the right will sharpen the image. Think of this as a focus control, essentially. I don't need too much sharpening though. So, I'll tone this down just a little bit. And we can also determine which areas of the image we're going to sharpen.
Do we want to sharpen every area of the image or do we only want to sharpen the edges? Moving toward the right, we'll focus the sharpening on the edges. Moving to the left, we'll sharpen all areas of the image. So, you can adjust as needed. In this case, because I have a lot of detail, a lot of fine texture in the image, I would probably want to sharpen the overall image, rather than focusing only on the edges within that image. I also have an option for image quality. Normal versus High ISO. And this obviously, relates to noise. If I have captured an image at a high ISO setting, I need to be a little bit more careful with the sharpening, due to the issue of noise. I don't want to sharpen the effect of that noise. Of course, you could apply some Noise Reduction before sharpening to help compensate for that as well.
We also have the option to selectively sharpen the image, but for the presharpening, I prefer not to do that. I want to sharpen the overall image equally, so I simply turn that option off or simply don't add any control points. And that's all there is to it. Effectively, I really just need to fine tune two sliders, Adaptive Sharpening and Sharpen Areas, with most of the emphasis on Adaptive Sharpening in order to produce a great result in presharpening this image, compensating for the loss of sharpness that occurred in the original capture.
And as you can see, I think we got a good effect there, where the image over on the right is not looking too crunchy, it just has nice textured detail, compared to the image on the left. The left portion, of course, having no sharpening applied, and the portion on the right having that sharpening applied to it. So, I'll go ahead and click OK. And at this point, I could apply additional adjustments to the image. In this case, I'm not going to worry about any additional adjustments. And so, I'm ready to move onto my next phase of sharpening, which would be Output Sharpening. So, I'll go ahead and choose Filter, Nik Software, and then Sharpener Pro 3 Output Sharpener.
And this will allow me to apply that final output sharpening. Once again, I have the warning about the smart object. I'll go ahead and click OK there. And I'm ready to apply that sharpening. Now, this really shows the strength of Nik Sharpener Pro because it demonstrates just how easy it is to work with Sharpener Pro. You don't really have to know a whole lot about sharpening to be able to put it to use and get great results. We have the option here for what type of sharpening we're applying to the image. Let's assume that we're working with a photo inkjet printer. Now, we have several options and these are plain English, relatively easy to understand, settings, related to that inkjet print. The viewing distance, if someone's going to be viewing the image from a further distance, we could apply more aggressive sharpening. And if they're going to be looking closely at the image, we'll want to be a little bit more careful.
And Nik Sharpener is able to compensate for those differences. We can set a specific distance or leave it set to auto. I'll go ahead and choose the 10 foot option on the assumption that people are going to be fairly far away from the print. And as you can see the sharpening is now much more aggressive. I can also choose what type of paper I'm going to use. And we have quite a few options here. If we use a Matte option, then the sharpening is going to stay relatively strong. Whereas, if we choose a Glossy option, because there won't be quite as much dot gain, then the results will be toned down just a little bit.
And we can also choose the printer resolution. In this case, I'm going to be using a printer that produces output at 2880 by 1440 pixels per inch. And you can see as soon as I chose that option, the sharpening gets toned down just a little bit. I can scroll down to see the additional controls that are available to me. I can apply some creative sharpening, if I want to really enhance the image. I can strengthen that creative sharpening. I can adjust the structure. You can think of this as the level of detail that you want to sharpen. If we reduce structure, then fine details will not be sharpened as much. If we increase this value, then every little nook and cranny is going to have some sharpening applied to it.
I'll go ahead and tone this down just a little bit. And we can also adjust local contrast, so this is like sharpening but happening across a broader distance in terms of the edges in the image. So, think of this as reducing a hazy appearance in the image. And we can also adjust focus and this is a pretty well named control. If I reduce the focus, I'm actually applying a subtle blur to the image. If I increase the focus, I'm increasing the degree of sharpening. In this case, I don't need to go too far with my focus and in fact, I probably can back off on the sharpening strength just a little bit.
And maybe take the focus down even more. Now, certainly if you look at the Preview on the loop, on the left side of our split loop, you'll see an image that appears to be properly focused, it looks sharp. The image on the right certainly looks over-sharpened. And that's our after image, that's the effect that we've actually applied to this image. But keep in mind, I've established settings in Sharpener Pro suggesting that the viewer will be 10 feet or more away from my relatively small print. That means I need to exaggerate the sharpening in order to make sure the effect is visible. If I scroll back up on my list of controls, I could change that viewing distance to, for example, up to two feet and you'll see that the effect is significantly reduced. And that's because people apparently are going to have their noses right up against the print, looking very closely at the fine detail. And so, I need to be very subtle in my overall sharpening. And this is one of the things that I love about Sharpener Pro. I'm able to specify my settings using real world terms. Things that just about any photographer could very easily understand. And I also have the ability to apply Targeted Sharpening or Selective Sharpening.
With this option turned on, I can add a control point. I'll go ahead and click that option, and then click into the image. And now, you can see that I have a control point available. For example, in this case, let's assume that I want to sharpen the eye just a little bit more than the rest of the image. I'm going to move that control point to be centered on the eye. And then, I'll adjust the size with this other slider, so that that circle only encompasses the eye. I can click my downward pointing triangle here to enable addition controls, and then I can choose how much sharpening will be applied to that specific area of the image.
I'll go ahead and max that setting out. I'll increase my structure and I'll also enhance the local contrast and maybe even increase the focus setting. Now, obviously, these are all overly exaggerated settings, but if you take a look at our Loop Preview now at the bottom right, you can see that that's apply a very strong effect. Now, I'm going to then, increase the size and we'll be able to see in this Preview that now, I'm applying that over sharpening effect, that exaggerated sharpening, to a larger area of the image.
So, I'm able to specify exactly where I would the effect to happen within that image. So, in my Loop Preview, I can see the overall effect of the sharpening settings I'm using for this control point. But then, I can change the position of the control point, and also resize the control point, in order to apply that targeted sharpening. In this case, I don't actually need to apply that Selective Sharpening. So, I'll go ahead and turn Selective Sharpening off. I could also choose to delete the control point, if I'd like. Clearly, this Selective Sharpening provides us with a considerable degree of control.
But in most cases, I actually don't find it necessary between the Creative Sharpening and our Output Sharpening options. I actually feel that Sharpener Pro provides us with considerable control, so that we can mitigate sharpening and smoother textured areas, for example, while still getting great results throughout the rest of the image. Once I'm happy with the results here, I can go ahead and click OK, in order to finalize that output sharpening for my image. And again, because of the settings I specified, in this particular case, the image certainly looks a bit over-sharpened on the screen.
But the idea is that this sharpening is ideally suited for the particular output that I've specify. As you've seen in this lesson, Sharpener Pro from Nick Software has a lot to offer the photographer.
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