Sharpening Techniques

Sharpening Techniques

This tutorial introduces you to the three types of sharpening available in Exposure, and it explains when to use each kind. There are several unique reasons to add sharpening to your photos. Learn how to get great-looking sharpening results by adding the effects during various periods in your workflow.

Photos: April Milani, Anne Helene Gjelstad

This video introduces you to the three types of sharpening available in Exposure, and it explains when to use each kind.

The first type is Capture/Input – when your images don’t come out of the camera sharp enough. You’ll use the Detail panel.

The second is Creative – when you want to apply subjective sharpening for aesthetic reasons. You’ll use the Focus panel.

The third is Output, such as sharpening for ink diffusion on paper prints. You’ll use Blow Up image enlargement in the Exposure Bundle.

Input Sharpening for a Portrait

Capture sharpening is best performed at the beginning of your editing workflow. You’ll typically sharpen the entire photo. Zooming into an unscaled 100% or 1:1 view helps.

Pay attention to small detail areas with hard-edges when doing this sharpening. I’ll pan over the eyes in the navigator. This image is a little soft in the eyes.

In the Details panel, the Sharpening controls counteract the softening effects of camera noise reduction and anti-aliasing. They are not meant for creative effects, so the slider ranges are more restricted.

If you have applied noise reduction to an image, consider also adding sharpening.

Edits in the Basic and Detail panels remain unchanged when you apply presets, so you can edit in these panels at the start of your workflow.

I’ll start with the Amount slider. I’ll temporarily maximize it, so that the results of the other sliders are more noticeable.

When I have those sliders set the way that I like, I’ll reduce the amount.

Pressing the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Mac is helpful when making adjustments since it enables you to visualize the adjustments you make in real-time.

Next I’ll adjust the Radius, which controls the width of the sharpening area around each edge. A low radius selects the pixels very close to the edge, and a higher radius selects a wider area. I’ll adjust it to only select the hard edges of my photo.

Notice the lines around the eyes and the eyelashes. Again, using the Alt key shows what the optimal settings are when adjusting the Radius slider.

Now I’ll use the Detail slider. This controls how much of the fine textures, like pores, wrinkles, or fine body hair on the skin are boosted; as well as grain at higher levels.

Now I’ll adjust Masking. It determines how much contrast there needs to be between colors for them to be sharpened. A higher amount means only higher contrast areas will be sharpened. Using a low amount includes lower contrast areas.

Sharpening low-contrast areas like smooth skin can make it look rough and speckly. I’ll press Alt on Windows or Option on Mac and adjust the Masking slider so that the edges on the facial features are selected, and the skin is largely unselected.

Now that I’ve completed my input sharpening, here’s a before and after comparison.

Creative Sharpening for a Landscape

Creative sharpening includes a different set of criteria to consider.

Landscape photos usually look better when they are “punchier”: more clarity, sharpness, and saturation. Portraits however usually look best with more subtle effects.

Exposure’s brush controls the application of sharpening. You can restrict the effect to the edges of the image, or the center, or you can apply it to different features to create more depth.

I’ll perform two different sharpening procedures. One for each of the main horizon lines, to accentuate the separation between the middle and background.

I’ll use the Sharpen controls on the Focus panel to make creative effects. The slider ranges allow for stronger applications, like changing lens focus.

Amount adjusts the intensity of the effect, or how much contrast is added to the edges in the photo.

Radius controls the size, or how wide the sharpened edges become.

Threshold is similar to the masking control in the Detail panel. It controls the minimum brightness change or amount of contrast an edge needs in order to be sharpened. Higher values exclude more areas.

There are several focus presets in the Preset dropdown.

I’m going to select Sharpen – Moderate Radius – 50 from the list. It’s aggressive.  Notice what it does to the detail in the foreground. A larger radius is one of the ways to achieve the “punchy” effect I mentioned earlier.

I’ll apply this effect to the horizon by selecting the mask thumbnail to open the brushing panel. Notice the mask thumbnail is white. That means we are viewing the effect as it’s applied to the entire photo. To have the effect only show on the first horizon line, I’ll first press Invert Mask.

I’ll adjust the brush settings to apply the effect only where I want it. While brushing, I’ll use the navigator to pan over the image at 1:1 view.

Now I’ll preview the effect by turning the layer on and off. I’ll use the Opacity slider to tone the effect down.

I’ll repeat the process one more time, this time for the next horizon line.

So I’ll click Add Layer then set the sharpening effect on the Focus panel. This time, I’ll choose Sharpen – Moderate Radius – 25. I’ll increase the Radius a little bit more and lower the Amount.

I want a smoother sharpening effect set at subtle strength for this layer, to punch up the contrast of the edge a little bit to make that last row of mountains clear.

Here’s a before and after.

Sharpening for Ink Diffusion

Ink diffusion occurs as various papers absorb ink during the print process. The Blow Up image enlarging tool in the Exposure Bundle handles sharpening and resizing images in preparation for being printed.

I’ll open the image in Blow Up.

From Exposure, I’ll right-click, choose Edit copy in… and select Blow Up.

It’s usually not necessary to adjust the Sharpen Edges and Add Grain settings. It’s still a good idea to zoom in and check that the edges are sharp and that the grain is good.

I want to print a copy of my image on inkjet glossy paper. In the Sharpening For Output Medium field, I’ll select Inkjet Glossy Paper, and select Medium for my setting.

Then click OK to return to Exposure.