In the previous post in this series I have shown how to separate a sharpened layer into separate lighten and darken components and adjust the opacity and masking each separately. This would allow greater control than keeping the sharpened layer as a unit. In this post, I will show you even a better split sharpening approach where you will be able to apply different sharpening parameters to lightening and sharpening components.
Typically using the Unsharp Mask (USM) begins with making a duplicate or a merged layer and USM is applied to this layer. Since USM manipulates pixels it needs pixels to push around, lighten or darken. In this approach, the sharpening parameters of amount, radius, and threshold are set for the entire layer while watching the effect on the layer. The selected parameters apply equally to the parts of the edges that are darkened and lightened. Instead of using the standard method of applying sharpening then, optionally splitting that into lighten and darken layers, we could create two layers to sharpen and apply different sharpening parameters to lighten and darken components. This will allow using a little more aggressive sharpening to the darken component since that part usually does not create instantly noticeable light halos.
To make this a little easier, I have a new Photoshop action which will create the necessary layers, change their blend modes, and put them in a group to keep things tidy. Here is the process:
- Download the Ekin Sharpen Photoshop Action collection, this one contains the new one and the previous one
- Unzip the file to a location you can easily locate and optionally copy it where Photoshop keeps these actions. On Windows systems, they are stored in:
C:\Users\Your Name\App Data\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS6\Presets\Actions
But the uncompressed action file can be anywhere so long as you know where it is
- Start Photoshop, open Actions palette if not open
- Click on the panel menu icon on the top right corner of the panel and choose Load Actions
- Navigate where you saved the Ekin Sharpen action collection and click on OK
- When you are ready to sharpen your image, go to the actions palette, select Ekin Sharpen group, highlight Sharpen: USM ready – Split Pixel Layers action and click on the Play button at the bottom of the palette
The action will run and create two new merged layers, label them appropriately, change their blend modes, and put both in a group. Please note that no sharpening is applied to either layer, this is where you and your eyes will come into the picture. I suggest that you start with the lighten layer, click on it in the layers palette, and apply USM to it to your satisfaction, keeping in mind that as you apply USM to the darken layer the effect will slightly enhance but without the risk of light halos.
In all sharpening, remember that it is an illusion that everyone should see but nobody should notice. Also note that sharpening for screen presentation should look just right on screen but sharpening for print will generally look slightly over the top, the operative word being “slightly”. For example images, refer to the previous post.
In the next, and final post, I will make this even better! Stay tuned.