Post your sharpening techniques, workflow, etc...

This is a discussion on Post your sharpening techniques, workflow, etc... within the Post-Processing forums, part of the Photography Tips category; QUOTE If you don't mind sharing, could you describe your routine for sharpening? Post your sharpening techniques. Just to be clear: This thread should be ...

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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Lawrence, KS
    If you don't mind sharing, could you describe your routine for sharpening?
    Post your sharpening techniques. Just to be clear: This thread should be about how you sharpen, or asking specific questions about someone else's sharpening techniques. We want to know what works for you, not why someone else's technique is flawed. It should be easy enough for folks to try it out, and see if it would work for them and suit their taste or not. Sharpening threads often get lost in endless debate about the "right way". There is no one way that is suitable for all situations, subject matter, personal taste, workflow requirements, equipment, software, etc.... There are many suitable paths to a sharp photo.

    Can you tell that I've been berated for my sharpening techniques before? Last time I posted this info some photo-geek wrote a small novel explaining why it would never work, complete with graphics (not photos) of large, solid white rectangles on black backgrounds demonstrating the flaws. I had to admit, if you are photographing graphics of large, solid white rectangles on a solid black background, these techniques may not be suitable for you. Fortunately for me none of the photographs I've taken in the last 20 years were graphics of large, solid white rectangles on solid black backgrounds.

    I sharpen for prints. It makes sense to me that different output would have different requirements. To make web friendly size photos I take my standard sharpened files (for 12"x18" or smaller prints), and resample the file in CS4 using bicubic sharper, or just bicubic if I'm getting noticeable artifacts with bicubic sharper. This looks good to me, but I have no doubt there are probably better ways to optimally sharpen for monitor display.

    None of my techniques are anything new. I've been using the same basic concepts since I bought my first DSLR 5 years ago. I learned from a few peers, websites, and books. Here are some good websites that cover all sorts of digital processing info including sharpening. They really helped me make the switch from the traditional darkroom to Photoshop.

    I like the "Real World Sharpening" books by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. They've made one for at least every version of Photoshop, and probably other software too. You don't necessarily have to have the latest version; the fundamentals tend to remain the same. I also like the book "Skin" by Lee Varis. Right now I am reading the books listed below. They are less about specific techniques and more about understanding how the human eye and mind perceive sharpness (and other optical aspects), which I believe is more important to understand than any particular processing technique.

    "Digital Masters: B&W Printing: Creating the Digital Master Print" by George DeWolfe
    "Perception and Imaging: Photography a Way of Seeing" by Richard D. Zakia.

    Get a sharp photo to start with. I'm not worried about my lenses. I own a dozen plus Canon, Tamron, and Sigma lenses for my DSLRs ranging in cost from $75 to $1500. The first thing I do when I get them is put them on a tripod (cable release, mlu), and go out and take some test shots with the aperture all the way open, all the way closed, and a few in between, various focal lengths, etc... Then I come in and pixel peep them to death. What I have found is that they are all very sharp even at maximum aperture. More than sharp enough for 16"x24" prints. Too sharp for portraits of most folks older than 24ish. I've only had one lens that I thought was soft, and I am convinced it was a lemon (dropped at the factory or something), and not typical of the model. If anything where I see softness issues it's with the very small apertures: beyond f/16. Check out "aperture diffraction" at the Cambridge in Colour website above. Once I know the tools are up to the task I don't ever have to worry about them again. All problems will be blamed on the only remaining weak link in the process: me.

    When it comes to holding the camera some ways are more stable than others. It seems like it should be simple enough, but even after doing this for decades I sometimes get lazy, and don't pay attention, and get soft photos because of sloppy camera handling.

    The common advice is minimum safe hand held shutter speed for acceptable sharpness is 1/focal length. It is important to note "acceptable sharpness" which is not at all the same thing as very sharp. I do a lot of hand held shooting at shutter speeds slower than 1/focal length and I get acceptable results, but if I want excellent sharpness, such as for a large printed landscape (I must have forgotten my tripod), I want a shutter speed at least three times faster than 1/focal length.

    Bruce Fraser's technique breaks sharpening into three stages: an initial sharpening to counter the effects of the anti-aliasing filter, local sharpening as needed, and global sharpening depending on output and size.

    Initial Sharpening: I'm shooting raw with my in-camera processing parameters, picture styles, etc... turned off or set to neutral. No in-camera sharpening or noise reduction.

    My standard initial processing settings in Adobe Camera Raw on the Detail tab are:

    Sharpening: Amount: 50, Radius: 0.5, Detail: 25, Masking: 0
    Noise Reduction: Luminance: 0, Color: 25

    For high ISO photos I may reduce Amount to 25. If I have large areas of even tone, and I'm seeing noise increased by sharpening I may mess with Detail and Masking.

    I also usually adjust the Clarity slider on the Basic tab. 10 to 20 for most photos. Up to 50 for landscapes, architecture, non-living things, etc... Zero for close-up portraits where I do not want to emphasize the details of age.

    Local Sharpening: Most of my photos don't get local sharpening. If I do local sharpening with a portrait I'll usually just use the adjustment brush in ACR to add or subtract clarity. Plus clarity to eyes, lips, jewelry, etc... Minus clarity to skin texture. If I do local sharpening in my landscape/non-people photos it can be a variety of techniques, but almost always done in Photoshop. The local sharpening techniques I use for landscapes I've learned from Bruce Fraser's and George DeWolfe's books.

    Global Sharpening: Here is my standard global sharpening in Photoshop for 12"x18"ish or smaller C-prints for files from my 5D. I sharpen larger prints individually because it depends a lot on the subject matter, print type, etc...

    duplicate layer
    set blend mode to luminosity
    run smart sharpen: Amount: 100%, Radius: 0.2 pixels, more accurate checked, remove lens blur, everything else left at default
    run unsharp mask: Amount: 10%, Radius: 20 pixels, Threshold: 2
    flatten image, convert to sRGB, convert to 8 bit, save as jpeg

    The high amount/low radius smart sharpen can be adjusted from 50% to 200% depending on subject matter (fine detail) and output size. As long as the radius stays low, and there isn't too much noise, even higher settings can be used without introducing artifacts.

    The low amount/high radius usm is for local contrast snap (like the clarity slider). I adjust the amount up to 20%, and radius up to 60 pixels depending on subject matter and when halos start to form. For high ISO/noisier photos I may increase Threshold a bit.

    I may mask out the sharpening layer in areas without detail.

    For prints 12"x18" or smaller I don't mind if it looks a bit over sharpened at 100% magnification on the monitor (the above settings do not). It will not look over sharpened in either C-prints or inkjet prints. Bigger than 12"x18" I want to see it on screen close to what I want in the print, particularly for C-prints. Inkjet prints seem to soften a tiny bit; it just depends on the paper and machine. When I'm going for prints bigger than 16"x24" it's not uncommon for me to need a test print to fine tune the sharpening.
    "I donít use an exposure meter. My personal advice is: Spend the money you would put into such an instrument for film. Buy yards of film, miles of it. Buy all the film you can get your hands on. And then experiment with it. That is the only way to be successful in photography. Test, try, experiment, feel your way along. It is the experience, not technique, which counts in camera work first of all. If you get the feel of photography, you can take fifteen pictures while one of your opponents is trying out his exposure meter." -Alfred Eisenstaedt

  • #2
    lost. always lost..
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    in lightroom i leave their raw sharpening settings on default.
    i add clarity and contrast.

    i use nik sharpener. usually works well at 50% for my unresized prints, 30% for my web sized prints. but if it doesn't look right then i reevaluate based on that image.

    sorry henry, your sharpening techniques don't work on my photos of rectangles. :P

  • #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Billings, MT
    I haven't totally figured out Sony's RAW sharpening. In post, however, I mostly rely on Highpass filtering on Overlay mode, usually around 3-5px radius on 14mp. I then add a small amount of unsharp mask in luminance mode where needed.
    bear with me. i don't have an escape button...


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