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Thread: Unsharp masking?

  1. #1

    Default Unsharp masking?

    I saw thing mentioned in another thread, and have seen the option in PhotoShop Elements. Other than that, I'm clueless.

    I'm running a Canon XTi.

    Thanks for any help with this topic.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2006


    It's a technique borrowed from those long lost optical printing days. As I understand it, they would make a slightly out of focus negative of the original negative and then print them together somehow. The unsharp negative of the original negative would subtract from around the edges of the original. This would make areas next to dark lines brighter, and areas next to bright lines darker, resulting in increased edge contrast for all sharp transitions. The result was a sharper looking print. I'm sure I have some of that turned around a bit, but somehow the results worked.

    BTW, film is judged partly on edge accutance, which is partly determined by the way that dye clumps and grains would gather at the bright edges, and disappear in the areas next to them. So this would chemically introduce a version of unsharp masking all by itself.

    Digital unsharp masking does the same thing but it's far easier to do. You get to set the radius of the unsharp area (the width of the contrast area), and the amount of contrast to include in that radius (basically a volume control). You can also select a clipping point to keep it from effecting areas with minimal contrast. This last control can sometimes reduce the amount of digital noise that gets sharpened along with the hard edges.

    There are other ways to do similar things, and a simple sharpening control is one of them. But Unsharp masking has more control, and is generally more effective. Adobe Photoshop also has a smart sharpening feature that many people like better than unsharp masking.

    Almost all digital images require some sharpening to look their best, but most digital cameras provide more than enough on their own. In fact, one of the benefits of having it adjustable on a camera is so you can turn it down or even off. Sharpening is almost always better to do after the fact while in the computer. Sharpening in camera is somewhat destructive to the image as it produces artifacts, and the detail that is actually lost in the process can not be recovered. For these reasons most photographers recommend sharpening as the last step in image processing workflow, and then you sharpen according to the size of the print or computer display image. There are also some workflow techniques that introduce mild amounts of sharpening in several stages, with a final sharpening that is size specific.

    Generally small web sized images need more sharpening (as an overall percentage of pixels) than large prints do. And any time you resize an image you need to resharpen it. It's easy to see that some of the very good photographers around here routinely sharpen right before posting, and their display quality shows.

    Another use of the unsharp mask is to give the appearance of fixing a slightly out of focus image. Instead of selecting one pixel or less like you might normally do for the radius, you go to 5 or 6 pixels and then sharpen at a smaller than normal amount. Finally sharpen again, but using 1 pixel and a normal amount. It doesn't really fix it, but the illusion of sharpness can make people not see the fact that it is out of focus. Also, another unsharp masking trick is to use it as a generalized contrast popper. You select a very large radius, like 20-50 pixels and turn the amount way down, so it just barely effects it. After that you can sharpen normally, and the result is amazing for some slightly dull images.

  3. #3
    Member tull777's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Wasilla, Alaska

    Default Thank You!

    I have been using unsharp mask for a long time now and never really new what I was doing. I just liked the results better than the regular sharpening tools. Thank you for the explanation. It cleared up a lot of questions that were lingering in the back of my mind. This is a great example of how effective this forum is working for a lot of us who are still learning.

    Thanks Again .................Eddie

    "If you're too open-minded, your brains will fall out. ....."Tight Lines & Best Fishes"

  4. #4


    Very cool!

    So, any advice on how to accomplish this with PS Elements 4.0?

    Thanks for the great advice so far!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Elmendorf AFB

    Default I don't know if this will help, but ...

    I ran across some information about sharpening a year or so ago. A guy named Ron Bigelow has a photography site and did a six part explanation/tutorial/help article series about sharpening (along with a lot of other articles). Here is the link The sharpening series is near the bottom. I also think he is using Photoshop CS or CS2, not the Elements version(s).

    Just remember, sharpening will not fix focus problems, get them the best you can in the camera, and then give them a little boost on the computer.

    Just sharing what I have found.


    Fun is the best workout of all.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2006


    There are PhotoShop Elements forums where you can learn the techniques, but I have seen instruction manuals at Sams Club. The book I saw this week costs around $20.00, and contains all the instructions needed to master Elements.


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