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The Ultimate sharpening technique
written by Fred Miranda

Wild cactus - Arizona, CA - D30, ISO 100

What makes an image appear to be sharp? According to David Blatner, writer of Real World Adobe Photoshop 6, "The human visual system depends to a great degree on edges. Simply put, our eyes pass information into our brain, where every detail is quickly broken down into "edge" or "not edge." An image may have great contrast and color balance, but without good edge definition, we simply see it as less lifelike." As a photographer, I strive to produce images that replicate the moment that occurred during the time it was taken. My goal is to make my pictures as lifelike as possible, and therefore sharpness is always an essential element.

A majority of photographers still use some sort of unsharp mask filter to increase the appearance of sharpness in their digital or scanned film images. Many of us know how Photoshop's unsharp mask (USM) works and how to get the best results from it. Although USM is a valuable tool in our digital darkroom, there are alternative tools available to us that not only provide better results, but are easier to use.

You may already know how to use USM settings for portrait, landscape or high ISO pictures. But, have you ever wondered if there were a few steps you could follow or even a Photoshop action you could apply in order to sharpen your subject and keep irrelevant parts of the composition unsharpened? Well, there is. The answer is called EdgeSharpen.

EdgeSharpen is a technique that I use as a part of my daily workflow. It sharpens your images without sharpening noise and/or artifacts. This action is very effective with high ISO shots, or with cameras that produce noticeably noisy images. There is even a version that works in 16-bit mode, for those who have high end digital SLR cameras.


 

Here is how it works.

Instead of globally sharpening your image, this technique sharpens the edges of the main subject without increasing image noise and therefore avoids getting that terrible "digital look". Some people who have used this technique report that their images look more natural as if the sharpness is a consequence of the use of a high quality lens.

I offer a Photoshop action called FM EdgeSharpen Pro 3.0 on the software page. This action works with 16-bit files and it's compatible with all version of Photoshop (Except Photoshop Elements)

This action will convert your 16-bit file to 8-bit if necessary and provides a more natural result because of the anti-halo steps.

Photographers put tremendous effort into getting sharper pictures. We are always in search of that perfect piece of glass that will produce keener images with high contrast and resolution. Hand in hand, only the right photographer, the right lens, and the right settings can produce a work of art.
And, just in case your photo is a little ruff around the edges, now there's the EdgeSharpen to help you get closer to your goal.

 

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