Pro sharpening technique
Sharpening is an essential step in the image editing process
Sharpening is an essential step in the image editing process. Even when using high-quality pro-grade lenses, there are things that can reduce the overall detail in your image, such as movement caused by a slightly less-than-ideal shutter speed, the optical low-pass filter that is placed over the sensor to minimize moiré, stacking filters, moisture on the lens – the list is extensive. Therefore, before out-putting your images, it’s always worth applying a degree of sharpening.
Unfortunately, the amount of sharpening that needs to be applied can vary across an image, with some areas requiring it and some parts not. By applying equal sharpening, you may end up over-sharpening some parts of the photo. In Camera Raw it is possible to restrict the effect to only the edges in your image, preventing sharpening of out-of-focus areas or areas of low frequency detail, where sharpening can pronounce noise. Here we show you how the masking feature works and how it can help produce better sharpening effects. This tutorial also applies to Lightroom.
Open in Camera Raw
If you are working on a RAW file, your image will automatically open in ACR when you bring it into Photoshop. If working on a Jpeg or Tiff you can still use ACR for sharpening by opening Photoshop, then navigating to your photo using the Open function and changing the file format of the image to Camera Raw.
Navigate to the Detail Tab
Select the Detail Tab – the third tab from the left. This provides access to both sharpening and noise reduction tools. Here we’ll use the tip panel to apply our image sharpening using a mix of all the available sliders
Set the masking
The main tip here is to limit the sharpening to only the edges visible in your image, to highlight fine detail without accentuating image noise in flat areas. Hold down the alt key and move the Masking slider to the right. This will show you a black and white graphic view of the edges in your shot. The more you move the slider to the right, the more black mask is introduced and the more of your image is excluded from the sharpening we will apply in the next step. Here a value of 83 was chosen, as this offered a good balance of detail in the insect and flower structures, whilst masking out the out-of-focus areas behind that plane of focus, which do not need sharpening and where noise will be more visible.
Set the sharpening sliders
In Adobe Camera Raw there are four sliders in the Sharpening Panel. Amount simply controls how strong the effect is, Radius dictates how far from the edges in your shot the effect extends and Detail extracts high-frequency elements of the image, for additional impression of detail. Here, because this macro shot is full of fine detail that needs highlighting, a low Radius was used – with lots of edges close together it is easy to to produce an over-sharpened look. Detail was set slightly higher to make the most of the fine structures in the stamens and insect’s wings.
After image: this shot has received considerable sharpening, yet does not suffer from the usual tell-tale signs of over-sharpening. The masking step has restricted the effect only to where it is most needed and has left the noise-prone flat tones alone
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