I have never really discussed sharpening so this week I am going to just cover the surface of this topic. It is such a huge subject and there are so many ways to sharpen that it is almost impossible to figure out which is best. Lots of questions here on when to apply the sharpening filter that I am not covering. Basically this blog is a quick comparison of techniques to see what is happening when sharpening is applied using different plugins – in both PS and from other software products.
What is sharpening?
Bottom line: Adding edge contrast to make an image look sharper. So when you go through the various plugins, watch for what the various sliders are doing. For more technical info, check out the Resources paragraph.
Now we can understand a little more what is going on when sharpening an image and figure out what is really affecting the sharpness in an image. Different methods were tried to see if one really stood out or does it actually matter. And are they all just doing sharpening or are they added other changes to make the image look better, and possibly affecting the overall tone of the image. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer or Levels Adjustment Layer may need to be added on top. One big issue I found is that some generate a large amount of noise. Therefore a Noise Reduction filter might be needed. A black layer mask to localize the sharpening could be used to contain the noise by painting back just where the sharpening is needed. Also Blend If sliders in the Layer Style could be used – apparently it does not matter which slider is used for sharpening since just adjusting the impact on the far highlights or shadows in the image. Also, look at the Radius settings in the filters – that is where the halo issued develop many times.
These plugins and filters were explored and just the results for each are shown in the short video (see link below): Topaz Studio and Labs Detail or Clarity adjustments, On1 Photo RAW 2018 Precision Contrast and Sharpening filters, Google Nik’s Color Efex Pro’s Detail Extractor filter, Lucis Pro’s 6.0.9 filter with a layer mask, Luminar 2018’s Details Enhancer and Structure filters, and even Aurora 2018 HDR software. Photoshop’s own methods were also tried including: the Unsharp Mask Filter, Shake Reduction Filter, High Pass filter, the Sharpen Tool, the Camera Raw Filter, the Hard Mix blend mode, and Smart Sharpen Filter. It has also been demonstrated even HDR software can do wonders to sharpen an image so I added an example using Aurora 2018. No wonder there is so much confusion about which is the best to use. So many of these examples sharpen very nicely. Just want for the color or noise changes. For links to all the software, check out my Tidbits Blog sidebar). If the video link is not appearing in the RSS feed or phone, click on the blog to access.
My favorite techniques as noted in the video were:
- Topaz Studio or Labs Precision Detail – have used it for years and it never lets me down but did not like Studio’s Unsharp Mask. (Settings: Shadows Small Detail 0.58, Medium Detail 0.65 and Large Details 0.51; Highlights Small Detail 0.35, Medium 0.37, and Large Detail 0.32; Lighting Midtones -0.12, Shadows 0.36, and Highlights -0.50. In layer mask painted effect into the flowers only.)
- On1 Photo Raw 2018 Sharpening Filter – I have noted this before and it is still gives excellent results. (Settings: Type High Pass, Halo 84, Amount 68, Protect Shadows 11 and Protect Highlights 11.) I did not like their Dynamic Contrast for this, but it is still a really good filter.
- Photoshop Unsharp Mask using LAB Mode twice. (Settings: Amount 100, Radius 3.0, and Threshold 4.) Downside is that I had to create a duplicate document to go into LAB mode to apply and then bring the layer back into PS. (This technique was first seen in Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book. (Go to Image -> Mode -> Lab color; Highlight the Lightness Channel in Channel’s panel, Apply Unsharp Mask Amount 100, Radius 3, and Threshold 4; Apply Unsharp Mask filter again; and go back to Image -> Mode -> RGB.)
- Photoshop Smart Sharpen filter. I have never used this much, but Blake Rudis discussed it in his Photoshop CC Boot Camp on Creative Live recently and it really looks good. (Settings: Amount 417%, Radius 2.7, Reduce Noise 40%, Remove Gaussian Blur, Shadows Fade Amount 12, Tonal Width 50%, Radius 21, and Highlights set to Fade Amount 0.)
The High Pass Filter effects in the past have proved to be quite nice, but not so good on this image. I will still use the Sharpening in Lightroom – it does work well at the very beginning of the workflow when just a little sharpening is needed. I will probably use the Smart Sharpen Filter in Photoshop when I need a hammer! And a lot of people use Topaz Detail to do a final sharpening for printing. Many of the other choices would do fine for sharpening and with a different kind of image, they might look a lot better than what the floral results were. And remember if you are working in a plugin using various adjustments or filters, using the compatible sharpening filters will probably work just fine – they were developed to work with their own products. This blog just presented some examples of some of the things that can be done to sharpen an image. There are so many combinations that I could have done many more techniques. Check out the resources below for other ideas on how to do this well.
Continue reading for a good technical explanation of this and some good resources to learn about this subject. Harry Guiness gives an excellent explanation as to what sharpening is and what has to be done. To take a quote from his blog at EnvatoTuts+ in What is Image Sharpening: “Sharpness is a combination of two factors: resolution and acutance. Resolution is straightforward and not subjective. It’s just the size, in pixels, of the image file. All other factors equal, the higher the resolution of the image—the more pixels it has—the sharper it can be. Acutance is a little more complicated. It’s a subjective measure of the contrast at an edge. There’s no unit for acutance—you either think an edge has contrast or think it doesn’t. Edges that have more contrast appear to have a more defined edge to the human visual system. …..Sharpness comes down to how defined the details in an image are—especially the small details. For example, if a subject’s eyelashes are an indistinct black blur they won’t appear sharp. If, on the other hand, you can pick out each one then most people will consider the image sharp……the only way to increase apparent sharpness is by increasing acutance. If you want your image to look sharper, you need to add edge contrast.” This was a great article and part of 3 so check out his The 7 Hidden Dangers of Image Sharpening blog and his Selective Sharpening Using High Pass in Adobe Photoshop blog – all excellent information. I have an older book that is still really relevant called Image Sharpening by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe that is considered one of the best on the subject ever written. So if you want some really good info on this, check out this book. I wanted to figure out which of the various plug-ins and filters work the best for this. Also Martin Evenings Photoshop books all cover this topic very thoroughly.
This blog turned into quite a project but I learned a lot about sharpening. If you have time, try out some of the filters I used above, especially the Photoshop filters to see what results you are getting. I did all my changes on a flower image, but a landscape image would be nice to try with the same set of filters to see what happens. Hope everyone has a great week – Spring is finally here!…..Digital Lady Syd
This week I performed just a little comparison of the my HDR programs. I get so confused about which one I want to use and what the differences are between them so I decided to take the same image and run it through each of them. What I found out is although the basic image is the same, depending upon the HDR program used, a totally different look will be achieved. So what my final conclusion is that you need to decide up front what effect you like, and then choose the program that gives this result. That is why running an image through each program is so informative – it shows the subtle differences that need to be known to make the an intelligent choice. So below is the image example and a little info I learned about each software as I experimented. The image was taken of a Hat Rack that is outside a store on St. George Street in the historic district of St. Augustine, Florida. Also, all three images had a little work done in Photoshop – the price tag amounts were removed, the same High Pass filter set to 2.0 Radius and Overlay blend mode was used on each (except the On1 image which was sharpened enough and it caused haloing), and a Red Channel Luminosity Adjustment Layer was applied although different RGB settings were used for each. The top image is a 3 image HDR of the ballroom at Whitehall (Flagler Museum), Henry M. Flagler’s Residence in Palm Beach, Florida. It was post-processed using Aurora 2018.
To begin with, I love this new HDR software. Why? Because it is so easy to use. Aurora (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) have canned presets (and some more can be downloaded for free from within the program) and the interface is pretty simple. That said, there are a few problems if you are a Windows user. It is hard to navigate around the image when zoomed in is my first pet-peeve. The biggest problem is when using the Dodge & Burn filter which I really like on the image. The program did a great job in removing ghosting but the colors seem to be a little off to me. Below is the result I got using this program. (Here are the settings used on it: AU 2018 – HDR Basic: Temp 9, Tint 16, Exposure -0.44, Contrast -2, HDR Enhance 79, Smart Tone -31, Highlights 24, Whites 36, and Blacks -20; Color Vibrance 44, HDR Structure: Amount 78; Image Radiance Amount 41 and Brightness -20; HSL Sat Red 47, Orange -11, Aqua -67, and Blue -58; Dodge & Burn – set brush to 12% Strength and painted with Darken around the edges and with Lighten on the lighter parts of the hats; Vignette: Amount -62, Size 32, Roundness -51, Feather 53.) Overall, this is a great program, especially for Apple people, but it needs to be updated to the Apple version for Windows people to really get the full punch of the program.
I decided to include this one since everyone probably owns it since it is free. When this program first came out several years ago there was a lot of excitement generated by this HDR software. I found it still works really good. There are lots of presets to try out and that is exactly how this image was started. It looks very different from the above – the colors are much truer. Is that the look I wanted? Maybe. The disadvantage in this program is there is no Dodge and Burn filter which is what I think made the first image more interesting. (Here are the settings used on this image: NIK HDR Efex Pro 2: Selected Pale & Structure and changed Tone Compression to -18%, Method Strength 41%, HDR Drama far left and the Color Sat to -14%. Add control point to reduce the effect on the bright items in the door on right. Added Vignette Lens 3 vignette and changed amount to -5%.) This is not a fatal flaw since this can be done in Photoshop. I am a little disturbed by the slight amount of haloing that I could not figure out how to reduce in the plug-in so I ended up hand cloning out – still some present. I am not sure this plug-in is still available as a stand-alone, but I have never used it this way. Overall, it gives a nice result and I am sure the haloing issue could be avoided with the proper settings.
On1 Photo Raw 2018 HDR
On1 software (for website link see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog) has come a long way in the last few years and their HDR filter within the software interface is pretty great. The HDR section is set up so that once the HDR images are selected in the Browse module, the Create HDR dialog opens showing two tabs, Tone & Color tab (with are the standard LR Basic sliders) and HDR Look (which has the compression slider among others). Once the HDR image is saved and created, the program lets you use their Develop module or Effects module to further enhance the image which opens a lot of extra possibilities. (Here are the settings used in image below: Create HDR-Tone & Color – Exposure -0.2, Contrast -12, Highlights 0, Shadows -17, Whites 1, Blacks -14, Structure 17, Haze -9, Temp 4650, Tint 4, and Vibrance 37 and HDR Look: Compression 51, Details 21, Clarity 27, Vibrance 10, Glow 0, and Grunge 7. Effects module: HDR with the settings from HDR Look show up; Dynamic Contrast: Small 6, Medium 61, and Large 43, Highlights 17, and Shadows -4; and Color Enhancer: Red Sat 10; Orange Brightness 10; and Blue Sat -11; and Vignette: Big Softy preset and Brightness -51, Size 38, Feather 100, and Roundness -56.) I have done several HDR images with this program and really like it. I found on a water scene it had a little trouble with the ghosting of some sailboat masts. But other than that I have gotten some great results. In this image it seems that the whites are much better than th two above.
This is very easy to do in Lightroom – just select the images to create the HDR image, right click and choose Photo Merge -> HDR and in the HDR Merge Preview dialog, check the options you want and click Merge. It brings the new HDR image back into LR as a DNG file. I do not use DNG files usually, but have found not problems with it. Now you can do all the same adjustments that are made in LR normally. Major great and easy! The HDR image allows the Exposure slider to go from (+5) to (-5) to (+10) to (-10). I found the resulting HDR image almost sterile looking – no noise, color absolutely correct – almost a flat look. On the other hand it is very realistic. After doing the Basic changes in LR (Settings were: Basic panel-Tint +21, Exposure +0.71, Contrast -16, Highlights -100, Shadows -7, Whites +2, Blacks -48, Clarity +2, Vibrance +18, and Saturation +4; HSL Panel Luminance Orange -20 and Yellow -8; and with the Adjustment Brush set to Exposure 0.80, Clarity 77 and Sharpness 83, the hats were painted over.), the photo was taken into PS. A Color Balance Adjustment Layer was used to add a little more brown-gold look to the image. Since there was not texture at all in this image on the background, a Digital Grain texture I had created a while back was applied on top. It did seem to help a little.
So which of these programs did I prefer? This is such a hard one to decide. I did not use Photomatix Pro as I own version 3.3 and apparently they are on version 6.0 – I did not mind using it a few years ago as it gave very good results. They all gave sharp and clean images. I believe that Lightroom’s HDR effect is extremely realistic and that is perfect when you need something with really sharp lines. It does a fantastic job with this. On1 has this great advantage of also being tack sharp which one of the things I like about this program even when not doing HDR – their Dynamic Contrast filter is just fabulous! Their HDR is also very good. Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 may be lagging just slightly behind, but this is extremely power HDR software and if you cannot afford to buy new program, just download this one. It is still just fine for most image. The new guy for me, Aurora 2018, is really good – it is the brainchild of Trey Radcliff, a major HDR guru, so this is why it is so good and easy to use. I thought it did a really good job on the Flagler Museum image which has a lot of exposure issues in it. Overall, the best way to figure this out is to try them all. I can see if I do not like the results of one software, try a different one – it will look different!
Hope you enjoyed this blog – have a great week…..Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Checking Out Aurora HDR 2018 for Windows
Trying Out On1 Photo Raw 2018’s New HDR Filter
Digital Lady Syd Reviews Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
HDR Using Photoshop Merge to HDR and Nik”s HDR EFex Pro and Silver Efex Pro? Wow!