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
MASTER UNSHARP MASK
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.
TRY THE HIGH PASS FILTER
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.
SHARPEN SHOTS SELECTIVELY
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.
SHARPEN IN ADOBE CA MERA RAW
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.
USE THE CLARITY SLIDER FOR CRISPNESS
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.