Soft­ware tech­niques

Ap­ply­ing sharpening in photo-edit­ing soft­ware isn’t sim­ply a way of fix­ing soft shots, it’s an es­sen­tial part of mak­ing those good shots look great

NPhoto - - Feature -


The name of this sharpening tech­nique is a throw­back to old-fash­ioned print­ing tech­nol­ogy, but it’s still one of the most use­ful and ef­fec­tive ways to sharpen your im­ages in Pho­to­shop CC or El­e­ments. You have three main con­trols in the Unsharp Mask fil­ter di­a­log box, and the set­tings you ap­ply will vary de­pend­ing on the par­tic­u­lar im­age. The first is the Amount slider, which you should gen­er­ally try to keep be­tween 80 and 120 to avoid over-sharpening. Then there is the Ra­dius slider, which con­trols the area around the edges in the im­age that will be sharp­ened. You should keep this be­low 3 pix­els to avoid haloes and arte­facts. Fi­nally, there’s the Thresh­old slider, which should be kept at a low fig­ure, such as five or lower, for most im­ages. A higher value will help to min­i­mize noise in high-ISO shots, though.


The High Pass fil­ter is a great al­ter­na­tive to Unsharp Mask. To sharpen your im­age you need to du­pli­cate the ‘Back­ground’ layer, de­sat­u­rate this top layer and se­lect Over­lay as the blend­ing mode. Then go to Fil­ter> Other> High Pass, and ad­just the Ra­dius to get the sharpening ef­fect suit­able for your im­age. For sub­tle ef­fects, try set­ting the Ra­dius be­tween 1 and 3 pix­els.


Be­cause it can in­crease noise, par­tic­u­larly in even-toned ar­eas, you don’t al­ways want to ap­ply high amounts of sharpening across the whole im­age. A clas­sic case is por­trait shots, where you want to have more sharpening in the eyes than you do in other parts of the por­trait and the back­ground. The Sharpen tool is per­fect for sharpening se­lected ar­eas of an im­age, as you can sim­ply brush on the ef­fect you want. Du­pli­cate the ‘Back­ground’ layer (so that you can re­vert to the un­sharp­ened im­age to check the suc­cess of the ef­fect), se­lect the Sharpen tool and choose a soft round brush. Then zoom in on the area that you want to sharpen, set the Strength to 20% and make sure the Pro­tect Tones box is checked and brush over the area you want to sharpen.


There are four slid­ers in the sharpening op­tions in Adobe Cam­era Raw. The Amount slider con­trols the strength of the sharpening ef­fect. For nor­mal sharpening set this to 50 or less – though you may need to set it higher if you are pro­cess­ing for a print or web­site. The Ra­dius slider de­ter­mines the num­ber of pix­els af­fected by the sharpening. Next is the De­tails slider, with higher amounts, such as 40 to 50, en­hanc­ing de­tail in tex­ture and fine de­tails, while lower val­ues, such as 10 or 20, re­strict the sharpening to more ob­vi­ous edges in the sub­ject. Fi­nally, the Mask­ing con­trol al­lows you to re­strict the amount of sharpening in less de­tailed ar­eas of the im­age to min­i­mize noise. For im­ages shot at low ISO set­tings you can keep this set­ting close to zero – or up to around 50 for im­ages where noise be­comes vis­i­ble in smooth-toned ar­eas.


Although it doesn’t ac­tu­ally af­fect the sharp­ness of your shot, the Clar­ity slider can help to make your shots ap­pear crisper. This ad­just­ment al­ters the mid­tone con­trast, rather than the over­all con­trast. This makes it much bet­ter than the Con­trast slider for adding punch to im­ages with­out los­ing de­tail in the high­lights or shad­ows.

Like many of the Adobe Cam­era Raw ad­just­ments, if you go too far it can re­sult in un­wanted arte­facts in your im­ages. Start by set­ting it at around 20, then check your im­age at 100% mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, es­pe­cially in ar­eas that have ob­vi­ous edges, be­fore you try set­ting a higher value.

Clar­ity +100

Sharp­ened Over-sharp­ened

Clar­ity 0

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