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Thread: Capture sharpening. How much?

  1. #1
    FlyingSquirrel's Avatar
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    Capture sharpening. How much?

    I shoot RAW. I adjust color balance, exposure, etc in Lightroom. I always turn LR's sharpening setting to 0....then, from that point, I bring the photo in Photoshop and immediately run my noise reduction plugin (Topaz Denoise). I turn LR sharpening off so it doesn't exaggerate the noise prior to reduction. When noise is reduced with the plugin, I then move to capture sharpening. Since I edit all of my photos initially at the full size, there is the step of "Capture Sharpening." After the key edits are done, I would downsize the photo to web sharing size, do some quick last edits as desired, then output sharpen for web.

    My question is:

    For capture sharpening, how do I decide the proper settings? (amount, radius, threshold). I am coming at this from the perspective of, I am using capture sharpening for the purpose of correcting the blurring caused by the image capture on the sensor. Later I would do creative sharpening and output sharpening. So, if I am doing the other two sharpening methods later in the workflow, how do I decide on the proper capture sharpening? Should I make it as sharp as I think it should look to look really good at 100%? Or should I hold back a bit so it does NOT look really sharp, but just looks "good"? My thought process is, I don't want to "overdo" the capture sharpening, if it's not necessary or good to do it really crisp.

    Thanks for any input

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    James G's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    Matt,
    I use a number of different techniques to 'sharpen' the initial capture.
    I don't have set amounts that I apply, I usually judge based on the content of the image, and it necessary use a number of iterations to get the optimum effect . But to summarise:-
    1) I have CS6 and carry out a small degree of sharpening in ACR. I view the image at 100% and then tend to use clarity to improve 'edge' contrast. I prefer not to use the ACR sharpening option because I use a number of other techniques when I open the image in PS6.
    2) When I open in CS6 I use different techniques depending on the type of image.
    Sometimes I use an action I put together based on wavelet sharpening theory. Basically I can set a small amount (eg .5 pixel) to enhance very fine detail and then apply further iterations using a larger amount to affect 'coarser' areas.
    I also use a an alternative iterative technique using USM, (Developed by Jeff Schewe and outlined in his book "The Digital Negative".) The technique is as follows:-
    • Duplicate layer, change layer name to 'Luminosity Sharpen', then set the blend mode to Luminosity
    • Apply the Unsharp Mask filter iteratively using the following settings: -
    1. amount 500% radius 0.3
    2. amount 300% radius 0.6
    3. amount 200% radius 1.0
    4. amount 100% radius 5.0
    5. amount 50% radius 10.0
    6. amount 25% radius 25.0
    • Watch the effect of each iteration. At some point, (usually around 3rd iteration), the image begins to look 'crunchy' and over sharpened . At this stage change the opacity of the layer down to about 20%. This reduces the overall impact of the sharpening. If still not happy with effect, continue with further iterations.
    Overall, the effect is to sharpen fine edge detail rather than larger boundaries. This in turn 'lightens' the image in areas of fine detail so I sometimes find it necessary to apply a slight brightness or contrast adjustment to the final image to give it a final bit of punch.

    Since I am sharpening for capture only, I keep it relatively light. Depending on 'end product , as you also do, I specifically sharpen at a later stage for Print/Screen/Web as appropriate
    James
    Last edited by James G; 26th May 2013 at 07:35 PM. Reason: highlight acknowledgement

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    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    Visually you can do a side by side comparison to observe the difference. My RAW converter allows me to use sharpening prior to conversion and the differences between doing so and not are amazing. I haven't noticed an adverse effect on down stream editing unless the image is very noisy.

    Can you run the image through a noise filter prior to sharpening?

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    FlyingSquirrel's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    James, thank you so much for taking the time to post your detailed answer. This is extremely helpful, and I'll be sure to research and try your techniques!

    John, Lightroom has its own noise reduction, but I find it doesn't have the level of control I desire. LR also has sharpening of course, but I turn it off since it increases noise. Most of my shots are at higher ISO's and I have crop sensor, so noise is typically an issue in my shots. So that is why my workflow involves using Photoshop for NR, then sharpening there. Thanks for your suggestions

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    James G's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    To add to John's point about RAW converters:-
    Adobe Camera RAW has an excellent noise reduction filter and a very good sharpening filter, which I believe is similar to USM.
    My workflow is to reduce noise in ACR first, and then address capture softness using changes to clarity. If the image is still too soft I will use the ACR sharpening filter since it also allows me to mask the effect simultaneously. I guess I only sharpen in ACR 5% of the time.

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    DanK's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    I agree with James about ACR/LR noise reduction. Since I upgraded to LR 4, I almost never use my dedicated noise reduction software. And I find the sharpening tool quite good and don't often need something else.

    The point of this is that unless I misunderstand something, the distinction between capture and creative sharpening does not mean much (if anything) as long as you stay inside LR, which is a parametric editor. AFAIK, LR does not care what order you put your edits in, or how many times you add another edit of a given type, such as sharpening. AFAIK, when you export, it adds up the final recipe and applies it, in an order determined by the software rather than the order in which you made the edits. In this respect, it is completely unlike a layer-based pixel editor. So, I leave the LR sharpening at its default, because I can always undo it if I want. While I am in LR, I simply don't make the distinction between capture and creative sharpening because it has no functional value. When I get to that stage, I sharpen--once--until the image looks right on screen. The parameters for that sharpening depend on the image, of course. Later I apply output sharpening for whatever medium I am using.

    I know this is out of sync with standard thinking about sharpening, but I have not yet found any convincing explanation of the value of separating the two stages within a parametric editor.

    OOH, sometimes an image has some complexities in it, and I have to take it into PS. In that case, I typically leave LR sharpening at its default and then sharpen in PS.

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    jprzybyla's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    Hello Matt, here is how I learned to sharpen in Lightroom 4. I do all sharpening in Lightroom because it has the newest algorithms from Adobe and because of the noise reduction and masking available. Many of the images I capture have noise only in the shadow areas, such as the underside of the wings of flying birds. To reduce that noise I do it locally with the Adjustment Brush treating only the areas that need it. If the whole image is noisy up to about ISO 800 it can be reduced using the Luminance slider in the Noise Reduction in the Detail module with the image at 1:1 or 2:1 to see the noise. Using the on and off switch I can evaluate when enough noise has been reduced and the image is acceptable. On to sharpening... first step I do on the image at 1:1 is to turn off and on sharpening with the on and off switch before moving the amount slider. I do this because by default the image is already sharpened at an amount of 25. What am I looking for when turning the sharpening on and off... just the right amount of sharpening. When you turn the sharpening on and off you can see the sharpening... it should be at the amount of seeing changes but not to look grungy or gritty. Sharpening is only to overcome the softening of the Bayer Filter and the process of changes images from analog to digital both add a slight softening. Most times the default of 25 is not enough, for my camera either 50 or 75 is about right depending on the image. Next is masking using the Masking slider to control what is sharpened. Only the edges in an image should be sharpened. Hold down the Alt. or Option key while moving the slider...white gets sharpened black does not. There are five things that should not be sharpened... blue sky, the surface of water, large areas of the same color, blurred backgrounds, and human skin. Using the masking slider these areas can be eliminated from being sharpened. The areas mentioned above also should not be treated with the Clarity slider. If the ISO is above 800 and cannot be treated satisfactorily in Lightroom I edit the image in Photoshop Elements using the add on Neat Image for further noise reduction. For creative sharpening I do that back in Lightroom using the Adjustment Brush to control locally the area I want to increase the sharpening in. Output sharpening for posting on the web or my website I also do in Lightroom in the Export Module. As you can tell I think Lightroom is pretty much a do all for digital photographers. The engineers that designed the software have written algorithms to make it easier for photographers. An example is the masking slider in the Detail Module, in Photoshop that is about a twenty step process, in Lightroom and Camera Raw one just needs to move the slider while holding down the ALT or Option key.

  8. #8
    Cantab's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    Quote Originally Posted by jprzybyla View Post
    Hello Matt, here is how I learned to sharpen in Lightroom 4. I do all sharpening in Lightroom because it has the newest algorithms from Adobe and because of the noise reduction and masking available....
    Joe, thank you very much for this detailed explanation. I'm still in the early days (I suppose I should say weeks) of using Lightroom and found your comments very helpful. I've experimented with the two LR sharpening presets (wide edges and narrow edges) but haven't yet settled on a regular routine for capture sharpening.

    Matt, thanks for starting this thread.
    Last edited by Cantab; 27th May 2013 at 07:38 PM.

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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    Quote Originally Posted by DanK View Post
    I agree with James about ACR/LR noise reduction. Since I upgraded to LR 4, I almost never use my dedicated noise reduction software. And I find the sharpening tool quite good and don't often need something else.

    The point of this is that unless I misunderstand something, the distinction between capture and creative sharpening does not mean much (if anything) as long as you stay inside LR, which is a parametric editor. AFAIK, LR does not care what order you put your edits in, or how many times you add another edit of a given type, such as sharpening. AFAIK, when you export, it adds up the final recipe and applies it, in an order determined by the software rather than the order in which you made the edits. In this respect, it is completely unlike a layer-based pixel editor. So, I leave the LR sharpening at its default, because I can always undo it if I want. While I am in LR, I simply don't make the distinction between capture and creative sharpening because it has no functional value. When I get to that stage, I sharpen--once--until the image looks right on screen. The parameters for that sharpening depend on the image, of course. Later I apply output sharpening for whatever medium I am using.

    I know this is out of sync with standard thinking about sharpening, but I have not yet found any convincing explanation of the value of separating the two stages within a parametric editor.

    OOH, sometimes an image has some complexities in it, and I have to take it into PS. In that case, I typically leave LR sharpening at its default and then sharpen in PS.
    Dan

    Capture sharpening and, where necessary, noise reduction, is essential as the first step in the workflow to correct the softness produced by de-mosaicing. So that you can 'see' the effect of your subsequent parametric adjustments it needs to be done first. Nevertheless, as all the parametric adjustments are bundled up and applied in optimal order (in which sharpening is first AFIK) upon rendering for output, I too struggled with the concept of any later global sharpening/noise reduction as a 'creative' adjustment.
    However, someone explained to me recently that, in a LR workflow, the 'creative' sharpening stage, is where you brush a sharpening adjustment in to selected parts of the image using the adjustment brush. The downside, in the current version of LR, is that the adjustment brush only enables you to increase or decrease the effect of the 'capture' sharpening settings at the selected parts of the image: and some images might benefit from a more subtle approach. I guess if you need/want more, you need to export to PS or invoke a specialised plug-in, either of which breaks the raw workflow.

    The good news is that the capture sharpening/noise reduction in LR/ACR, properly applied, and the output sharpening in LR, are as good as anything in the business.

    Cheers

    Tim

    Edit: I just read Joe's response. +++

  10. #10
    DanK's Avatar
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    Re: Capture sharpening. How much?

    Capture sharpening and, where necessary, noise reduction, is essential as the first step in the workflow to correct the softness produced by de-mosaicing. So that you can 'see' the effect of your subsequent parametric adjustments it needs to be done first.
    I actually don't agree. I'm only pointing this out because I think one can simplify this. I have used LR a lot both with default sharpening and with initial sharpening set to zero, and it makes essentially no difference. The difference in appearance on the screen is negligible, and you can see all the other adjustments, such as the tonality and vibrance/saturation adjustments, just fine either way. Ditto, with NR. Because few of my images need selections, I do most of my editing in LR, and it is just a lot easier not to worry about this. It's fine to leave the default sharpening on, and it is also fine to zero it out. It doesn't make any practical difference. So, I found that for my workflow, I just don't worry about the distinction between capture and creative sharpening. I usually more or less follow Adobe's advice, which is to work down the panel of edits, and I do sharpening (once) at the end. (I usually shoot at a low enough ISO that I don't need NR). I end up with exactly the same results I would have obtained if I sharpened twice.

    I almost always print from LR, which has very good output sharpening built into its print module, and of course, it has output sharpening built into its export module at all.

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