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| p.1 #6 · Kelso Dunes by Moonlight |
Yikes ... I feel your pain ... just from reading it.
A person could probably spend the rest of their lifetime on sharpening alone, but here's a few of my thoughts on the subject.
First, understanding that "sharpness" is all about about the apparent perception of contrast.
Second, "sharpening" is all about changing the amount of contrast between pixels.
Hold that thought for a moment.
Lighting can range from very low contrast, diffuse (moonlight, heavy overcast, etc.) to high contrast, direct (sunlight, artificial equivalents, etc.) lighting.
People who say ... "Do this" or "Do that" are not accounting for the variance in what your scene started with to begin with. As such, imo, there is no "one way fits all".
While that's not what you are wanting to hear ... all is not lost.
For the vast majority of the images I work on around here, I simply apply two rounds of USM.
Similar to Karen's 16,60,0 (et al) at HIgh RAdius, LOw AMplitude (HIRALOAM), I use it as well. My approach though is a bit different, in that I do not have a "set" number. Depending on the scene, I may have a 25,90,12 or a 35,35,6, but the principle of more aggressive sharpening with more masking is part of my approach. I rarely ever sharpen with a mask value of "0".
Detail sharpening is followed up with something like a .3,140,8 (jpg reworks) or .7, 350, 2 (original RAW conversion)... again, this is variable depending on the scene. But, I also make sure to sharpen on a layer that I can use with a mask. That way, if I need to sharpen one area differently than the other I can sharpen for the max needed area and "paint" back the sharpening on the mask.
While the number vary to taste ... the approach / workflow is the same. The numbers will vary if I'm working on my own RAW file vs. jpg sooc vs. doing a rework from something here ... but my process remains the same.
Essentially, all sharpening is like driving a wedge between pixels. How big of a wedge do you want to split them with is going to be a subjective call based upon how close they are together vs. how far apart you want them.
I'm not a sharpening guru by any means, but I'm pretty comfortable with my approach. I spent some time making up a test block/grid of black/gray/white squares and then ran a series of tests ... mostly to get a feel for what happens with HIRALOAM settings vs. detail settings, and to get a feel for how the mask setting comes into play.
Also ... depending on what camera & lens combination you are using ... it will vary.
When I made the switch from my D70s, to my 1D MK II ... all my pics were soft. I finally was referred to Chuck Westfall with Canon and he reviewed my images and I was simply under sharpening them. The reason ... different algorithms from the cameras meant different sharpening needs.
I play with a lot of different lenses ... my Oly lenses are very sharp, yet lower contrast. So, I need to use a different sharpening level (same approach) for them, than I do for my Zeiss that are contrasty to begin with.
That being said ... I don't have a "standard" setting, but rather have a baseline approach for applying my "sledgehammer", followed by my "chisel". How big a hammer and how hard I swing my will be a judgment call based on where the scene is to begin with ... and where I want to take it.
There are many ways to push the pixels farther apart ... but USM is a fundamental tool ... essentially where I begin my PP (after color correction). Contrast is usually my last for a light dose of S&P to taste.
As an ambient shooter ... our lighting is so highly variable ... the inherently variable contrast of our captures is not well suited for a single sharpening regime. Rather, I'd suggest that you will want to develop a different strategy for low, mid & high contrast lighting. Not exactly a "one size fits all" approach, but not anything that is too overwhelming either.
That, coupled with the use of layers, opacity, masks, etc. ... keeps things as a "standard" workflow for my sharpening.
Here is the rough order of my workflow regarding sharpening:
RAW Conversion sharpening (or sooc jpg)
Color correction to remove casts, thereby providing max clarity
All other stuff (i.e. sat, curves, etc.)
Contrast (most often, very last layer requiring nominal amounts)
Each round of sharpening is driving another wedge between pixels. So, how much to use for HIRALOAM will be in part based on how much you used @ RAW conversion import. Me, I use 0,0,0 at RAW conversion, so I can focus mostly on the interplay @ HIRALOAM & Detail. You can use a different import value (which is totally fine), but recognize that the HIRALOAM and Detail that follow, will be effected as well. I just try to narrow it down to the two that carry the brunt of the load for me.