Merganser Ducks (Two Photographs) and more on Post Processing – Sharpening (and a Response to a Query on Noise)
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These were taken with my new Nikon 200-500 mm lens. I still had to crop in closely in post-processing given how far away the ducks were. The lens is lighter than my 300mm and a good deal less expensive. It’s also lighter than a dedicated 500mm and from what I have been told the quality is not very different.
Sharpening is an art and books have been written about it. Every photo is slightly sharpened by your camera and then by your processing software on import. This ensures that what you see on your computer screen is not soft. Professionals base their sharpening on the medium on which the photo will be viewed and from how far away it will be looked at. Pros often sharpen selectively, for the rest of us basic sharpening will do. Most programs have sharpening tools and you get three parameters to work with: amount, radius and detail. Some editing programs have methods where you can mask what you are sharpening and see more clearly what is going on (Lightroom). To say there are many ways to sharpen photographs would be an understatement. I use Smart Sharpen in Photoshop. When you sharpen photographs like those in this article you have to be very gentle in order not to get a noticeable halo around your subjects (a white line that outlines the subject). The halo is a function of the transition between the background and your subject. In addition to sharpening, external editing programs like Nik and Macphun include detail and tonal extractors (many names for much the same thing). When we do basic sharpening we sharpen the edges of the pixels; tonal contrast sharpens the lines between tones; detail extractors and structure adjustments are using creative ways to work highlight contrast between pixels. When I am happy with the Photoshop sharpening, I will then selectively apply detail extraction only to my subject. The results are often subtle and need to be carefully applied so as not to sharpen dust, highlights etc. on your subject. No-one wants soft photographs, some sharpening in one form or another has to be done. (Down the line I am working on a series of posts focused on sharp photographs dealing with camera handling, lenses and post-processing.)
I was asked what noise looks like. To really see it you need to show a photo full size, instead below I have cropped to a degree that the noise is exaggerated. Both photos were processed similarly except the first, has no noise reduction and the second does. I would never crop this close, but if the full photo (Bird and Background) was an 8×10 print you would see the noise, the print would look muddy and rough.