Image sharpening is an applicable solution for a crisp and clear photo as it has the ability to emphasize texture, bring out details and add depth to your image.

If you’re new to this editing mechanism, or looking to obtain optimal results, read on for five important tips to practice when sharpening your image.

The 5 Do's of Image Sharpening

1. Do understand the 3 types of sharpening.

There are three main types of image sharpening: capture, creative and output.

Our plugin Topaz InFocus works with capture sharpening, while Topaz Detail deals specifically with creative and output sharpening.

Capture sharpening – this is a technical fix to overcome sharpening that is naturally lost in your image from the source (camera). Even with the highest quality lens, softening will naturally occur to some degree as photons are transmitted to pixels and capture sharpening works to correct this. Capture sharpening should be done as an initial step in the editing workflow.

Creative sharpening – also known as content sharpening, this refers to a broad use of sharpening that becomes the look of your image and can be applied selectively or overall. It can add depth and dimensionality and is based on the actual image content. Creative sharpening is possible in Topaz Detail with the use of the small, medium and large detail sliders.

Output sharpening – this is the final sharpening step done before your image is published to the web or printed to paper. Output sharpening should always be the last step in your workflow after the image has been set to final output size and resolution.

In Topaz Detail, output sharpening is related to the small detail and small detail boost sliders; how much you increase these sliders will depend on the medium of publication. See these videos for additional information on how to best use Topaz Detail for output sharpening:

2. Do use masking for selective sharpening.

Masking allows you to pinpoint exactly where you want sharpening to be applied to your image. For instance, if you wanted to emphasize a model’s eyes without bringing out the fine lines in her skin, masking is what you’d use for this task. You may opt to use layer masking in Photoshop or the available masking feature in photoFXlab, however Topaz Detail has its own masking tool too.

The 5 Do's of Image SharpeningPhoto © Robyn Aber

How to use Topaz Detail’s Effect Mask:

  1. First, expand the Effect Mask module. You will see a white mask with several brush settings:The 5 Do's of Image Sharpening
    • Strength – determines the tone value of the mask brush from 0 (black) to 1 (white).
    • Brush Size – controls size of brush.
    • Hardness –  controls the edge hardness of the brush. A value of 0 is 100% hard, while a value of 1.00 is 100% soft.
    • Flow – the Flow controls the rate of the brush value being applied. At 1, the flow is 100% and will apply at the full strength setting of the brush. At lower values it will only apply a percentage of the strength each time the mouse button is pushed, however it cannot exceed the overall strength value.
    • Edge Aware – controls how aware the brush is of edges. Higher values indicate an increase in awareness, which is good for precise selections. Lower values indicate less awareness, allowing for a more natural brush stroke and transition.
    • Overall Opacity – controls how heavily your collective adjustments are applied to your image. Decreasing this value will increase transparency.
  2. Pick a preset from the left side of the interface under Collections, or manually adjust the sliders from the parameters on the right side of the screen.
  3. Once you’ve done that, to selectively brush out an effect, move the Strength slider to 0 and then simply brush over the areas of your image you do not want to be affected. Common areas that don’t necessarily require sharpening include: human skin, skies, water and bokeh.

As you’re doing this you’ll see that parts of the Effect Mask become black, which indicates that you have removed the effect previously applied in step 1.

The 5 Do's of Image SharpeningRemoval of applied sharpening from out of focus areas

How to Brush In sharpening with the Effect Mask

Now that you know how to brush out an effect, brushing in an effect is just as easy. To do this:

  1. Under the Effect Mask, press Reset.
  2. Select ‘Invert’ (adjacent to Reset) which will turn the white mask to black.
  3. Move the brush Strength slider to 1.
  4. Brush in the effect accordingly.

3. Do clean up high ISO noise first

If you image has any noticeable noise whatsoever, you’ll want to smooth away the noise artifacts first using a noise removal program. Why? Because sharpening amplifies noise and makes it harder to get rid of later on. So save yourself the headache and be sure to clean up any high ISO noise first before sharpening your image.

If you start to notice noise become amplified while in Topaz Detail, use the Effect Mask to brush away the applied sharpening from areas that do not require detail enhancement; skies and out of focus backgrounds most commonly start to show noise during sharpening. You can also decrease the small details boost slider to smooth out unsightly artifacts.

4. Do understand the differences between small, medium and large details.

Traditionally, image sharpening is defined as boosting the contrast along edges, finding areas where there is a transition from light to dark. The dark tonal values are made darker, while the light values are made lighter.

Topaz Detail uses an edge aware algorithm to determine true details rather than just locating the dark and light edges. You have the option to separately modify details within your image based on size (small, medium, large) and tone (overall, highlights, shadows).

To determine which areas are being affected by the small, medium and large detail sliders in Topaz Detail, take your Small Details, Medium Details and Large Details sliders all the way to 0. Increase each slider separately to see which details are specifically being enhanced.

5. Do test out custom made presets on your image.

Custom curated presets are an effective way to sharpen your image with a single click. Within Topaz Detail 3.2 you now have the ability to compare and contrast multiple presets in grid view mode.

The 5 Do's of Image SharpeningOr you may apply presets from collections found in the right side parameters:

The 5 Do's of Image SharpeningIf you are constrained by time or perhaps not sure what’s going to look best with your image, try using a preset and then adjusting it to your preferences with the selective sliders found in the right side of the interface.

With all types of sharpening, remember that less is more, so be sure not to overdo it!

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