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Every image shot with a digital camera needs to be sharpened. This is because there is a filter that sits directly in front of the camera's image sensor, and that filter cuts out some infrared light to help improve color reproduction. It also blurs your image a tiny little bit to reduce stair stepping, those little patterns that can appear on diagonal lines in your image. It's a necessary part of capturing a good digital image, and it means that sharpening is a necessary step in postproduction. Now if you are shooting JPEG, then your camera will perform some sharpening internally.
And you can most likely adjust the level of sharpening from the camera's menus. After you watch the next few videos, you may find you have a different aesthetic for sharpening, and so you might want to fiddle with your JPEG sharpening settings. If you're shooting RAW, then there is no sharpening applied by the camera. This means that it is up to you to get your image properly sharpened before you print. Fortunately, Photoshop has very good Sharpening tools built in. Now here's the bad news: sharpening an image is not actually possible. So this might lead you to think if it's not actually possible, couldn't this chapter be a little bit shorter? What I mean when I say it's impossible is that you cannot take an image that's out of focus--or soft--and make it in focus and sharp.
There's simply no substitute for good focus and correct shutter speed. So don't slack off on those skills just because you have commands in your Image Editor labeled Sharpen. Sharpening software doesn't actually increase the sharpness of an image. Rather, it simply makes an image appear to be sharper. Now that might seem like treacherous philosophical ground to head into. Is an image really sharp if it merely looks sharp? And if it look sharp, what's the problem? It's important for you to understand that sharpening tools don't actually sharpen, they just create kind of an optical illusion.
If you don't understand this, you can misuse your sharpening tools and dramatically degrade your image. Here is what sharpening software does. Every edge in an image has a dark side and a light side. Really, all an edge is is an area of well-defined contrast. The softer edge has less contrast. You don't see a sudden change from light to dark. Sharpening software works by going through your image and finding areas of sudden contrast change. It's pretty safe to assume that at a sudden contrast change you've got an edge.
When it finds one of those areas it darkens the dark side of the edge, and it lightens the light side of the edge. That makes the edge more acute. In fact, sharpening software isn't so much a software that sharpens an image but that increases the acutance of the edges in the image. When it is applied well, this increase in edge contrast, this boost of acutance can make for a dramatic improvement in the sense of overall sharpness in the image. When it's applied poorly, though, the increase in localized contrast around every edge in the image can yield a result that looks garish and busy.
Over-sharpening is a common problem amongst beginning printers, and it's one that you want to be very careful to avoid. Note that in this image we're seeing here every edge has a visible halo around it. Over time your eye will become very sensitive to sharpening halos, and you'll learn to walk that fine line between an edge that's more acute and one that's got an unnatural halo around it. In general, I find it is always better to err on the side of slightly soft than to go anywhere near the realm of over-sharpened halo. In the rest of this chapter we're going to look at exactly how you apply sharpening.
The first question, though, is when you apply it in your workflow?
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