The When & Why of Sharpening Images in Post

Kent DuFault
Kent DuFault

New / Noteworthy

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in our Quick Tip email series.

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This Quick Tip comes to you from our Premium Guide,The Ultimate Guide to Fundamental Editing.

I’m sure that you’ve heard about, and possibly had some discussion, about “sharpening” digital images.

Sharpening seems to be one of the most misunderstood aspects of fundamental editing.

Let me define fundamental editing for you: Fundamental editing is the necessary steps that need to be applied to virtually every digital image file after they come out of the camera.

Sharpening is one of those steps.

However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can actually ruin a perfectly good shot in the sharpening step.

Photo by Eric Ogan

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This was a beautiful photograph that was ruined by over-sharpening.

  • Over-sharpening created a “white line” along the horizon (an extremely obvious artifact)
  • The sand along the ridgeline has become pixelated and unreal looking
  • The ripples in the foreground have visible artifacts and noise that were introduced by over-sharpening.

Here is your Quick Tip:

  1. Always apply sharpening LAST while doing your fundamental edits. Other steps in the fundamental editing process increase visible sharpness – while not introducing the problems seen in the image above.
  2. Always use a very light application of sharpening. How light?
    It really depends on the photograph.

But consider this: if you’re only posting your image to the internet, most computer screens do not have high resolution, so they can’t resolve your image that highly anyway. Use very light sharpen settings.

Also, if you intend to print your image, most photo labs apply sharpening through their own equipment. If you sharpen your image file, and then they sharpen it, you can end up with a really lousy looking print.

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About Kent DuFault

About Kent DuFault

Kent DuFault became a photographer in September of 1974. He took a “Basic Photography” class in high school and was hooked for life. His best-selling guide, The Ultimate Guide to Fundamental Editing has helped thousands of photographers worldwide understand and master the craft of post-processing in their photography.