Skip to main content

Sharpening Images

Lesson 24 from: Photographing Panoramas for Large Prints

Mike Hagen

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

24. Sharpening Images

Sharpening polishes that final image before printing -- but do you use Lightroom's sharpening tools in the Develop module or the Print Sharpening tool? Hagen walks you through the best practices for sharpening a photo for printing.

Lesson Info

Sharpening Images

Before we get into actual printing, I want to follow up with sharpening. What is sharpening? Why do we need to sharpen? And how much sharpening should we do? So I'm gonna show you, I think, two or three different ways to sharpen. Sharpening is very important for the final output. So if I move on here to the next slide, I'm going to show you Lightroom sharpening first. And in Lightroom sharpening, there are basically two approaches. There's the first approach, and we'll see this in my actual, in the actual software package, but the first approach is using the Detail sharpening panel here. So we've got Amount, Radius, Detail, and Masking. Now, I'm going to talk about each of those four items and how they impact us. The next thing I'm going to cover is how should we view the print when we're sharpening? Or, sorry, how should we view the digital image when we're sharpening? Should we view at 100% or 50%? I'll go through that in just a second. Then right after that, I'm going to talk about ...

output sharpening, or Print Sharpening. And I know, I'm using this common term here. I'm talking about sharpening for the print. Well, this term is in the Print Job box, inside of Lightroom, when you're going off to the printer, there's one final step. It says Print Sharpening. And this is in addition to what you've done in Lightroom. This is like, as it's going off to the printer. And sometimes this is necessary, sometimes it's not. I'll talk through that. And I'll talk about even the levels. Low, medium, and high output sharpening for printing. So let's go ahead and start here. Let's go back to Lightroom on my computer. And we'll talk through that process. So this image, this was right at sunset. You can see the sky is beautiful. We've already kind of gone through everything. We've made the sky great, we've got our contrast, our clarity, our vibrance, all the colors are great. I think I've even brightened up the buildings a little bit in this image using my brush tool, so we're pretty much ready to go for the final step, which is sharpening. Over here on the left hand side, I'm gonna open up this side panel here, there are four different zoom settings. There's Fit, there's Fill, there's 1:1, and then there's this one here, which is actually configurable. So Fit takes the image and fits it to the width of the Lightroom main window there. Fill basically fills it from top to bottom. Neither of these have really, they're not helpful for us when we do sharpening. What I recommend is when you sharpen your image, you should look at your image at 1:1 zoom. That's 100%. Or at 50% zoom. So let's look at this image to see what it looks like in 50%, and to do that, I have to go to this little pull down menu, and I click on the little arrows there, and I go 1:2, meaning 50%, or half. So there's 50% zoom. 50% zoom represents kind of a normal viewing distance in the real world. I like to sharpen at 50%, because most of the time, when we're looking at prints, you're like five or six feet away from the wall. You know, very rarely, it's only when you actually print that you actually look at the print like this and go, "Ooh, ahh, ooh, ahh." But most people view the print from quite some distance away, and I think 50% kind of replicates that better than 100%. If you're a pixel peeper, and you know who you are, you're the type of people who go in, and microscopically assess every single thing about your photo. If you're a pixel peeper, then go ahead and do your sharpening at 100%. But for this today, I'm gonna do 50. All right. So I look at this image, and I oftentimes will drag it around to some area that's generally representative of the whole scene. So I've got a building, I've got a little bit of clouds here, there's a crane in the background. This is probably a good option to choose to start with sharpening. I'm gonna scroll down here on the right hand side, and we're going to go to the Detail panel. Detail, Adjust, Sharpening, and Noise Reduction. So, if you do have noise in your photographs, oftentimes that noise will show up later in the evening, if your camera has like an auto ISO turned on, you may get a lot of noise. I recommend dealing with the noise first, so do your noise reduction, move the sliders around until you're happy with the amount of noise reduction, and then sharpening last. So sharpening should always be the last thing you do before the print. Okay, so we've got four sliders here, and I'm going to zero them out just so you can kind of see a little bit of a before and after. So here's the image with no sharpening, and then as I start adding the amount, you'll start to see the image getting a little bit crispier. I'm gonna use that term a few times today, crispiness. Sharpening is the art of creating just enough crispy that the image looks good, but not so much that it's burnt. Think of it like bacon, you know? If you go too overboard on bacon, it just doesn't taste good. And the same thing goes with sharpening. You don't want to like make the image gritty, you want to just go to the grittiness level, and then back off a little bit. So the Amount is just literally the overall amount of sharpening. How much sharpening oomph are you applying to this image? Next is Radius. So to show Radius here, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna move the Amount way up, way more than I normally would, and now I'll move Radius up. And watch the edge of the building and see. I might have to even zoom in to 100% for this so you can actually see what Radius does. Radius creates a halo. Eh, it's hard to see in this image for some reason. Well, you can see it as I move it to the right and to the left. If you look at just the edges of the building, you'll see a little bit of a halo appearing. And it's that halo that creates the perception of sharpness. So this is our halo mitigation tool. How much halo do you want? I generally recommend starting around one. Around a unit of one for the Radius. For really finely detailed prints, maybe sometimes 1.5, but we'll start at one here. And what I did is I just double clicked it. If you double click the slider, you'll see it just jumps back to the default, which is one. Okay. Detail. Well, Detail is how much fine detail do you want to show up in the final print? So, I'm going to hold down my Option key, or my Alt key, and I'm gonna move the detail slider, and when I do that, you'll see the screen basically turns to a mask. And as I move detail up, you'll see it starts to show more detail there in that building. So what's the right amount of detail? Well, that's for you to decide. That's the thing about sharpening is there's never one answer. But here's the problem, if you go with too much detail, what happens is you start to see the noise. If you can see at home, if you can get really close to your computer screen and look at it, you'll see in the sky to the right of the building you start to see texture in the sky. Noise patterns showing up. So don't go too high with the detail. Otherwise your photo can look a little bit noisy. Now I'm looking at it in color, and I definitely went too high on the detail. So I'm gonna back that off a little bit. Well, the opposite of detail, kind of something that works opposite of detail, is something called masking. Think of the Masking slider as edge sharpening. The more masking, or the more you move the Masking slider to the right, the less it sharpens detail, and the more it just sharpens edges. So I'm gonna hold down the Alt button again, or the Option button, and move the Masking slider. So when everything is white, what that means is literally everything is being sharpened. So white means all is being sharpened. Now as I, I'm still holding down the Alt button, as I move my Masking slider to the right, you'll start to see it starts masking out areas. The dark areas are being masked. And just like, for those of you who have been in Photoshop, for a lot of time, you know that white reveals and black conceals. And the same goes here in Lightroom. Black prevents stuff from being sharpened, and white allows stuff from being sharpened. This is my favorite slider. I use Masking until I've eliminated the sky, so the sky doesn't look noisy any longer, but I still have detail there on the buildings. And now as I look here at the sky, the sky is nice and creamy smooth, and the building's look nice and, uh, not quite crunchy, but enough. So now I'm going to look at the photo with 1:2, so 50% zoom. And on your big panoramas, this next step can take a long time, you know. This image here is like 20, 25,000 pixels wide. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna turn the Detail, or in other words, the sharpening off. You may or may not be able to see this at home. We'll see. So I'm gonna turn it off. And it's rendered. Now I'm gonna turn it back on. And it's gonna take a second, and then (splat sound) yeah, there it goes, it just rendered. So the fact that it was slightly difficult to tell that you sharpened is a good thing. It would be terrible if when you activated sharpening, the photo starts to take on that crispy bacon look. That's never a good look to your photographs. So, sharpen gently, and sharpen kindly. That's my recommendation. All right, so let me just review that real quick. Amount, the Amount slider adjusts the overall amount of sharpening. So whatever you've done below in those lower three sliders, Amount is gonna magnify or reduce, all right? Radius is the size of the halo around the edges, 'kay? A bigger radius means that your building kind of stands out more from the background. Start off with a radius of one, and then fine tune it from there. Maybe 1.5, two if you're feeling really extreme, but one is a good starting point. Detail, the more detail that you have in your panorama, you know, I'm thinking of things like that industrial pipe scene that we photographed. There's a lot of detail. So maybe I want to move that slider up. Or the photo that I took in Iceland with all those little houses. You want a lot of detail in that. So move that slider up. Other things, like if you're taking a panorama of maybe a flower or, you know, a pastoral scene with a lot of grass, you know, just gentler, softer, keep the detail lower. And then masking, remember that masking is an edge sharpening tool. It helps you keep the sharpening to the edges, and I really like that. Especially for my urban and industrial photography, as I move that masking level up. Don't forget to hold down your Alt or your Option key as you do that, and that just shows you kind of a black and white representation of the sharpening process. Sweet. So that's sharpening the photo in Lightroom. Now, let's go back here to Fit. So we're looking at the big image. If you look at your photo like this, you're not gonna really see the effects of sharpening. And that's okay. You know, you'll never really notice the effects of sharpening until you're zoomed way in on the image, so if I turn it off or on, you won't even notice anything right there. Now, the last sharpening in Lightroom is in the Print module. So let's say I'm ready to go off to print. I go up here to the upper right, I click the Print module. And in this area over here on the right side panel, if I go down here to the bottom, to this section called Print Job, there's a section here called Print Sharpening. You can choose to use it or choose not to use it. So, you know, I don't actually know the history of this option here, but my feeling is that they included this for people who don't really know and understand the sharpening process. So in other words, you don't have to use this Print Sharpening tool. If you're happy with the amount of sharpening you applied, like I just showed you, then you might just go ahead and send that off to print, and it'll probably come out fine. But Adobe, they're a bunch of smart people. They know what they're doing, and they're very intelligent about this sharpening, this tool that they've got here. Sometimes even though I sharpen to my own happiness level, I will actually reduce the amount of sharpening that I did there, and then apply a low sharpening amount here in the final process. Because I think their, Adobe algorithms are just very good, and they do a good job with overall sharpening. What do I choose? I usually choose low sharpening. But again, like I said earlier, there's no easy answer. Everyone has a different opinion about sharpening, and everyone has a different response to sharpening, and every image requires a different amount of sharpening. So I think the general approach should be go 'til it's crispy, and then back it off. And you all know kind of what that means. Great. Well lets go talk about Photoshop sharpening now. If we could go back to the Keynote real quick. Great. I think I touched all my points there in Lightroom. Yeah. So let's talk now about Photoshop sharpening. The process is generally the same, but the tools are different. The sliders are different. So I'm gonna show you two ways to do Photoshop sharpening. I'm gonna talk about Smart Sharpen and Unsharp Mask sharpening, okay? So the process works like this. You finish developing your image in Lightroom. And then once you're over in Photoshop, you size the image for output, so how big is this thing gonna be? Once it's sized, then I like to sharpen on a new file or a duplicate layer so I don't actually sharpen the original, I'm sharpening a layer above that, and that way I can discard the layer if I mess up. View at 50% or 100% like I just described, and then we're gonna either do Smart Sharpen or Unsharp Mask. Number seven is a plug-in. There's a lot of plug-ins out there that help you sharpen well, like the Nik plug-ins actually work very well. Today I won't be showing those other plug-ins. Alrighty, let's go ahead and head off to Photoshop. I'm going to pick an image that, I'll pick that one, that's only 17,000 pixels. So, we'll go Edit In, Photoshop. Alrighty. As it's firing up here. There was a question earlier, and it's a good question, and we're gonna touch on this a little bit when we talk about resolution, but someone in the previous segment asked, what resolution should we print at? Or what resolution should our files be? I generally like to print anywhere from 240 pixels per inch all the way up to 300 pixels per inch. And the crazy thing is this, the bigger print you make, the lower the resolution you need. Or the lower the pixels per inch that you need. And the reason why is because six foot wide prints, very few people actually go right up, you know, within a few inches of it. You don't need the detail on giant prints. So with big prints, I actually will size them at about 180 pixels per inch. Smaller prints, like these little guys that I made. Well, small prints are different. Small prints, people hold here, and they look here. And especially if people have bifocals, you know, they get really close, and they're looking at it. Well you need a lot of resolution for these little guys. So I typically will print these out at 300 pixels per inch. So a much higher resolution. So, thanks for that question. Good job. So we're in Photoshop now. And here is our big, beautiful image. I mentioned earlier I like to work on a second layer, so I'm just gonna duplicate the layer. So just go Layer, Duplicate Layer. I'm gonna name this, I'm gonna call it Sharpened. Great. And I hit OK. So now what we've got is I've got the layer below, which won't actually be used, and then got the layer above. And that's where I'm going to cause all my destructive work on this. On Photoshop this is actually a destructive process. In other words, if I was on my background layer and I did sharpening and then I saved that image, I cannot undo that. That image is changed forever. Versus Lightroom, you know, Lightroom allows me to willy-nilly change it into the future. So Lightroom is non-destructive editing, Photoshop is destructive editing. So that's why I use layers, 'cause I can throw the layer away. I'm gonna zoom in here to 100%. I'll just do it slowly so you can see. I typed the Z button, and then I'm just clicking with my mouse until on the lower left you can see it says I'm zoomed to 100%. So that's what that image looks like at 100%. And to do this, I'll put these boats there in the foreground. And I can see on my monitor here that they're a little bit soft, so sharpening is going to really, really help us. You could also do this at 50%, but I think for the purpose of the class, I'm gonna keep it at 100 so you all can see what's going on. So now we're going to go up to Filter, and then we go Sharpen, and then there's really two sharpening tools that we're going to use. The first one is Smart Sharpen, and then the last one is Unsharp Mask. Okay. So let's start with Smart Sharpen. This is the newer of the two tools in Photoshop, and it's actually very easy to use. You'll see there's a little preview window here, you can drag that around until you find a place in your scene that you want to sharpen for. In fact, what I do a lot of times is on the big screen, on the monitor behind, I find a large representative area, and then what I do in this little window is I find something maybe up towards the sky that's different, and I use that to assess my halos. You know, you don't want the halos blooming into the sky. So we've got these sliders here. All right, so we start with Amount. Same thing as Lightroom, Amount means just the amount of sharpening, overall what's happening, a lot or a little. So we'll start with, let's just start so we can see what's going on, let's start around 200. I'll probably back that off, who knows. Radius. Radius again adjusts the halo. And I'm just gonna move this radius way up, so you all can see what's happening. See that halo that kind of goes up into the sky there? And look what it did to the boats in the foreground. So you can really damage a photo quickly in Photoshop. Photoshop is a dangerous place to sharpen. (chuckles) Tread lightly. So typically, typically we're around one to two pixels. For that Radius. So let's just go to two and see what that does for us. And then noise, Reduce Noise. So here up in the sky in my little preview window here, we can see a little bit of noise. So I can actually use this sharpening tool to reduce a little noise that was caused by the sharpening process. Sometimes this has an effect here if I don't reduce it. You see how the sky in my preview window went all gritty on us. That is no good. So I reduced noise until the sky looks smooth. All right, cool. And then the last one is what do you actually want to remove, or what sharpening are we trying to accomplish here? Gaussian Blur, Lens Blur, or Motion Blur. This sharpening tool is kinda smart. If you tell it what it's trying to fix, it will try to fix that blurriness. I usually choose either Gaussian Blur or Lens Blur. Sometimes you get a little bit better effect by picking one versus the other. And it looks like for this one, I'm liking, uh, maybe I'm liking the Gaussian Blur a little bit better. Yeah, I think that Gaussian Blur makes the photo look a little bit better. So just pick whichever one you like there. All right. So let's do a little before and after. In Photoshop, there's this little Preview checkbox, so I'm going to uncheck it, and what will happen then is behind, you'll see it go back and revert to what I'll call quote the blurry photo, or the unsharpened one. And now I click it again, and there's the sharpened photo. So before, after. I do this a few times, and then I zoom back out to 50%. So I'm holding my Alt key down, and I click my Zoom button up there two times. Hold my space bar to drag it down. Get kind of a broader view. And again, Preview on, Preview off. So, I'm sorry, that's the Preview on, now off. On, off. You know what, I just learned something. At 50% zoom, it seems too crispy. It honestly looks too gritty. And that's because my Amount is about 160%. So I'm gonna reduce my Amount to maybe around 100%. Yeah, that feels better. That feels much better. Good. So that's what's called Smart Sharpen. And I'm gonna hit Cancel so I don't apply that. I'm gonna just show you one more quickie here which is called the Unsharp Mask, and this is the old school method, so Filter, Sharpen, Unsharp Mask. And this was the very first sharpening tool in Photoshop from years and years and years ago. And I don't use Unsharp Mask much anymore, but I'm so comfortable with it, I've been using it for a long time that sometimes I just use it for nostalgia. All right. Amount. Amount, again, same thing. How much sharpening are we applying? A lot, a little? Radius, well you kind of know what Radius is. Radius is all about the pixels. Okay, so as I, all about the halos I mean. So as I move that up, you can see the halo forming up in the sky. All right, so what do I use here? Well usually I set the Amount between 75 and 100. Starting point. My Radius is typically between one and two pixels. So we'll pick, we'll just pick 1.5. Now, Threshold. Threshold is interesting. You've heard of Levels before. Anyone who's a Photoshop user, you've heard of Levels. Level zero is black and level 255 is bright. What Levels does is it says, hey, I'm looking for something that is at least 13 levels different to sharpen. So like, if I go like this boat here, you know. I'm looking for 13 levels of brightness different, and if I find that, then I will give you a halo at that point. So basically, your threshold, you get to decide, if you have a high threshold, like let's say 200 levels, well then it's only gonna use edge sharpening. Or if you have a low threshold, like one level, then it's gonna sharpen everything, anything that's even slightly difference in brightness. So what's the right choice? Well, somewhere around, you know, between two and eight, a lot of times, for Threshold. So for this image I've got 75, 1.5, 3. And let's do a before and after. Here's before. And here is after. And this is even more subtle than I did before. Probably not enough sharpening. Before. And after. Again, really subtle, so I'll probably amp up the amount. Maybe go up to 80 or 90, and maybe even get a little bit more on the radius. But keep my threshold kinda low. Maybe three to five. Okay, that looks better. Before. And after. And again, it's a subtle amount of sharpening, but just enough to make it look crisp, but not crispy. (chuckles) All right, so now I would click OK. And it is now applied to this level here on the right hand side. So when I print this file, I can print it as is, or I can flatten it if I want to and save it as a new file. Whatever. So there is sharpening in Lightroom and sharpening in Photoshop. Again, this is from Kelbo. Is Print Sharpening only used when printing on your own printer, or also when you send it out to the lab? Is there a different level of sharpening for those two different uses? Great question. So, just to remind everyone what he's asking about, I'm gonna go here. And I'm back in Lightroom now. Okay, so we're in Lightroom. I got to the Print module. And then he's talking about this right here, Print Sharpening. So, when I send this off to the lab, I basically, from Lightroom, I basically have two options. Option one is to, from back in my Develop module, right? From here. So I'm back in the Develop module. And if I right click, and I go Export, and then like I showed earlier today, you know, I go and export a full-size image. Well, that Print Sharpening thing that he just asked about does not apply. So I have to do all the sharpening here in the Develop pane, okay? Now, there's another way to get these prints off to your laboratory. And that's from the Print module. In the Print module, I can actually Print To File. And I haven't done that in a while, so thank you for asking the question and forcing me to be Johnny on the spot. And remember where Print To File is. (chuckles) (humming) Ah. Oh, here we go, there we go. So, what he's asking is, now what if I use this. What if, in my print job, I go Print To, and then JPEG File. So I'm not gonna actually print to an inkjet printer, rather, I'm gonna output a JPEG. In this case, yes, the Print Sharpening will apply to that, and it will add additional printing. So those two options, those two methods I just described, you can use either of those to get your files ready to go off to Costco or Mpix, or AdoramaPix, and both work. That is a fantastic question.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Panorama Checklist & Gearlist

Ratings and Reviews

Fred Morton

Get it, get it and get it. I bought Mike's Speedlight course and this is on the list after watching it on line. The course design by Mike with the Creative Live staff is a successful blend of content and presentation. I absolutely loved how Mike took us on location for several shoots, where we could see the setup and problems that he had to resolve. This is a must have course for photographers interested in landscape work. Another powerful part of this class is Mike's willingness to demonstrate and show us what didn't work. The practical experience in his course was just like being in the field with Mike.

user a5f3c6

Mike combines two characteristics of a great teacher: he's obviously knowledgable and competent about his subject matter and he's relaxed and confident in how he presents his ideas. This class covers everything I need to know about photographing and printing panoramas. But, it is much more. It is a class that shows the essential skills involved in shooting, post-processing, and printing photographs and how to apply them to a specific application: panoramas. I learned a lot! Thanks, Mike.

Sue Sirius

This workshop was terrific! I learned so much about taking, processing and printing panoramas (and photos in general). I found the presentation very easy to follow with great examples and instructions. Highly recommend this!

Student Work