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Normally, sharpening is something that happens at the end of your workflow, but if you're shooting Raw, there is a sharpening step that you may want to take at the beginning of your workflow. As I mentioned earlier, an inherent part of digital capture is a softening of your image, there is actually a filter that sits in front of your camera's image sensor that slightly blurs your image. Now, if you're shooting JPEG, your camera will actually add a little sharpening to your image to make up for this. If you're shooting Raw though, you need to, possibly, add this yourself in Camera Raw.
So I've got a Raw image here that I've already done some tonal adjustments to, I want to zoom in here to 100%--when sharpening, we always look at our image at 100% it's one of the few situations where we do need to assess things on a pixel by pixel basis--and I'm going to go over here to the Detail tab, which gives me two sets of controls, one for Sharpening and one for Noise Reduction. By default, Camera Raw opens up with these sharpening settings, I'm going to just turn them off for a moment, and as I do, I want to issue a big disclaimer here for all of the sharpening movies in this chapter, I'm not really sure how much sharpening you're going to be able to see in these movies.
I'm going to be trying to show you some before and after stuff and while it's very obvious on my screen, you're going to be looking at a smaller image than what I am seeing here. And when the images are shrunk during the post production of these movies, they're going to pick up some sharpness, anytime you shrink an image, you actually get an increase in apparent sharpness, because you're inherently reducing the width of the edges, and that usually makes them sharper. So some of these before and afters you may not actually be able to see, but I think if you try these things on your own images, you'll see pretty much the same results I am getting here.
I have dragged this to 0, and this is pretty typical of the type of softness you're going to get out of a Raw image, I'm just going to put this back to the default value and right away on my screen I see a tiny bit of sharpening increase. Now, these sharpening controls here really are just like the unsharp mask and smart sharpen filters that you'll find in Photoshop, they use the same process that I discussed earlier in this chapter. They're finding edges and darkening the dark side of the edge, lightning the light side of the edge to create an edge that is more acute.
So it's doing that same process, but it's doing a really, really gentle version of it. Watch what happens if I drag the Amount slider all the way over to the right. Now on my screen I can see an increase in sharpness, than actually it's a little over sharpened I'm seeing noisy patterns being exaggerated in here in her skin tones. This though is much less of over-sharpening effect, than what I would get with an unsharp mask or smart sharpen filter. So these sharpening controls are very, very gentle.
The control themselves work just the way unsharp mask does. Amount simply controls how much darkening and lightning is applied to an edge in the image. Radius controls how wide that edge is. Detail is something you won't typically find in an unsharp mask filter, it's letting me control what level of detail in the image is getting sharpened. So this is a nice slider to just play with, you'll get a sense that maybe fine details are getting more sharpening if I crank it up, less if I leave it alone.
Masking is going to attempt to do automatically something we're going to do manually later, which is, it's going to attempt to not sharpen some areas of the image. For example, it's going to apply more sharpening here around her eyelashes, than it is on this less texture skin tone here that will help keep the skin tone from getting over-sharpened. But again, all of these controls are very, very gentle. I typically leave the Camera Raw Sharpening settings set to their default values, because I think they had a nice level of additional sharpness without going too far and the bulk of my sharpening will still be performed later in my workflow.
If an image is very, very soft, I might need to increase the sharpening, and what I will typically do there is increase the Amount a little bit and then widen the Radius, because softer images need a wider Radius. But as I'm going to say over and over throughout this chapter, it's always better to err on the side of not enough sharpening, rather than risk over-sharpening an image. So, slightly soft image is to my eye, much preferable to an image that has been over-sharpened. Now there is another setting here in Camera Raw that we want to take a look at.
I'm going to go over here to the Preferences for Camera Raw. Again, these are Camera Raw Preferences, not Photoshop Preferences. I got them by clicking this button right here. And if you look here in the General section, Apply sharpening to All images or Preview images only. If you're going to be really cautious about sharpening, you could choose these to Preview images only, and what that means is that it's going to show me the sharpening settings here in my Preview window, but not actually apply them. The idea there is I can see a preview of sharpening without actually damaging my image.
As you sharpen, you increase contrast in the image, so sometimes it can be a little confusing to know exactly how much contrast to put into an image, because you know that you're going to sharpen it later, and that might increase the contrast further. So this is a way of getting a preview of sharpening so that you can truly assess contrast and then you can, later in your workflow, apply your actual sharpening pass. To be honest, I never use that feature. I leave Apply sharpening set to All images, I work carefully with my sharpening settings here, leaving them set a little bit low and then I do a stronger sharpening pass later which we're going to see.
Notice I've zoomed in here to her eye, in a portrait it's the eyes that are really critical. I can also see some hair here, we're going to want those details to be right, that's why I'm looking at this area, while I set my sharpening settings. I'm going to leave them like this, we're going to have a lot more sharpening passes on this image as we move through this chapter. But right now I think this is pretty much right for my Camera Raw settings. As I said before these are pretty typically the settings I use for most Raw images, so I don't spend a lot of time coming in here into the Details tab and finessing it, but it's a good idea to understand why it's there, how it works, and why you need sharpening at this stage of your workflow.
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