Tutorial Tuesday: Getting Sharper Images

A while back, when we were still on the old blog, a die hard follower asked me how I got my images to be so sharp and crisp. I gave him some advice on what to do and I thought that might be a good topic for our first Tutorial Tuesday blog post (I really am a fan of alliteration).

Of course, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of post production. I love shooting photos but I love processing photos as well. It’s become part of my creative process and that’s where I add a lot of that extra sharpening to an image. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to realize, we can’t really sharpen something that  isn’t sharp to begin with. So let’s start with two basic concepts to get sharper images IN camera.

The first, is using a tripod. At this point, I’m hoping you all know what a tripod is. It’s that three legged thing that photographers use to keep their cameras stable. Well, there’s a reason for that. Hand holding the camera isn’t going to be sharp at 1/20 sec. or 1/10 of a sec. but it will be when you can use something like 1/1000 sec. or 1/5000 sec. I’m not sure if this is actually proven, but I’ve heard that you should try to avoid shooting faster than double the focal length that you are using. That says, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, then don’t let your shutter speed drop below 1/100 sec. Keep this in mind, and whenever you have to break that rule, try to use a tripod.

*When using a tripod and a lens with VR or IS (Image Stabilization for Canon?) turn it off. It’ll actually produce movement and create a less sharp image than if you turn it off.*

Of course, there are times when we don’t have the convenience of using a tripod. In those cases, you really have to stick with shooting hand-held. Now, if you are using a lens with VR or IS, turn it on! This will help you take sharper images when holding the lens (this is what VR and IS were made for). But, in order to get the sharpest image, hold your shutter down and click off a few frames of a subject. In most cases, the first and last will be the least sharp in the series so pick one of the middle ones. That basically says, if you just hold the camera up and take a shot and then stop shooting, it’s not going to be as sharp as it possibly could be.

Alright, now that we have that covered and you know how to take sharper images, let me show you how I add sharpness to my photos. This requires that you are using photoshop. I’ve only ever used Photoshop CS4, so I’m not positive that this will work for all versions but my guess is it will. It’s nothing too tricky.

I don’t have a vast knowledge of photoshop but I think one of the best filters that comes along with Photoshop is the High Pass Filter. This is what I use to sharpen all of my images and make some of them a little more contrasty if needed (a little trick behind some of my Sportraits).

First, you’re going to want to to duplicate your layer by right clicking on your image in the layers tab and selecting duplicate layer. This also can be done by pressing command-j. Now, you should have two layers of the exact same photo. Now, go up to the filter menu, go down to other and select “High Pass”. This will bring up a little window that allows you to select a value from 0.1 to 250.0. In order to sharpen the image, select a number from 4.0 to 6.0 and hit return. You’ll notice that your entire image has turned gray but has certain parts outlined. Go to the blending modes and select overlay. This will finalize the process and give you a nice sharp image. You can play around with the opacity of this layer or merge the layers and do the process again. Obviously, if you do this too many times, it’ll ruin your image.

It’s pretty clear from the pictures that the second is the sharper of the two images. The easiest way to tell is to focus on small details like letters and see how much more they stand out. If you look in the background at the top where is says “McArthur Court” you’ll see a huge difference between the two.

Now, if you want to sharpen but add some contrast to your image (like I do for my Sportraits) you are going to want to follow the same process but select a High Pass value somewhere around 112.0. Again, you can select the overlay blending mode and you’ll see that it affects the darkest darks and the lightest lights bringing a greater difference between the two.

Hopefully, this is a useful tip that many of you out there can use to create sharper images. I know it’s something that I use on just about every single one of my photos (and possibly even 3 or 4 times on a single image). Be sure to remember that you can use layers and masking to select just certain parts to be sharpened (eyes) or certain parts to be unsharpened (like skin).

Also, do remember that this post was created by someone asking me how I got my sharp images! If you have any questions, tips or ideas for a blog post, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or leave a comment. I promise I’ll do my best to listen to all of your suggestions!

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