The fine art of sharpening

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by Lazy Photographer, Dec 30, 2009.

  1. Lazy Photographer

    Lazy Photographer TPF Noob!

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    I've been playing around with photo editing software for some time now (ACDSee), but the one area I've been sort of afraid to tackle is sharpening. Just recently I began delving into it, but I'm not sure I'm going about it properly.

    Here's what I do: After I'm done with all my other adjustments, I sharpen the photo using the "unsharp mask" setting. I start by zooming in to a roof edge or hydro line or any other edge so I can see up close what effect my sharpening is having. I usually dial down the "amount" to 65-80% from 100%, dial down the radius to 3 from 5, and leave the threshold alone (it's set at 10). Once done, I apply noise reduction. I usually base the "amount" of sharpening on how much noise reduction I plan to apply. The more noise reduction, the more I sharpen the image first. Is this a good approach? If anyone has any neat tricks to produce tack sharp photos, it would be great to hear them. Thanks in advance.

    Here's a photo from my Christmas day outing that I've sharpened using the method described above. Does it look TOO sharp? Is there anything I might have done differently to improve on this?

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2009
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    'Tack sharp' usually refers to an image that is in focus and devoid of blur.
    Sharpening has to do with the contrast between shapes/pixels in an image.
    They are not really the same thing. ie: you can't take an image that is out of focus or blurry and correct those problems with sharpening.
    You can use sharpening to increase the contrast, which on some levels, can help, but it's still not the same.

    Also, sharpening and noise reduction will often work against one another. So it's a dance of compromise that you have to do.

    I don't know if your order/method is good or bad. Like most things in digital editing, there are plenty of different ways to go about it...and there usually isn't a definitive right or wrong.
     
  3. Lazy Photographer

    Lazy Photographer TPF Noob!

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    Thanks Mike, I wasn't aware of that, although I knew you can't save a blurred photo through sharpening. As for sharpening and noise reduction, which should be done first? I sharpen first because I assume that it adds noise, but maybe I should be sharpening last, I don't know.
     
  4. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    Check list for "tack sharp photos"
    1. Camera/lens on tripod.
    2. Self-timer or remote shuuter release ready
    3. Mirror locked up
    4. VR or IS turned off
    5. Best glass mounted on camera
    6. Lens set to aperture "sweet spot"
    7. Lowest ISO is set
    Final sharpening in an image editor is the last step and there are many sharpening techniques. Which technique gets used is determined by the image to be sharpened. One technique does not work for all.
     
  5. Shockey

    Shockey TPF Noob!

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    Your unsharp mask settings do not sound like the norm.
    Do your photos typically have a lot of noise?
    I shoot mostly people and my settings are typically in the range of.
    80 to 120
    2
    1
    For radius the more fine detail you have in the shot typically you will use a smaller setting EX. people 2 landscape with lots of detail .5.
    Threshold is typically set depending on noise EX. if you have lots of noise and you do not want to sharpen the noise thereby making if more visible you might set it at 5 to 10. If no noise it can be set at 0 or 1.
    Then once your radius and threshold are set go back and fine tune the amount.
    There are several different methods of sharpening, depending on what your goal is and the subject matter.
    Info I provided is for general unsharp mask settings.
     
  6. Lazy Photographer

    Lazy Photographer TPF Noob!

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    Thanks, Shockey, that's very helpful. The default settings in ACDSee are: Amount-100, Radius-5, Threshold-10. I don't play with the threshold because I don't know what it does. I'm going to try your approach and see how I make out.

    KmH: I should point out that I'm shooting with a point & shoot with IS that can't be turned off. And for street photography I don't bring along a tripod (usually).

    I just found this article on the topic that might be of interest to others:
    [SIZE=+1]Behind the Unsharp Mask: The Secret World of Sharpening[/SIZE]
    http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototips/unsharp-mask.html
     
  7. Shockey

    Shockey TPF Noob!

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    The settings I gave you are for Photoshop I am not sure what they would be in another program...maybe it will give you a starting point...
    Yes since you are shooting with a point and shoot you may be dealing with a lot of noise, try starting with a threshold of 5. If you are going to use noise reduction do that before sharpening. Be careful with noise reduction it will blur your details and make photos appear less sharp.
     
  8. Lazy Photographer

    Lazy Photographer TPF Noob!

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    Thanks. I did realize they were for PhotoShop, but I'll use your approach in ACDSee to see what I get. I'm just reading that article now and it too is very illuminating. I'm always very careful with noise reduction. I usually zoom into the noisiest part of my image and start there. I think with that I've found a good balance. Thanks again.
     
  9. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    You can pretty much forget about "tack sharp" then. No doubt, do what you can, but you're limited by your equipment. Your camera does have a self timer doesn't it?
     
  10. Lazy Photographer

    Lazy Photographer TPF Noob!

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    Yes, and I often will use the 2 second timer with my tripod, especially for night shots when I need a longer shutter speed. Works well. Sometimes I'll even use the timer for handheld shots, just to give me that 2 second moment to take a breath and steady myself.
     
  11. SrBiscuit

    SrBiscuit TPF Noob!

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    i dont think your image is "too sharp" at all...when i think of 'too sharp' i think of halos, noise, and other oddities. i think your image looks fine! no haloing, no noise...
    i like the feel of the photo as well. a bit cold. i like it. :thumbup:
     
  12. Lazy Photographer

    Lazy Photographer TPF Noob!

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    Thank you. When I use the unsharp mask I look for halos and use them as a benchmark as to how much/little I want to sharpen. I find spying tree branches very helpful for this. As for the feel of the photo, that's just my thing. I like gritty, hard and cold photos. I also like photos that instill a sense of loneliness and isolation. I leave warm and happy to the fine folks at Hallmark. ;)

    By the by, I see you have an 18-70 lens for your D40. Is that the one that's F2.8? How do you like it? When (if) I get a D90 I might start with that lens, or the 16-85. UPDATE: Nope, not the lens I was thinking of. I was thinking of the 17-55, F2.8. I'll likely end up with the 16-85 because it's cheaper and has VR.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2009

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