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Adobe Camera Raw’s Detail panel

Optimal image sharpening is best done in three stages – capture (Do it during Raw conversion.), creative (Do it in Photoshop.), and output (Automate it.).

This article covers the first stage of sharpening – capture sharpening.

Capture sharpening benefits all images. Capture sharpening compensates for inherent deficiencies in optical and capture systems. All lenses and sensors have specific characteristics and deficiencies. They do not all have the same characteristics or deficiencies.

To speed your workflow, default settings for a best starting point for capture sharpening can be determined for all images created with the same lens/chip combination and saved for subsequent use. To optimally sharpen an image, you’ll need to modify these settings to factor in additional considerations – variances in noise (ISO, exposure duration, temperature), noise reduction settings, and the frequencies of detail (low/smooth to high/fine texture) in an image.

Capture sharpening is determined visually. Perform capture sharpening while previewing an image on a monitor at 100% screen magnification, the magnification that most precisely displays high frequency detail such as texture and noise.

Capture sharpening is best done during Raw file conversion. (Do it after scanning for analog originals.) I recommend importing your Raw files into Photoshop as Smart Objects. If you do this, you can quickly access specific sharpening and noise reduction settings simply by double clicking the image layer. At the same time, you’ll also be able to take advantage of any updates in detail rendering (noise reduction and sharpening) with the click of a button. (Do be mindful that any adjustments you make in Adobe Camera Raw will not be recorded in a Lightroom library.)

Capture sharpening is typically done globally and uniformly to all areas of an image, but on the fly masking routines are recommended for reducing and removing sharpening effects, such as halos on contours and noise in low frequency or smooth image areas.

When performing capture sharpening, err on the conservative side and avoid producing unwanted artifacts. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to fix unwanted sharpening artifacts you could produce at this first stage of sharpening in subsequent stages of image editing; you’ll get better results if you don’t produce unwanted sharpening artifacts at all. Additional sharpening enhancements can be performed locally with more precision in Photoshop during creative sharpening.

Set Clarity before sharpening. It produces a different but related contour contrast. If you change Clarity settings substantially, double check your sharpening settings

Perform noise reduction before capture sharpening. You’ll use slightly more aggressive sharpening settings to compensate for the blurring noise reduction introduces. As with capture sharpening, produce as few artifacts as possible during noise reduction. If you need to perform more aggressive or localized noise reduction, do it in Photoshop. (See my noise reduction series on digitalphotopro.com.)

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Lightroom’s Detail panel

The Detail controls in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom are identical; only their appearance varies.

There four Sharpening sliders.

1          Amount controls the contrast of the effect produced.

2          Radius controls the width of halos (light) and lines (dark) produced around contours.

3          Detail skews the effect towards a particularly frequency of detail – high, medium, or low.

4          Masking creates on-the-fly edge masks, removing the effect from smoother lower contrast areas. (You can see the mask when you hold down the Option/Alt key and click on or slide the slider.)

Images with high frequency detail benefit from using smaller Radius settings, higher Amount and Detail settings. (And lower Noise Reduction settings.) Images with low frequency detail benefit from using higher Radius settings, lower Amount and Detail settings. (And higher Noise Reduction settings.) Images with a wider variety of frequencies, especially those that containing significant contours, benefit from higher Masking settings.

If you don’t know where to start, start with an Amount of 100, a Radius of 1.0, and Detail of 50. Then adjust with the above recommendations in mind, but above all look critically at the way the effect affects your image.

There will be many times when you will want to readjust Noise Reduction settings after determining Sharpening settings. The two are intimately related.

Finding an optimum balance involves making trade-offs. Again, be conservative and avoid producing artifacts. This is perhaps the hardest part of capture sharpening, as the tools are powerful and the effects can be compelling so the temptation to go too far is great. Resist. Remember, there’s a second stage of sharpening for localized effects – creative sharpening.

Double processing Raw files with Photoshop will allow you to apply different noise reduction and sharpening settings to different areas of an image with great precision. In one version you can aggressively sharpen high frequency detail with little noise reduction, such as textured stone, and in second version you can minimally sharpen low frequency detail with high noise reduction, such as a clear blue sky. When you do this, you can optimize sharpening settings for one frequency of detail and ignore the artifacts produced in another. With detail settings optimized for different frequencies on separate layers in Photoshop, you can mask the suboptimal areas in the overlying layer and reveal the optimal detail in the layer below. (Here’s an easy way to do this. First, import the first version into Photoshop as a Smart Object. Second go to Layer : Smart Objects : New Layer Via Copy. Third, double click the new Smart Object to change the detail settings in the overlying layer. Note, if you simply Duplicate a Smart Object instead the settings will be reset in both layers. The way you make the Smart Object determines whether the duplicates share the same settings or have different settings.)

Read more in my digital image Sharpening resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

PS Manges Color, lighten, lighten shadows

over sharpened

You can easily see the artifacts digital sharpening produces by intentionally overdoing it.

Here are the seven most common digital sharpening artifacts.

1         Noise

2         Exaggerated Texture

3         Visible Light Halos

4         Visible Dark Lines

5         Loss of Highlight Detail

6         Loss of Shadow Detail

7         Increased Saturation

These artifacts can be reduced in one or more ways. Here’s a list of options for each.

1         Noise

Raise Unsharp Mask’s Threshold.

Use High Pass sharpening.

Blur High Pass layers.

Mask select image areas.

2        Exaggerated Texture

Reduce Unsharp Mask’s Amount.

Use High Pass sharpening.

Blur High Pass layers.

Mask select image areas.

3       Visible Light Halos

Reduce Unsharp Mask’s Radius to make halos thinner.

Reduce Unsharp Mask’s Amount to make halos darker.

Set the Blend Mode of the Unsharp Mask filter or layer it is applied to to Darken.

Use High Pass sharpening for softer more feathered contour accentuation.

4        Visible Dark Lines

Reduce Unsharp Mask’s Radius to make halos thinner.

Reduce Unsharp Mask’s Amount to make halos darker.

Set the Blend Mode of the Unsharp Mask filter or layer it is applied to to Lighten.

Use High Pass sharpening for softer more feathered contour accentuation.

5         Loss of Highlight Detail

Use a sharpened layer’s Layer Styles / Blend If sliders to recover it.

Mask the highlights.

6        Loss of Shadow Detail

Use the Blend If sliders in Layer Styles to recover it.

Mask the shadows.

7         Increased Saturation

Change the blend mode of the filter or sharpened layer to Luminosity.

Desaturate High Pass layers.

Read more about sharpening here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Read more

Antarctica CLXXI

Identifying and developing a sensitivity for the artifacts digital sharpening produces will help you choose a sharpening method and what settings to use during any stage of your sharpening workflow. You can easily see the artifacts digital sharpening produces by overdoing it. Apply a filter like Unsharp Mask at maximum strength and look closely at what happens.

Following are the seven most common digital sharpening artifacts.

1. Noise

2. Exaggerated Texture

3. Visible Light Halos

4. Visible Dark Lines

5. Loss of Highlight Detail

6. Loss of Shadow Detail

7. Increased Saturation

These artifacts can be reduced in one or more ways.

Read more on Digital Photo Pro.

If you know what to look for, you’ll know what path to choose and how far down it to go. Training your eye for what to look for and understanding the upper limits of what other people find to be naturalistic, or at least not distracting, is the first step to developing your unique sharpening style. The second step is learning how to produce certain effects and avoid others with the tools at your disposal. Once you’ve taken these steps, you can take the third and final step, knowledgeably putting craft in the service of your vision to make compelling visual statements. Enhancing detail is one area of expertise that’s well worth mastering for all photographers.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Color

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Learning to see in black and white has changed. Prior to the 21st century, black and white photographers developed a heightened sensitivity to intensity and direction of light as well as tonal relationships between highlights and shadows. For the most part, they discounted the appearance of hue and saturation, with a few exceptions.

These perceptual skills are still very important for 21st century digital black and white photographers. But, today, previsualizating possibilities becomes much more challenging. Because you can make any hue light or dark, globally or locally, dramatically extending the variability of an image’s tonal structure, the two additional variables, hue and saturation, need to be factored in rather than factored out.

You’ll find that images containing a variety of saturated colors, offer the widest range of possibilities, while those that don’t offer fewer possibilities; neutral areas won’t shift and relative relationships between highlights and shadows will hold. The transformations during color to black and white conversions can be so dramatic and varied that you’ll find it extremely challenging to compare all of the possibilities in your head. Instead, compare several conversions side-by-side. Today’s tools are so efficient that you’ll be able to make and compare many variations in a very short time. Move from pre-visualization to vizualization.

Along with these new possibilities comes flexibility. With analog processes these relationships are fixed at the moment of exposure; with digital processes they are not. Keep your options open. Preserve your original color data. Avoid in camera conversions. Don’t replace your original color data with converted data. Archive layered files. You can modify the conversion of a color original indefinitely. So, from time to time, consider revisiting finished files . You may be able to improve them.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Learn more in my Black & White Mastery workshop.

Read more about black & white photography here.

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Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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