A Mallard and (Some Notes on Sharpening)
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A comment on one of my posts where I spoke about sharpening noted that “you have to start with a reasonably sharp image no matter how good your sharpening software is.” I agree, sharp photographs begin with well-focused photographs. But depending on what you intend to do with that photograph you need to make sure it looks sharp for that purpose or medium (print or web). Before explaining further let me highlight the key points – you will want to sharpen the edges of the pixels (normal sharpening), you may also want to highlight tonal contrast and enhance each pixel. Creative and selective use of tools in Nik Software for example, will make sure that a sharp picture looks sharp when you print it, or post it, otherwise depending on the medium and magnification it may go soft.
I do my sharpening in Photoshop and for the most part Smart Sharpening does a great job of sharpening the definition between pixels. Shake Reduction removes movement that may have occurred in the taking of the picture (but sometimes adds ghosting and requires some additional work to fix). You can duplicate your photograph layer and apply the High Pass Filter (under Filter/Other); a setting of between three and four will give you a grey outline of your subject, applying a soft overlay layer blend option to the results creates a very sharp overall photograph. In all cases you can use masking to selectively sharpen elements of your photograph. However, this only defines the outline of the pixels. Detail extractors, tonal contrast tools and structure tools depending on the plug-ins you use – Nik, Topaz, etc., go further and differentiate between the tones in those pixels. Over sharpening can lead to halos (lines around objects).
So yes everything begins with a well-focused picture, but I still use Photoshop’s Smart Sharpen, Nik Detail Extractor and sometimes other plug-ins to make sure that my pictures are sharp and the details are where I want them.