November SIG notes – Sharpening an image for output

For the November session, I would like to take you through the workflow process that we have been looking at for the last few months. The emphasis will be on sharpening your image – when to do it and different ways to do it.

What do we mean by sharpening? Let’s start with the explanation that Helen Bradley gives in one of her many excellent tutorials from the Digital Photography School (

Sharpening does as its name suggests and sharpens the image making it look crisper and making the edges in the image more distinct.

First step – what are we doing and why?
I would like to edit an image of a flower and be able to print it on my home printer (A4 size limit) as a 10 X 8 inch at 300 dpi so that I can frame it and put it up on my I Love Me wall at home.

Method 1 for sharpening- Using  the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) Clarity Slider
(1) Pick an image that you want to print and frame. I would like to say that this will take me the rest of the day since I have so many great photos. Sadly, that is not the case. After much consideration (five minutes), I choose a photo of a flower from the back yard.

Note: Save your images in both the RAW format and jpg format. Then there is a lot more information for you to work with in the RAW file format compared to if it was just a jpg.

Image 1 – getting started

Imae 1 - getting started

This is a screen shot of my folder showing the jpg and RAW file formats.

(2) Create a project folder. Make a working copy of your photo. Give it a distinctive name such as November 2015 SIG project working copy.CR2.

Image 2 – Project Folder with both jpg and CR2 file formats

Image 2 - working Copy

Here is my project folder and the renamed file to use as my work in progress.

(3) Click on the PS File/Open As command.

Image 3 – PS File/Open As command.

Image 3 - Photoshop Open as command

Click on the PS File/Open As command.

(4) When the Open As dialogue box comes up, click on the Open As choices and select RAW format (fourth from the top). This will force the image to open in Adobe Camera Raw.

Image 4 –  Choose the RAW  format.

Image 4 - Open as for RAW format

The red circle shows you where to click for the different file formats and the red arrow shows you the one to use (Camera Raw)

(5) Here is the photo that I have opened up in ACR.

Image 5 – Photo opened in ACR with clarity slider  marked with read rectangle.

Image 5 - ACR

Click on image to see in full size. The Clarity slider is marked with a red rectangle

(6) Another one of the DPS contributors is Peter Cary West. He explores the Clarity slider in a tutorial (

 To sum up, the Clarity slider adjusts the contrast in just the mid-tones.  This is a handy feature to have as it will not add grain to the highlights or shadow area as an all purpose contrast adjust will.  It is a useful tool for most photos, just be careful of overusing it, as it can produce very harsh edges that are unrealistic when printed.

So here is the before and after of the flower in ACR. Once again, this is a matter of personal taste some times. What looks absolutely great to  you, may appear terrible to some one else.

Image 6 – Clarity slider all the way to the left.

Image 7 Clarity set to -100

With the Clarity slider all the wy to the left at -100, the flower becomes very fuzzy (technical term).

Image 7 – Clarity slider all the way to the right

Image 8 - clarity Set to +100

With the Clarity slider all the way to the right, the image may appear too sharp. The usual setting is from +20 to +30.

Moving the slider to the left gives you a softening effect (good for skin!) while moving it to the right gives you sharper contrasts in the mid tones.

(7) Click on Open Image. The final setting for Clarity that suited me is +29.

Image 8 – Open Image.

Image 9 - Open Image

Red rectangle shows the Open Image box. The red circle shows the Clarity setting of 29 as looking OK.

Step 2 – Crop the photo
(1) Check the size of the image by clicking on Image /Image Size. This tells me that the size of the image is 15.2 X 11.4 inches. So I will be able to resize the image down to 10 X 8 inches. It looks like this:

Image 9 – After cropping

Image 11 - Cropped to 10x8

Showing settings for cropping and final result. Click to see in full size.

Step 3 – tone and colour global adjustments ( all of the image at once!)

We did these pretty much in ACR rather than Photoshop where we would usually use adjustment layers for non destructive editing.

But we will add a couple of adjustment layers to see if we can improve the appearance.
(1) Duplicate the layer and try the blend modes to see there is anything that we like and might keep. I wound up with  the Color Burn blend mode set to 30% opacity.

Image 10 –  Blend mode and opacity settings.

Image 11 - blend mode and opacity

Blended layers showing effect of Color Burn blend mode and 30% opacity.

(2) Add a curves adjustment layer. Cycle through the presets to see if there is anything of interest there. The idea is to have a play with it. I like the look of the Darker Preset on the background. But I will use the mask so that I can painting over the flower.

Image 11 – adding a curves adjustment layer.

Image 12 - curves with darked preset.

This one you really need to click on it to see it full size.

Step 4 – Sharpening for final printing.
(1)When you reach this point , you need to save your work as a .psd before flattening the image.
(2) Click on the drop down menu at the top right of the Layers panel. Then click on Flatten Image. You need to have only one layer in your photo before you can do any sharpening. Otherwise, it will only sharpen  the active layer. And the result may be  pretty ghastly.
Method 2 – Brute Force (Using the Unsharp mask)
This is one of the original sharpening tools. It is a destructive editing method but very handy for a quick down and dirty way to sharpen.
(1) Try this with  a few copies of images that you have laying around. Open up an image in photoshop.
(2) Click on Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask  and hope that you get something like this.

Image 12 – Frugly before sharpening.

Image 14 - Frugly before sharpening

You will need to see this one in full size. So click away.

(3) Going back to Helen Bradley’s Tutorial (, she provides these guidelines for settings.

 (A) Set the Radius to somewhere between .5 and 1. This sets the width of the halos which are applied along the edges in the image – the smaller the radius, the smaller the halo and 0.5 – 1 is ideal – this is not always a situation where the more is better!

(B) Set the Threshold to around 10. The Threshold value determines how edges are found – the higher the value, the more different adjacent pixels must be to be considered an edge so less of the image will be sharpened. A small value means that smaller differences in pixel values are considered an edge so more of the image is sharpened. The risk with a small Threshold value is that it can add noise to the image by enhancing edges in places where you don’t want to see them.

The Amount setting controls how much contrast is added to the edges – a higher value means more contrast and a more obvious sharpening. Start by setting this value to around 150.

Image 13 – Frugly after excessive sharpening

Image 15 - Frugly after sharpening

Click on image to result of excessive sharpening on the family cat.

Method 3 – Sharpening with the High Pass filter
For this part of the sharpening techniques, I’m simply going to ask you to look at another of  the DPS tutorials titled Take Control  Sharpening in Photoshop by Elliot Hooke.. You can find it here –

Method 4 – another good  Method for Sharpening Your Images
1.) After settling on your final output size and resolution, go run the Unsharp Mask (Filter> Sharpen > Unsharp Mask)
2.) Now go to Edit> Fade Unsharp Mask (Cmd/Ctri-Shift-F) and in the box that comes up, change the Mode to “Luminosity:’
3.) Now improve your print results: go run Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur.
4.) Give it a slight blur, but then go use Edit> Fade Gaussian Blur (Cmd/Ctri-Shift-F), and in the box that comes up, change the Mode to “Color:’

Sharpening in PS/PE is one of those topics where several ways can be used to achieve similar results. Have a look on the internet for more information to go with the version of PS/PE that you are using. If you find anything of use to you, please let me know by email or by commenting at the bottom of this article.

November Challenge
is to send me a before and after photo that you have edited – resize, crop, curves, hue/saturation, levels, flattening, sharpening. You don’t have to do all of those of course. But it would be great if you could send us a before and after of an image that you have sharpened.

The email address is

That’s all, folks!


About woldham

Concise! Retired and loving it!
This entry was posted in ACR tone adjustment, Camera Raw, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Post Processing, Sharpening. Bookmark the permalink.

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