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Selective Sharpening

When viewers look at an image, they're irresistibly attracted to areas of sharpness. Photographers use focus or sharpening techniques to direct the viewer to various aspects of a scene. For example, it's common to photograph people so that they're in focus and the background is blurry, so the viewer's attention stays on the person. Photographers revel in their ability to draw the viewer's attention selectively to specific subject matter.

When it's time to sharpen the image in postproduction, the sharpening must be applied in a way that honors the most important part of the image. In Figure 3, the faces of my wife and my daughter Annika are sharp, while their bodies and the background are soft. The effect communicates how I feel about them and helps to illuminate their expressions.

Figure 3

Figure 3 To capture this photograph, I chose an f-stop with a shallow depth of field to keep my wife and daughter in focus. I used the Adjustment Brush tool and painted extra sharpness and clarity onto the faces in postproduction.

To sharpen a particular area of an image, follow these steps:

  1. Press K or select the Adjustment Brush tool from the tool strip.
  2. Increase the Clarity and Sharpness sliders. The actual amount of clarity and sharpness needed will depend on the image quality and its resolution. With the image in Figure 3, I set Clarity at 22 and Sharpness at 60, as shown in Figure 4.
  3. Choose a brush size that's smaller than the area you're sharpening. Increase the Feather amount so that the sharpening blends seamlessly into the non-sharpened areas. Choose a low amount for the Flow setting so that you can build up the sharpening slowly. In this way you'll minimize your chances of over-sharpening the image.
  4. Now that the controls are set, zoom to 100% and paint back and forth on the areas that need to be sharpened, until the image looks good.
Figure 4

Figure 4 Typically the best option for sharpening an image with the Adjustment Brush is to increase the Clarity and Sharpness amounts slightly and use high Feather and low Flow amounts.

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