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Real World Camera Raw: Landscape Sharpening

Jeff Schewe shows you how he sharpens a landscape image, including the application of image edits, using radius, detail settings, masking, and noise reduction.
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Landscape Sharpening

This next example (see Figure 5-41) starts off with image corrections and then moves on to sharpening. The image was shot on a gloomy and rainy day in Oxford, England, while Jeff was visiting Martin Evening to work on their joint book.

Figure 5-41 Landscape sharpening.

Image Evaluation. The image is basically well exposed, but it looks too cool and flat. Even with gloomy and rainy Old England, Camera Raw can certainly brighten the day—but can’t keep it from raining.

Image Edits. Lots of Clarity and Vibrance, and even a bit of plain old Saturation were thrown in. We also added a split tone to warm up the highlights and cool down the shadows. Figure 5-42 shows the panel adjustments.

Figure 5-42 Panel adjustments.

Next, let’s discuss the image sharpening. To see the results, we started at Camera Raw’s default and zoomed into an area of the image that shows a variety of edge width detail to make adjusting the settings more accurate. Figure 5-43 shows a Before/After with the starting default sharpening and the final sharpening applied.

Figure 5-43 Before and After sharpening adjustments.

We suggest you evaluate the Amount settings by holding down the Option key while adjusting the slider. This removes the color information, thus allowing you to concentrate on just the texture.

Amount Setting. At this beginning stage, you should realize that the settings would only be preliminary because changing the remaining settings will have an impact on the Amount setting. The aim here is just to get the adjustment to a better starting point. The key to making this adjustment is to take it to the point where it’s obviously too much and then back off (see Figure 5-44). You might be surprised how far you can take it before seeing bad things happen. Remember also that image sharpening in the Detail panel is designed for “capture sharpening,” not sharpening for an effect.

Figure 5-44 Detail panel: adjusting Amount while holding down Option.

Radius and Detail Settings. The Radius setting allows you to adjust the edge width of the image sharpening. The general rule is the higher the frequency of the edges, the lower the radius you want to use. In this landscape image, we wanted to emphasize the texture. The Detail setting adjusts how much halo suppression is applied to the edge sharpening. We often move back and forth between Radius and Detail, and then go back to Amount for fine-tuning (see Figure 5-45).

Figure 5-45 Radius and Detail setting previews.

Masking. Even though Camera Raw defaults to no masking, in general you’ll want to at least check the results of edge masking (see Figure 5-46). The non-edge surface areas often don’t need additional sharpening at this capture-sharpening stage. We made a slight adjustment, enough to mask off the major areas. Note that generating a mask does require some computational processing, so on slower computers you may notice a slight delay. The Masking settings won’t matter; it’s the creation of the mask in the first place that takes the time.

Figure 5-46 Generating a mask.

The Zoom setting for these preceding three figures is 200%, so you may think the sharpening is aggressive. It is, but if you look at the final image at 100% zoom, you’ll see that the image is just sharp enough.

Noise Reduction. Since this shot was taken with the ISO setting of 400, a touch of noise reduction is called for—not a lot, just a light amount, as shown in Figure 5-47.

Figure 5-47 Adjusting the Luminance Noise Reduction while leaving the Color at Default.

Sharpening Preferences. Before actually processing the image, you should double-check to make sure that your Camera Raw preferences are properly set (see Figure 5-2). All this work would be for naught if your preferences were set to sharpen preview images only. (We know because we’ve been there, done that.)

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