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Sharpening, by it's nature, increases contrast along edges in your photos. But sometimes that contrast can be a bit much. In situations where you want to be able to apply relatively strong sharpening without clipping areas to pure black or white, the advanced blending options can provide a solution. Let's take a look at how it's done. This technique requires that we work on a duplicate copy of our background image layer. So, I'm going to drag the thumbnail for my background image layer down to the create new layer button, the blank sheet of paper icon at the bottom of the layers panel.
This will create a background copy that I can work with to apply my sharpening. I'll then go ahead and choose Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. And this will bring up the Smart Sharpen dialog. In this case, I'm going to over exaggerate the sharpening settings. Just so that we can get a better sense of exactly what's happening. Now keep in mind, normally I would work with more moderate sharpening settings. But I'll go ahead and increase these rather dramatically. We'll use a maximum amount of 500 and, in fact, I'll make the radius just a little bit larger, so we can very clearly see some areas that are getting blown out.
For example, here on the windshield wiper of the car, if I click to show the before, and then release to show the after, you can see that I'm causing additional detail to be lost. I'm clipping some areas to pure black and some areas to appear white. Again, this is an exaggerated sharpening effect, but it will help us see better what's going on with the next step. I'll go ahead and click OK. And now I want to adjust my settings for this layer, so that we hide the brightest and darkest areas of the image.
I'm going to go ahead and zoom in on that portion of the windshield wiper, and then I'll double-click on the thumbnail for my background copy layer. This will bring up the Layer Style dialog and the blending options are visible by default. We're going to focus our attention on the sliders in the Blend If area down at the bottom. This allows me to hide portions of the current layer based on luminance. Because I'm working on a background copy, that means I'll be revealing the original layer underneath. So, for example, if I were to bring the black slider for this layer over to the right, I would be blocking the darkest portions of the sharpened image. If I bring the white point slider in, again for this layer, I'll be blocking the brightest portions of the image.
In doing so, I can mitigate the strongest effect of sharpening. I can get rid of those blown-out areas. I will want to have a little bit of a transition between these areas. And in most cases, I'm more worried about the highlights than the shadows. I don't want to exaggerate those highlight details too much generally speaking. So, I'll bring the white point slider in. I may not even need to bring the black point slider in. Of course, in this case, since the sharpening is a bit exaggerated, I probably would. But then I can split my sliders into two pieces, so that I have a transition between areas that are visible on this layer and areas that are not.
To do so, I'll hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh, and then click on half of that slider, either the left half or the right half. And then I can move those halves independent of each other. This provides a transition, areas to the right of the white slider are being blocked completely, allowing the underlying image to show through. In other words, I'm hiding the brightest portions. But then I'll have a bit of transition where we gradually taper off toward the pixels that are being hidden. Now, of course, in most cases, if you'd used normal sharpening settings, you won't need to bring these sliders in very far at all, but you will want to have at least a little bit of transition in between them. Once you feel that you've produced a good result, you can go ahead and click OK. And of course, in this case, the sharpening is still much stronger than it needs to be, but this helps illustrate the concept of being able to block those brightest or darkest portions of the image that were created by the sharpening effect.
The advance blending options controls are not a substitute for proper sharpening technique. However, in certain cases, you may find it difficult to avoid a loss of highlight or shadow detail caused by sharpening. In such cases, the advanced blending options provide a great solution.
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