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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 we're going to explore some creative possibilities when it comes to sharpening an image. I love some of the textures caused by the play of light in the photograph of an egret flying at sunrise. I'd like to enhance some of those textures to add a bit more pop to the image. Let's take a look at how we can approach this. First of I's like to enhance the water just a little bit. I don't want to go too crazy with it but I do want to add some contrast. I want to give it a little bit more texture, a little more detail. And I think the process of applying a local contrast enhancement with the high pass filter my produce a great result. So I'm going to create a copy of my background image layer. Now I'll just drag the from layer for the background image layer down to the create new layer button.
The blank sheet of paper icon at the bottom of the layer's panel. And now I'm going to change the blend mode for this background copy layer to overlay. This will give me some interesting contrast, not a great result but of course there's still one step to be applied and that is to apply the high pass filter. So I'll choose filter, and then other, and high pass from the menu. I can then adjust the settings here, now I tend to apply a radius of around ten pixels in most cases.
If we go too high, then the contrast becomes a bit stronger, and it gets spread out across a larger area in terms of the edges within the image. And if I go too low, then I'm getting a very subtle effect that is sort of like sharpening but at a very, very small degree. And so usually somewhere around ten pixels seems to produce a very good result in most cases. But in this case I think I'm going to go a bit higher up. I'm going to take this a bit further so that I could really enhance some of those reflections and textures in the water.
So in this case it looks like 25 pixels it might be pretty good. I like the effect up at the top, it's a little bit strong here. But I think what I'm going to do, because I like the overall effect, is leave that radius at about 25 pixels, and then reduce the opacity of my background copy layer. I'll go head and click okay, and then will reduce the opacity for that background copy layer, so that we're not having quite as strong an effect. So I still have the large radius, so I'm getting nice, big glows around all these shapes in the water. But it's not as strong as it had been initially.
Now I can also use the layer mask in order of focus this effect only in certain areas of the image. And in this case, I think that's probably necessary to reduce the effect for the bird itself. But first I want to rename this layer so that I can keep better track of the layers here. I'll double-click my background copy layers title. And lets just call this local contrast enhancement. There we go. And now I can add a layer mask to this image layer. I'll go ahead and click the Add Layer Mask button, the circle inside of a square icon at the bottom of layers panel.
And then I'll choose my brush tool, and I'm going to set my colors to their defaults by pressing the letter D. So that, since we're working with a layer mask, white is the foreground and black is the background. And then I'll press the letter X to switch the foreground and background colors. So that now black is my foreground color. I'm working with a soft edge brush. The normal blend mode for the brush, 100% opacity. I'll go ahead and adjust the brush size using the left and right square bracket keys. Left square bracket for a smaller brush, and right square bracket for a larger brush.
And then I'll paint with black over the bird so that I can eliminate that contrast enhancement in those areas. Now because of the affect of that local contrast enhancement, I don't have to be especially careful, keep in mind that the local contrast enhancement happens across a relatively broad area within the image. And so using a soft edge brush I'm able to blend that layer mask pretty effectively, so that, as you can see when I turn this layer off and on I'm adding that enhancement to the background but not to the bird.
That's looking pretty cool. I've left it in place, the contrast enhancement that is, for the water droplets that are flying up. To me that sort of feels like part of the water, obviously, and so here it's looking pretty good. It's almost got this electric effect, which I'm actually kind of liking. I can then focus my attention on the bird itself, and for that I'm going to use a smart filter. So I'll choose my background image layer and then choose filter, convert for smart filters, and I'll click ok, so now my background image layer becomes a smart object.
So now, when I choose filter, sharpen and then smart sharpen, I'm able to apply that filter as a smart filter so that I have a bit more control. I can always come back and refine the process later. Now, I'm going to use a relatively large radius setting and a relatively high amount. I want to create sort of an overexaggerated sharpening effect here. And that will give me a really good enhacement of some of those textures in the wings. It really make it look a bit more luminous with the light coming through the translucent wings and the reflections with the water causing that ripply sort of lighting effect on the wings.
I think that will be very, very nice. So in particular I'm focusing on this lower portion of the bird's left wing and that looks to me pretty good. I'll go ahead and click okay. Of course, this effect is a bit too much for most of the image. So I'm going to once again want to use a layer mask in order to focus this sharpening effect to specific areas of the image. Only those areas of the image where I actually want the effect to be visible. Because a smart filter automatically comes with a layer mask I don't even need to add a layer mask.
I'll simply click on my smart filter. Now I only want to apply this sharpening effect to a relatively small portion of the image. And so rather than starting with white layer mass where the effect is visible everywhere in the image, I want to start with a black layer mass, so that the effect is not visible anywhere and I can then paint it in where I want it. So, with the layer mass active, I'll go ahead and choose edit fill from the menu. I'll set black as my use value and click okay. And you can see that layer mass is now filled with black.
So the sharpening effect is not seen anywhere in the image. I can now paint with white to reveal that sharpening effect anywhere I's like it. I already have my brush tool selected. All simple press the letter x to switch the foreground and background colors so that white is my foreground color, and I'll zoom in a bit on the wing of the bird for example, and now I can paint my sharpening effect into this portion of the image. Just painting with white in order to reveal the effect in those areas of the image, and as I turn the filter effects off and on you can see that I'm only enhancing the sharpening effect, giving that light a little bit more luminous quality.
In these particular areas of the image in this case, just that wing. I'll zoom out just a little bit and take a look at the other wing, I think it could probably use an enhancement. So once again making sure that I'm working on the layer mask associated with my smart filters, adjusting the brush size as needed, and then painting within the image and in additional areas, that I'd like to enhance. So, I'm focusing mostly on the wings of the bird here, trying to enhance the play of light found in those portions of the image on the, the bird itself. And maybe even the tail feathers just a little bit, add some enhancement there. And perhaps the feet of the bird.
And I might even add just a little bit more enhancement into those water droplets, just to really make them sort of jump out. It's a very dynamic part of the image. And we take a look at our progress here. Zooming out on the image, and I can see once again there is my overall effect for the background with that high-pass filter. And here we have the effect of sharpening, just some portions of the bird itself with an evinces on the wings of the bird where we get that play of light. By thinking about sharpening as a way to apply a creative enhancement to an image, we're able to produce an interesting creative effect with a filter you might otherwise think of as being a bit pedestrian.
As you've seen in this lesson, by blending a couple of different sharpening techniques, along with the use of a layer mask, you can produce a great creative result.
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