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Sharpening Workflows in Photoshop

Lesson 28 from: From Capture to Print

Rocco Ancora

Sharpening Workflows in Photoshop

Lesson 28 from: From Capture to Print

Rocco Ancora

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Lesson Info

28. Sharpening Workflows in Photoshop


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Advantages & Pitfalls of Printing


Demystifying Color Management


Understanding Bit Depth


Best Color Space to Work In


Importance of Image Capture


Live Shoot: Natural Light


Live Shoot: Studio Lights


Lesson Info

Sharpening Workflows in Photoshop

Let's look at this, uh, this beast called sharpening. You know the question I always get asked at workshops and seminars is, how do you sharpen? When should you sharpen? And how do you sharpen? Let's understand one thing first. Now, every digital image needs to be sharpened, okay? The question is, though, when do you apply it in your workflow? Every image shot on a digital camera needs to be sharpened because there is a filter that sits directly in front of the camera's image sensor that cuts out some of that infrared light that we spoke about in that spectrum in the color management portion of this course, and that's been put there by the camera manufacturers to improve I guess color reproduction. You don't get the effect of infrared light on your sensor itself. The slight problem is that it slightly blurs your image a tiny, tiny little bit, not a lot, but a tiny, tiny little bit to reduce you know stairstepping and a lot of those other little patterns that can appear on diagonal line...

s of the image. So when we bring it in to photoshop, those images do need to be sharpened, okay. Well, the sharpening part, you know, we need to understand the mechanics of how it all works, you know, how does sharpening work. Well, you're actually not really sharpening anything because what you've captured and the sharpness of, the apparent sharpness of the image, is all up to the lens and how well you focused and your autofocusing system and all that sort of stuff. But sharpening in post production simply increases the contrast of the edge, making it more visible, okay? So this is going to make the overall appearance um, of the image, look good. So, in other words, what happens is if there is an edge, okay, it increases the contrast of the edge, so it makes the darker side of the edge darker and the brighter side of the edge brighter, and we can control how far that spread is through radius, threshold, etc, etc. which we'll look at a little bit later on, okay? So the common mistakes that people make is this obsession with sharpening, and, unfortunately, over sharpening an image. I need to sharpen, sharpen more, sharpen more because there is a mathematical formula that you sharpen to. No, there isn't. There is no mathematical formula that tells you how much you should sharpen your image. Oversharpening results in halos around edges. In fact, when we sharpen, and we've sized the image to the size that we are going to print, the judgment of how much sharpening we do is purely visual, and it comes down to experience of how many times you do it and how much sharpening you apply to an image as to what works for that particular, for that particular image and that particular viewing distance, okay. So let's look at the dialogue for sharpening in Photoshop, okay. So essentially what we do with the amount of sharpening in an unsharp mask scenario is first adjust the radius, or, sorry, the amount which is in percentage. It's basically telling us how much darkening and lightening is applied to that edge, okay? A hundred percent it will apply a hundred percent darkening and hundred percent lightening, so giving a greater contrast over that edge. Fifty percent and etc, etc, okay? The radius determines the area that will be sharpened, so the area that will be sharpened, so a high radius means a wider area will be sharpened from where the line is detected, okay. And a low radius means the pixels are right next to the edge will be sharpened only, okay, and not spread out over a greater distance. And then, finally, we get to threshold which really determines how much contrast there needs to be between colors for them to be sharpened, okay. So it kinda works that out. So a higher threshold simply means higher contrast areas will be sharpened but low contrast areas will not. And we'll go into Photoshop and play around with sharpening a little bit later on. So another question is, when do you apply the sharpening? At the raw conversion stage? Maybe. Or at the editing process? Maybe again. Or at the end before printing? Well, the answer to those questions is yes to every single one of them, okay. There is a stage, there is a sharpening at every stage, beginning with the raw conversion stage where we convert a raw file and we bring it into Photoshop or we open it up in lightroom, and then during the editing process, there is also selective sharpening that we might want to do to bring sharpening to certain areas just like the eyes or the hair, etc, etc. And then, of course, there is overall sharpening that we do at the very, very end before printing, and before we print the actual file. So there is many, many different ways of sharpening. So I'm going to jump back into Photoshop now. I'm going to get some images, and we're going to look at how sharpening works and the different stages of sharpening. Okay, so, let's um.. Question. Yeah, absolutely. We have a good question. George asked, how does clarity in lightroom compare to sharpening? Is that apples and oranges? Yeah, well, clarity in lightroom, it's just increasing contrast on the local level, but in a broader sense, so clarity is, once again, applying contrast, okay, to making darker areas darker and lighter areas lighter, but it's not as fine as the sharpening, okay? So it is a way of sharpening, though. Clarity is a way of sharpening. Yep. Definitely. So let's have a look at this one. We'll bring that into Photoshop. Okay, so when we go into Photoshop, okay, and we look at the sharpening where there's our lens, making sure that's all done. Good. And here we go. At the camera raw stage, my recommendation is very simple. You stick with the default, okay, because so much more is going to be happening to the file, so the amount is 25, the radius is one, detail is 25, and um, masking is something that we will do ourselves in Photoshop later, okay. We're masking basically deals with masking out, say, areas of the skin, so I'll show you what I mean in this scenario here, so if I increase the sharpness level up quite high, what's happening at the moment is, it's not only sharpening the edges, okay, but it's sharpening the skin pores as well. The minute I go to masking, okay, and I hit the alt button, and I come across, okay, I can control where those edges are, you see, as I'm moving across, so the white areas, it's what's being sharpened, okay. Now my, so we're taking it away from the skin and just basically sharpening the edges of the eyelashes and etc, etc. Because of all the things that we do to an image, as far as something like this where we are retouching skin and we are messing around with texture, doing more sharpening than necessary at the camera raw stage really can lead to problems later on because then we're starting to apply, you know, heavy amounts of sharpening first off, and then followed by more sharpening and more sharpening again, and it's going to get to the point where, it's very easy to get to a point where you're oversharpening things and then you're, you're asking for trouble when we try and print. So keeping things you know at the default which is, you know, 25, one, 25 is all you really need, okay? So at the moment we've got the image there, and if I was to, you know, turn the sharpening off without any sharpening, okay, you can see there is slight blur that happens, but it is slight because of that anti-alizing filter that's in front of the lens, in front of the sensor, not in front of the lens. Okay, so bring it up to 25, it's probably going to be very hard to see for the folks at home, you know, because of you know monitor resolution, and by the time this footage gets compressed over the internet and all that sort of stuff, but zero means that you haven't applied any sharpening. We do need a little bit of sharpening to get rid of that anti-aleazing effect, just on the get go as we start to, you know, to manipulate the image, okay. So that is essentially what we need to so as far as sharpening at the camera raw stage. So I'm just going to cancel that and what we're going to do is we're going to go into our image that we worked on earlier, okay. So let's apply selective now sharpening, okay, to an area as I'm working so I want to apply more sharpening to the hair, and I want to apply more sharpening say to maybe the dress. So, let me just delete all the layers I don't need for this. So what I do, right, is I use a technique where we're going to use surface blur to increase the inherent detail that's already there, so basically it's like you know sharpening on steroids with a clarity filter on steroids if you like. So I'm going to make summary up at the very top of all the layers, okay, and there it is, but I'm going to show you how it works, okay. So I have a summary there. I duplicate that layer, okay, duplicate it again. Then what I do is I change the top layer to vivid light, and I invert it, so command I on a Mac and control I on a PC, so we get to this level here, okay, and then go into filter, blur, surface blur, so we're not actually sharpening through blurring because we are blurring and inversion inverted image, so what we're going to here is put pixel radius of 30 and a threshold of 30. So the smaller the number, the smaller the number of details, or you could go 40 and 40, giving you broader detail, okay. And once I've done that I hit okay. So it's going to apply that. Being a 16 bit image, it takes a little bit of time for that to happen, okay, and what I'm going to do now is I'm going to merge down with the bottom layer. Okay, now what I'm going to do with this, okay, is I'm going to change the blending mode of that to soft light, okay, now I'm going to turn that on and off. Do you see where the sharpening is coming in or the appearance of sharpening? Now the worst thing you can do is apply it everywhere, so I'm going to put a mask in there. And I'm going to invert the mask, and I'm going to selectively paint that in. You know, just on the hair and stuff like that, so it flow you know down to five, and we're just going to make sure that our brush is set to white because we're painting on a black mask, so black hides, white reveals. So we're painting in there. We're painting there. Yes, we are. So I'm turning that on and off, you see how we're just creating a little bit more detail there through the hair. What I'm gonna do here, I gonna bring it in through the lips just a fraction, just ever so slightly and little bit here on the eyeball, okay. And then, of course, we're going to do the earrings as well, okay, selectively. So it's going to give us the perceptual appearance that um, you know, certain things are sharper than others, but it's going to give us nice, beautiful detail. Okay, so there it is. If I was to turn it on and off, are you seeing now? The little areas of sharpening are starting to come in, so this is selective sharpening for aesthetics during the editing process, okay. And the same thing here, I could spend time, you know, brushing it in on the detail of the dress, and so on and so forth. Okay, I'm just being quite selective as to where the sharpening is being applied. Now, with sharpening, it's very, very important especially selective sharpening areas, purely because when we view images, okay, and um, I have a lot of experience of this with print competition judging and photographers wanting to know what do I have to do to get maximum impact? Well, quite simply, the eye is attracted to two things, first and foremost. The first one is brightness, okay. We look and scan an image or we look at a scene and the first thing we are attracted to is what? The brightest part of an image, or the brightest part of a scene. That's where our eye goes to. So that's number one stimulus for our brains. Number two is contrast and sharpness. If an area is sharper than another one, your eye keeps going to it. If an area has more contrast than another, your eye keeps going to it. So combining brightness, contrast and sharpness and making that where your eye needs to go first, it's very easy then for the narrative to come become more apparent as you start to scan your eye through an image, okay. So images that do really well in communicating an idea or a thought or a message are images that can do that at that level. Images that are able to communicate via, you know, the brightness of tone and contrast and sharpness and it sounds quite complex, but really it's simple at the same time because, you know, our eye just does that. So we need to be able to make or shape the image to reflect that as much as possible. So I'm going to continue here just applying a little bit more sharpening across there to the eyes. It's working really well. So if I was to turn that on and off, yeah, and we're starting to see that. Not sure if you can see that on the monitor there, can you? You guys can see it? Okay, but it is very, very subtle. The last thing I want to do is sharpen the skin, yeah, because we've just spent way too much time getting the skin looking like that only for us to then destroy it again by oversharpening. Okay, so that's what we would do in bringing, bringing sharpness, and sometimes these areas of sharpness can be greater than others depending on the image. On this image here the last thing I want to do is sharpen everything because that's now what the image is about. I've shallowed it to field. I've got that nice, beautiful background, so for me what's important is the lips, the eyes, the jewelry, maybe, perhaps some detail in the dress, just to make the image look as natural as possible without making it look, you know, oversharpened, okay. So that's very, very important. Another technique is high pass sharpening. So what I'm going to do now is I'm going to make a summary of the image at the very top again, okay. And I'm going to go into filter, other, high pass, okay, and I'm going to do a high pass filter of around three pixels, four pixels, and that's probably about the maximum. Anything beyond that, we start to get haloing. And I hit okay. Okay, zoom in. And what I have here when I change the blending mode to soft light, can you see that? We have a sharper image, but the sharpening, once again, is pretty much all over, which is, once again, not really something that we want to do, at least not for this type of image. So I'm going to scale it back and do all of these things, okay. So what we're going to do is we're going to create a mask, just for the lines of the image, okay, and um, I'm going to go into channels. Okay, and I'm going to, it doesn't matter which channel I pick because they're all pretty much the same because it's monochromatic and then we have obviously a little bit of color being applied to the image. But the one with the most contrast is probably the blue channel, and I duplicate that, and I'm going to go into filter, um, where are we? Render, no, where are we? Noise, distort. Let's go somewhere. Stylize, find edges. I'm going to go find edges and what it's done is it's found the edges, but at the moment I need to modify this mask a little bit more because remember mask works where you know um, black hides, white reveals, so at the moment, the edges, being black, are going to be masked out of any effect that we are going to do. So we need to invert that, but before we do, I need to modify this, so we accentuate the edges a little bit more, and the way we do that is through levels. I'm going to go command L or control L, okay, and I'm going to bring even more contrast, okay, to this. Okay, a little bit more, so just about there is good, and then I'm going to apply this even more selectively so I hit okay. There it is, and I'm going to invert this, the blue copy. So this is going to become the mask that we are going to use to sharpen. And then, of course, paint it on because I'm going to have to paint it away from the face because there is still some texture being shown. Now the way, the way that I'm going to do it. I'm going to go into layers, and the first thing I'm going to do with the top layer that we are going to sharpen which is going to be our high pass sharpen layer is going to go with I'm going to go into filter, and I'm going to convert this into a smart filter. Okay, the reason why I'm doing that is that so that when I apply the sharpening effect or the high pass effect to this layer here, right, it's going to be done earlier because I'm going to be able to come back and tweek it and change it every which way I want. And I'm going to go into filter, other, high pass, and there it is right there. We're going to leave it at four. We're going to hit okay and change the blending mode to soft light. So now I've sharpened the whole image. Now, I come into my channels, command, click onto the blue copy, to load the mask, going to layers, click on the mask icon, okay, and I'm just sharpening the edges. Then if it's not enough, I'll go back into high pass, and increase that radius if I need to to bring more sharpening, okay. The only thing I need to do is hit the alt key or option key on the keyboard, click onto the mask, so I'm going to get this, the mask itself. I'm going to take some black. Okay, and I'm going to paint on this at a hundred percent because really I don't want to bring any more attention to the texture of the skin, okay. So I would clean the mask up like this. Okay, more about the lines around the lips and everywhere else, around the edges of the nose, okay, and cleaning up the skin up that way. There it is. Clean that up. And pretty excited to see this in print very, very soon. We're literally minutes away from printing this. Exciting. Okay, let's get rid of it. Anywhere there's skin, I want to get rid of that. Then we'll just keep painting it on the mask. So, Rocco, a quick question. So you show like a few methods to sharpen and you did like one on top of the other. Do you usually apply in that order or do you just choose one of them and sharpen the image just with one method? Sometimes, it's a combination of three. Definitely the one that I always use in constantly is the camera raw sharpening. That's what's in all the time. Selective sharpening or this type of sharpening, right, it's sometimes either or, or sometimes it could be both, okay. The problem is once you've done it you have to visualize it and make sure that you haven't oversharpened because it's very, very easy to oversharpen, okay. So once we've done that, I'll uh, zoom in, okay, which is good now. And I've just sharpened, you see what we've done? We've just sharpened very subtly. Look at the earrings. We have that nice little pop which will translate just beautifully in print. Now this type of sharpening with the smart filters and the high pass will be the last thing I do once I'm ready, ready for print, okay. That'll be the last thing that we would do before we print. In this case, I mean, I left the image in layers but we're gonna flatten in a minute to send it to print. Um, and that's what I would do, and that's pretty much, you know, because I'm not upsizing the image, I'm leaving it as it is, I don't have to make any other decisions. This is the size of the image, and this is how I'm going to print it because of the limitation of the paper. We are printing on A which is A3 plus which is 13 by 19 inches, and we're going to image, image size. I had already looked at this before. I've got a 10.3 inch image by 15.4 at 360, so I'm well within the limits. I don't have to upsize. I don't have to downsize. I'm pretty good, so I'm ready to leave it as it is. So we'll just, I'm just going to save this as it is, so that I've got it saved in layers. Then what we're going to do now is we're going to flatten, and we're going to do a couple of different things with it. I have a question. Yes. So do you ever use the, um, smart sharpening as opposed to high pass? Yeah, you can use smart sharpening. Uh, definitely, it's just another way of sharpening. Um, I'm a control freak. And I like to control the areas that I'm sharpening, and I love to paint in that level of sharpness and just, you know, do it on the edges. But you could essentially create a layer, convert it into a smart object, go into smart sharpen, apply your smart sharpening, then find your edges, okay, and sharpen that way should you wish to go down that road. It really doesn't matter. I mean, I've been used to using the high pass scenario for many, many years and it works. But definitely you could use um, you could use any of those sharpening algorithms because they work pretty much exactly the same. With smart sharpening, you have more options, okay, because uh, you can sharpen for gloss and blur and for camera shake and for camera movements and all sorts of stuff, yeah. So that's saved which is pretty good. And we'll flatten the image, okay, and I'm going to go file, save as. I'm going to save this as a TIF, okay, and this is going to be the PC master file. The TIF's going to be my print. Okay, what I'm going to print. Okay, so so far so good. We're looking pretty amazing. Now let's look at this phenomenon of image sizing and interpolating, okay. So, at the moment, okay the image, you know, sits at 360 with, you know, 15 by 10. Now, if I don't, if I click, do not resample, and I change the DPIs as we did earlier, If I go down to, you know, 72 DPI, I'm at 77 inches in height, and 51 inches across. It'd be great. I could probably print that if we're just doing billboards, and we're not printing it photographic quality. We're printing it really low quality, you know, very low pixel count type of printing, but, if I am, if I change that back to 360, okay, the dimensions change back to what we had, okay, but now the minute I now start to put sizes, different sizes in here, bigger sizes, Photoshop needs to make up pixels, okay. Photoshop needs to put pixels where, you know, pixels weren't there before, okay. So down here we have the resampling options, you know, automatic, preserve details, bicubic smooth off, enlargement, bicubic sharper, etc, etc. Now automatic does a pretty good job because it senses when, you know, the image is being interpolated up or when the image is being resampled down, and it picks the correct, you know, the correct algorithm to resize. So normally if I'm really sizing down, I'm just going to leave that to automatic because, at the end of the day, throwing pixels away and working out which ones are going to remain, it does a better job of that than going the other way. But for enlarging, if you have this option, I go to bicubic smoother enlargement, okay, always. And if we wanted to do, say, a 20 inch print by 30 inch print. So it's building a preview. There it is, okay. And I would hit okay. Photoshop would work that in one single step. There it is. Image. Image size. Okay, there it is, 20 by 30 inches at 360 DPI. So I'll be printing a 20 by 30 inch print. Now, there's a couple of different schools of thought that if you do that in one big jump, it isn't as accurate as doing it in little steps. So, I've created an action, which is an interpolating action which does the same thing but does it at 10 percent increments. So Photoshop is making up the information 10 percent at a time instead of trying to work out over the span of the area, how big it's going to be. And the way that it works. I'm going to go back into the original size which is 10 by 15, okay. And the way it works, instead of having inches there, we change that to percentages. And we type in 110 percent, okay. And we hit okay. And then we come back image, image size, 110 percent, and we hit okay. And we keep going until we reach the size that we want to reach, okay, so the action, the action's really cool because, and it's part of your course download, of course, upsize and um, we just click onto it, play it, click onto it, play it. Or in button mode, you just click onto it. Click onto it and play it. Click onto it and play it. And we can go pretty much as big as you would like to go. And you're going to get to a point where the image is going to look pretty bad because obviously you've gone to the point of no return, but before you make that assessment, you know, it's always good to do that high pass sharpening thing and sharpen the image and see if sharpening is going to help the softness that is slowly, slowly creeping in. Another really cool piece of software, if you're going to go into really, really large prints is this one here, which is the sharpener pro in the Nix software collection. It's an output sharpener, and what this does which is a little bit different is that you basically put in parameters like it's asking you the output sharpening infrared shed, which is what we're doing, the viewing distance, okay. The viewing distance is going to be from 60 to 150 centimeters, you know, the printer resolution. You know, we're printing with 2880 by 1440, okay, and then, of course, you know, your output sharpening strength, whether you zoom in, and there it is, and you're seeing like it's doing a pretty aggressive job of the sharpening and this needs to be, needs to be tamed. But what I would normally do with this, once again, and I would apply it over a layer, okay, come in with my, my, uh, detecting edge technique, right, and use this to give me that ultimate output sharpening. But for today we don't need that because we're going to print a little bit smaller than that. We haven't got time to print a 60 by 40 inch print, but that's how you would, you would do it.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Rocco's Photoshop Actions
Rocco's Printer Evaluation Files
Color & Luminosity Seperation Action

Ratings and Reviews

Roberto Valenzuela

I honestly consider many courses to be great, but optional. However, this course by Rocco Ancora is a MUST! It helps the photographer complete the circle of being a photographic artist. Our job doesn't end at the edit, it ends with the print. When your clients can hold and enjoy your creative vision physically, that is when the magic of being a photographer happens. I have been so fortunate to travel the world teaching and meeting some of the best photographers in the world. That being said, I can say with confidence that nobody can teach this combination of Photoshop retouching / fine-art printing better than Rocco Ancora. I believe in this class so much, I traveled to Seattle to attend this course to be part of the live studio audience. I have never done that before. But that's how important I consider this material to be. I am so happy I took the time to go and learn from the man himself. Now, I will get this course to watch it, dissect it, study it, and practice it. Very excited to see how the knowledge in this course will propel my career further. --Roberto Valenzuela

a Creativelive Student

I was fortunate enough to attend this class in person and got to experience Rocco's prints in person. The quality is absolutely breathtaking and a game changer, Learning these skills will really help my business in a number of ways. In the past, I have had a difficult time convincing clients to purchase typical lab prints through my studio, as opposed to buying them through Walmart or Costco where the quality was "close enough." Rocco's method that he shared in this class creates three dimensional images of unmatched quality and images that just jump off the page. The knowledge from this course will empower me to help run a sustainable business and thrive as a photographer. You would be foolish to not learn these methods and incorporate them into your business. Highly Recommend!!

April S.

I have invested time into learning Lightroom and Photoshop, my own gear, and my particular photographic style, but the one thing I am really lacking is a solid understanding about preparing an image for print, and the various print options (e.g., paper types). When I saw this course come up on the CL schedule it caught my eye immediately so I RSVP'd for the live broadcast. I was at work when it started and couldn't watch at that time. I do listen in from work sometimes, but after 2 minutes of listening to this course I realized it was one I really needed to watch closely and focus on. So, I stopped the stream after a couple minutes and bought the course. I have never done that before. I always wait and watch as much as I can in the initial broadcast (or rebroadcast) to decide if a course is one that I really should spend for. I knew right away though that Rocco was presenting the very information I was lacking and needed, and I wanted it! In addition, it was clear to me after looking him up online that he's a consummate professional with lots of experience and his delivery style even in just the couple of minutes that I listened reflected that. I already have X-rite ColorMunki Display and Colorchecker, a good monitor, and I have a photo printer (Canon Pixma Pro-100) but I'm lacking that technical understanding of color and know I'm not using my resources to their fullest. I use my Canon Pixma to test-print images before uploading to the print service I use. My method isn't ideal since the service uses different printers and ink, and paper depending on what I choose, but at least I have a much better idea of what my image file will give me in print form. After Rocco's course I believe I will be much better equipped to prepare my images and choose the options best suited to each image. I'll still test print if only because it's fun to see something on paper, but I expect the results I get from the print service to be much better once I really know how to put this knowledge to work for me.

Student Work