Friday, April 16, 2010

To Sharpen Or To Blur

The subject for today’s image is a young friend. Actually, my son’s nephew. Nice kid, I’ve known him since he was a very young lad. Today’s shot comes from one of his sports activities. He was, in high school (and now in college), the coxswain for the school’s crew team. They had just won their race and he was running over to celebrate with his folks. I thought the shot came out pretty good and, after finishing it, figured his folks might like a copy. I used a High Pass sharpening technique on the image and it was tack sharp. The big day came to “present” a framed enlargement to his mom and dad at the boy’s high school graduation party. After unwrapping the image his mother took one look at it and said, “oh, I didn’t know he had freckles”. He doesn’t. The ultra sharpening done by the High Pass Filter technique had brought out every tiny piece of anything on his face and, basically created a false impression. Today’s image is a more realistic version of the over sharpened portrait. Gone are the “freckles” and his face looks much more like him than did the one presented to his folks. Sharpening is great and it “should be” done on every Raw image that comes out of a camera, almost. There are exceptions to every “rule” and “most” face would fall into the “exception” category. We were out shooting a set of images for a senior center a while back. By “we” I mean it was a group shoot. I did the lighting, someone did the coordination, someone did the senior wrangling, and a very talented portrait shooter did the main photography. A final piece of the puzzle was “the finisher”. The person in charge of doing any correcting and outputting the final print. When the first image she pulled up to “finish” came up she said “this doesn’t need anything”. Another in the group said “but, you have to sharpen it”. I offered the opinion that any women over a certain age doesn’t need to have any sharpening done to a portrait. There a time and place for everything as they say. Old men or ancient women, with years of wear and tear on their faces can probably be sharpened, but slightly younger and the very young shouldn’t be. To see how I breathed new life into today’s image, hit the “read more”.
This is an easy fix and a good exercise for someone new to using layers. If something is that new to Photoshop they need something simple to use as an learning activity. The first thing to do (if you’re starting from the original shot, with no adjustments, is to make a copy of the background layer (CTRL J). Even if this were to be the person’s first foray into using layers I think I’d tell them to make the copy layer a Smart Object (Filters/Convert for Smart Filters). Might as well start them off on the right foot and get them into the habit of using Smart Filters. Once we have the Smart Filters available we’d go to Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur and put a medium blur on the layer. (Not one so heavy as to make the face unrecognizable.) Because it’s Smart Object we automatically have an unfilled (white) mask.

Select a small soft round Brush (B), with black as a foreground color, and outline anything that should be sharp. The eye brows, the mouth, the line of the nose and the outline of the face. The ear, the neck and the hair (all of it). The clothing is pretty subjective. The sweatshirt being soft in today’s image is not a problem. Looking at the mask icon in the Layers Panel you should see a “sketch” of the person. If needed, reduce the Opacity of the layer to get a reasonable amount of soft skin. Done. Every face is different and every end use purpose could be different. This is a “season to taste” type of thing.