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- When to sharpen
- Zoom settings for sharpening
- Sharpening RAW captures
- Preparing a photo for output and sharpening
- Using Unsharp Mask and Smart Sharpen
- Creative and targeted sharpening
- Using advanced blending options
- Multiple-pass sharpening
- Using third-party tools
Skill Level Intermediate
The smart sharpen filter was introduced in Photoshop CS2 as something of a replacement for un-sharp mask. It provides new, enhanced algorithms that can help produce better results with less risk of sharpening artifacts. Let's take a look at the basic use of smart sharpen. I've already prepared my image for output, so I'm ready to apply my sharpening effect. So I'll go ahead and choose Filter > Sharpen and then Smart Sharpen from the menu. This will bring up the smart sharpen dialog and the first thing you'll probably notice is that the preview is quite large.
It's set to a 100% view by default, which is perfect for evaluating our sharpening effect and I can still size the overall image to fit the window. And then click in various areas as needed to evaluate the sharpening in multiple areas of my scene. The first thing I want to do when working with Smart Sharpen is to choose my Remove option. The default is actually Gaussian blur which will make this Smart Sharpen filter behave the same as unsharp mask, removing many of the benefits of smart sharpen.
I always use the Lens Blur option which is the more sophisticated algorithm within smart sharpen. In theory you might use motion blur, but quite frankly if you have an image that exhibits motion blur caused by either a moving subject or camera movement you're really not going to be able to produce an optimal result. So you might play with motion blur, adjusting the angle as you fine tune your settings in order to adjust the direction in which the correction is being applied, but again, frankly, you're not likely to see a great result. Working with motion blur, simply because an image that exhibits motion blur is probably not something that can really be salvaged.
So I'll leave my remove option set to lens blur, and then I can consider the other settings available within smart sharpen. And those are primarily amount, and radius. Amount determines the strength of the sharpening effect, and the radius determines the size of the contrast enhancement, the sharpening halo, that's added along contrast edges within the image. In general, I'll first increase the amount slider to it's maximum value so that I can better evaluate the setting for radius.
You can see that this exaggerated sharpening effect makes it easier to see the effect of radius. I'll increase my Radius slider here for example, and you can see the radius is now far too large to produce a good sharpening effect. I'll go ahead and bring that value back down. In most cases I'm going to work with a radius of no more than about one or two pixels. For high detail images, images that exhibit lots of fine detail, I'll generally work with a radius around one or lower. For images with relatively smooth gradations of detail, I'll generally work with a little bit higher radius. Maybe around two or three.
But generally speaking a radius of more than three is considered very, very large and is not going to be used for typical sharpening. In this case because I have so much fine detail, I actually want to work with a very small radius. I'll take this down to maybe oh, around 0.6, 0.7, somewhere in that range. And then I can adjust my amount to produce a better overall result I want a nice crisp image but I don't want an over sharping effect. Now because of the way the Smart Sharpen filter works we can actually get a higher amount setting than we might be accustomed to from Unsharp Mask. And still produce a very good result in the image and that's because the algorithm in smart sharpen is producing a better result. I'll go ahead and exaggerate my overall sharpening here just a little bit, and then I'm going to switch to my Gaussian blur effect, and you might notice, it's a bit subtle, but you might notice that now the effect of sharpening is a little bit stronger.
It's not mitigated quite as much as it is with Smart Sharpen, and in particular, the halos become more problematic more quickly. So I'll switch back to my lens blur and bring my radius back down to a more appropriate level, and in particular, bring that amount down just a little bit. And now we have a pretty good effect. I can see the before version by clicking on my preview, or if I want to see the change in the overall image, I can turn the preview check box on or off. In this case I think we might have a little bit too strong an effect. I'm going to bring my radius back down just a little bit more, and I'll also reduce my amount just a bit here.
And right about there is looking to be quite a bit better, maybe just a little bit lower so we don't over-exaggerate some of the detail in the sandals here in the sand. I also have a more accurate option available to me in smart sharpen. The more accurate checkbox doesn't relate to the accuracy of the preview, or of the final effect, but rather, the level of detail being enhanced. In many ways you can think of this as being related to the threshold command, found in unsharp mask. If we turn on the more accurate checkbox, all of the finest details within the image, are going to be enhanced. That might be a good thing in this particular image, since there is so much texture and detail.
But in most cases, I would say that the more accurate option causes the image to look a little bit too crunchy, and so I tend to turn that option off with most images. Once I'm happy with the overall effect, of course, I can simply click the OK button, and that will apply the sharpening to my image. Smart Sharpen has become my standard tool for sharpening images in Photoshop. It provides advanced algorithms and a high degree of control that can contribute to great results in your images.