Friday, January 22, 2010

On Sharpness...

I got a message from a flickr member inquiring how I achieve the level of detail and sharpness in my pictures, such as these two:

For reference, I didn't even shoot the first picture :) But this doesn't make a difference regarding sharpness for what I'm about to tell you.

The clarity and detail from my images come from 1) Point-of-capture and 2) Retouching


This is fundamental. If you don't do this right, you'll be starting with lemons in Photoshop and no one wants lemons in Photoshop because then all you can do is make lemonade and no one wants lemonade :) Here are a few pointers to help you achieve sharpness from the camera:

-Stable hands or use a tripod. Self-explanatory.

-Fast shutter speed minimizes camera shake and model movements. If you handhold, rule of thumb is use a faster shutter speed than 1/x where x=your focal length.

-Use an aperture that gives you good depth of field providing you with margin of error. I frequently shoot f/9.0-f/11 in studio. This gives me depth and clarity from the point of focus +/- a few inches even (in front and behind the point of focus)

-Use strobes. Strobes stop action in that 1/2000th of a second even when your shutter is open for longer.

-Try NOT to focus-recompose. It's hard. I'm used to focus-recomposing-then shooting, but it screws up your TRUE focal point particularly noticeable with shallow depth-of-field apertures.

-Breath out when shooting


Nothing I've said above is revolutionary. There are plenty of articles for tips and suggestions. Now onto retouching:

-Unsharp Mask (Photoshop). The tried and true mule of sharpening. Everyone does this and every program has this feature from Lightroom to NX to Photoshop. I don't use this much.

-Smart Sharpen (Photoshop). I like this new sharpen filter introduced in PS CS2. While I like this tool, I don't use this much anymore but it can occasionally save a blurry picture due to of motion/lens blur sharpening.

-Spatial Frequency sharpening (advanced Photoshop technique/action). My preferred means of sharpening and I do this twice. Once before resizing and once after although many would say that's a no-no...

-High Pass Filter. A slightly more "detailed" (pun intended) form of sharpening that requires creating a new layer (overlayed) and adjusting the radius to highlight detail. I usually use this with a mask so it's not a global adjustment but rather local to the skin and clothes.

-Levels (Photoshop). Sometimes adjusting contrast and levels can give the illusion that the image is clearer and thus sharper. I almost always have a levels adjustment

The end result is usually some combination of the above. The thing is that's it's easy to overdo it. Play around with it and find some happy medium otherwise you'll get aliasing and start introducing all sorts of sharpening artifacts that suck.

There are also plenty of online tutorials for sharpening and all I've done is given you a personal tour of high-level sharpening techniques. It's on you to test each of them and add the ones you like to your bag of tricks :)

If you read my earlier posts, I talk a lot about sharpening and these posts might help you find your path as well.

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