Optimal Output with Photoshop CS6
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Optimal Output with Photoshop CS6

with Tim Grey

Video: Sharpening with Unsharp Mask

I almost always use Smart Sharpen, rather than Unsharp Mask to apply sharpening to my images. But in some cases, I'll actually utilize Unsharp Mask, even though in theory, Smart Sharpen is considerably smarter. No pun intended. I'll go ahead and apply sharpening to this image. I'll choose Filter, and then Sharpen, followed by Unsharp Mask from the menu to bring up the Unsharp Mask dialog. I'll go ahead and click on an area that contains a reasonable amount of detail. And then I'll apply some very, very strong sharpening, so we can see a clear effect in the image. I'll increase the amount actually to the maximum value of 500. And we'll adjust the radius, right about there, looks like it will give us a good sense of what's going on in the image.

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Watch the Online Video Course Optimal Output with Photoshop CS6
2h 4m Beginner Apr 23, 2012

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In this advanced workshop Tim Grey delves into some of the finer points of creating top-quality output of your digital images. First, get an introduction to color management, which is absolutely crucial to maintaining consistent colors throughout your workflow. Tim then takes an in-depth look at the topic of sharpening—when and how to do it, as well as when not to—and covers some advanced sharpening techniques. He also offers tips for printing your photos, exploring both the relevant settings in Adobe Photoshop and those you're likely to find in your printer driver. Finally, he discusses troubleshooting suboptimal output—i.e., when something goes wrong, figuring out what happened and how to fix it. If you spend a lot of time optimizing your images, this workshop will help you make sure all that effort is reflected in the quality of your output.

Topics include:
  • Getting started with color management
  • Early-workflow sharpening
  • Output preparation
  • When not to sharpen
  • Advanced sharpening techniques
  • Printing a photo
Subjects:
Photography video2brain
Software:
Photoshop
Author:
Tim Grey

Sharpening with Unsharp Mask

I almost always use Smart Sharpen, rather than Unsharp Mask to apply sharpening to my images. But in some cases, I'll actually utilize Unsharp Mask, even though in theory, Smart Sharpen is considerably smarter. No pun intended. I'll go ahead and apply sharpening to this image. I'll choose Filter, and then Sharpen, followed by Unsharp Mask from the menu to bring up the Unsharp Mask dialog. I'll go ahead and click on an area that contains a reasonable amount of detail. And then I'll apply some very, very strong sharpening, so we can see a clear effect in the image. I'll increase the amount actually to the maximum value of 500. And we'll adjust the radius, right about there, looks like it will give us a good sense of what's going on in the image.

You can see I have very strong haloing due to the large radius. And of course, those halos are very high in contrast, due to the high amount setting. But what I really want to show you is the threshold feature. The Smart Sharpen filter does not include a threshold setting, because in large part, it's applying the effect automatically. But that means you don't have quite as much control as you might be able to apply with Unsharp Mask. In particular, threshold allows you to make sure that smooth areas of the image remain smooth. So the sky for example, I'll go ahead an Zoom in on the photo itself so that we can get a better sense of the effect. You can see that the sky is looking very, very pixellated. But if I increase threshold the sky will remain smooth. The reason for that is that we're able to specify the threshold below which no sharpening will be applied.

At the moment I have the value set to 23 levels. Which means, if pixels have less than 23 tonal levels difference between them, then sharpening will not be applied. The sky obviously, is rather smooth in texture. There's not a lot of variation between individual pixels and so raising that threshold causes sharpening to not be applied in that area, retaining the smooth appearance. In most cases you don't need a very high threshold setting, around four to eight levels will usually produce a good result.

Keeping smooth areas of the image smooth. It will vary a little bit depending on the subject of your photo of course. But generally speaking you don't need too much. And if I reduce the amount in radius to more appropriate levels, then you'll see that sure enough, the sky looks just fine while the rest of the image is getting a bit of a Sharpening effect. I'll go ahead and turn on and off the Preview check box. And you can see the surface of El Capitan here is getting sharpened a little bit, but the sky remains smooth. In terms of setting the amount in radius , those are essentially the same as in Smart Sharpen. The radius determines the size of the halo being added, and the amount determines the intensity of that halo.

That halo, the contrast enhancement along edges in the photo, is what determines how much of an effect you're going to see as far as sharpening. In most cases I'll use a relatively small radius, maybe around one pixel, except in images that have an especially smooth gradation of tonal values in their texture areas. But for images with a relatively high degree of detail, I'll usually use a value of around one pixel or even a little bit less. For the amount setting, I'll generally work somewhere around 75 to 100 pixels on the low end up to maybe as much as 150 to 200 pixels on the high end. It will once again depend upon the image.

But the idea is to apply just enough sharpening to produce a good sharp image, without creating artifacts or other problems. With the threshold value increased a little bit of course, we're not going to see quite as much of a Sharpening effect especially in the smooth areas of the photo. And so that can help us in terms of improving our final result. But again, the key in Unsharp Mask is that ability to apply a threshold, to mitigate sharpening in areas of relatively smooth texture so that you're retaining that smooth texture. In this case, I think I have pretty good settings for this image, so I'll go ahead and click OK to apply that sharpening, and I'm ready to print this image.

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