How to clone out tricky distractions using luminosity masks

Great photography is all about simplifying the scene. It can be so aggravating when a beautiful scene is disrupted by something that has nothing to do with the emotional message you want to convey with your photo, like the white PVC pipe in this scene.

Howard Thompson sent me this image from rural Arkansas asking how he could clean it up. Clone jobs like this get really tricky when you need to work around lots of detailed edges, such as the red farm equipment here untouched. You could spend hours of painstaking work to manually work around these little details, but thankfully luminosity masks offer a faster and more precise way.

Note that if you are using Lumenzia on Photoshop CS6, you should <ctrl/cmd>-click “L” in order to get the same red targeting I got by clicking the red color mode swatch in the video here.

 

The general workflow is:

  1. Create a replacement background (duplicate the image and use the clone stamp, healing brush, and patch tools)
  2. Create a copy of foreground elements (duplicate the image and reveal the foreground through a layer mask). This layer isn’t always required, but helpful when targeting the distraction itself may be challenging. You’ll need a layer mask to reveal the foreground elements and allow the cloned detail to show around it. I used the red color of the foreground here to make the mask by differentiating between the pipe and metal. Every image will have its own unique characteristics, the settings I used here are specific to this image. Try to find what’s most unique about the foreground or background to isolate them.
  3. Refine the layer masks and cloning as needed. Luminosity selections are an ideal way to deal with any halos or fringing by showing or hiding the layers as appropriate.

 

However, you’ll need to adapt the workflow to your specific image. Here are a few general guidelines to consider:

  • This technique is only as good as the quality of your rough cloning. Try the patch tool for large areas (with generous margins to avoid edge issues). Use the healing brush where you can (it tends to work well for objects you can completely remove, but not very well along remaining edges). Use the clone stamp where the other tools fail (it requires more time and sampling, but avoids the blotchy or discolored results the healing algorithm may create). The new Content-Aware Fill tool is often excellent for large objects.
  • I was unable to easily target the white pipe here because it had a full range of tones from bright white to deep shadow, and was also reflecting the surrounding green/red color. However, if you are able to target the distraction well enough, you can skip step #2 above and simply paint white through a luminosity selection onto a white mask in order to reveal the cloning where it is needed.
  • Customized selections are critical to getting the precise results you need. In this video, I used two custom luminosity previews. For the first, I created a red mask and brought the white slider in the orange levels all the way in to target the red metal. For the second, I used a L1.5 selection with the red and yellow to the minimum, which helped me target the white pipe.
  • Here’s another video some other ways to create custom luminosity selections.
  • Using luminosity selections to directly control the clone/heal brush is not typically a good approach. The primary challenge is that you’ll need multiple brush strokes to fully paint the new cloned pixels when working through a luminosity selection. You can do that if you have checked the option to keep the brush aligned. In general, you’ll get better and faster results by creating a rough clone job and then revealing it through a layer mask.

How to select and edit a bird with Lumenzia

I recently received an email from Jim Kay, who asked me how he might go about using Lumenzia to help isolate the bird in this image in order to darken the background. He’s done a wonderful job using a 500m lens to help remove distractions, but the background is still very bright and keeps the main subject from standing out as much as it he’d like. An ideal solution is to mask the bird to allow non-destructive darkening of the background.

 

Unfortunately, this is a very tricky task because the bird and branch are extremely similar in tone and color of the background. This limits my preferred solution, which would be to create a luminosity selection and let the image itself help create a perfect mask. The best approach here is to create a crude selection and refine the edges for a clean transition from subject to background.

There are several ways to create a crude selection, and each has its own advantages:

  • The Quick Select tool, which allows you to click and drag to identify the subject, with Photoshop automatically seeking appropriate edges. This is generally one of my favorite tools for making crude selections. To use it to its full potential, use both the additive and subtract modes to refine the selection – do not expect perfection with a single click of this tool. Make sure “enhance edge” is checked.
  • Image / Select Subject, which attempts to isolate humans and animals. In this case, it does a great job selecting the bird (other than its feet), though it ignores the branch.
  • The new Object Selection tool, which uses artificial intelligence to help select a subject from a rectangular or lasso selection input from the user. I tried this as well and felt took more time with this image.
  • The Magnetic Lasso tool. This is a lasso tool which attempts to snap to the edges of a selection. It can work well with high contrast edges when working zoomed in with appropriate settings for width and contrast. However, I find that other tools tend to work more easily on such images and this is an option I don’t use often.
  • Select / Color Range. Unfortunately, when luminosity masks aren’t an option, this approach often fails for the same reason that the color and luminosity of the subject and background are too similar. I generally find this tool less precise than using customized luminosity masks for cutouts and tend to reserve it for other use cases. But if you aren’t using a panel to help create advanced luminosity selections, this is a great option.

Once you have the rough selection, there are several options to refine the edges:

  • The Select and Mask workspace (aka Refine Edge in older versions of Photoshop).
    • The edge detection radius helps automatically clean up edges. This is a global setting for all detected edges. It isn’t perfect, but can often do a great job. Adding a very slight feather (around 0.3 pixels) can also help.
    • The Refine Edge Brush Tool is a handy way to locally target edges. This is best used when the ideal refine radius varies around the image, such as for using painting a large radius over hair without affecting the rest the subject by increasing the radius globally.
    • The standard Brush tool can be used to manually paint in missing ares. Unfortunately, if you activate the standard brush tool and start to paint, the edge detection radius will reset to 0 (which I consider a bug in the interface). So be sure to check and reset that radius if you use the brush.
    • The Quick Select tool can help add missing areas quickly. Try turning on a red overlay and checking the option to show edges, which will help make it very clear when you have properly targeted the edges while working with this tool. Be sure to take advantage of the subtracted mode by holding <alt/option> to cleanup with with tool.
    • Th Object Selection tool is also available in newer versions of Photoshop CC and tends to be very useful when used in the lasso mode.
    • The standard Lasso tool is an option and is most useful in the subtract or intersection modes to help remove unwanted areas of the selection.
  • Painting through Luminosity selections. Even if the main subject cannot be isolated with a luminosity selection, these can often be helpful to refine particular edges of the cutout. Because the pixel color and luminosity is nearly or truly identical to the background, they aren’t useful for a lot of edges in this image.
  • The dodge and burn tools in Photoshop (these are available with ideal settings via the — and +++ buttons in the Lumenzia Basics panel). These are a great way to help nudge grey pixels in the mask towards white or black, and are a good way to do secondary cleanup if needed after using Select and Mask or luminosity selections.
  • Painting with a white or black brush in soft light or overlay blend mode is another popular option to help nudge grey pixels towards black or white. However, I find that the dodge and burn brushes not only provide a better result in most cases, they are also much easier to select that continuously changing the blend mode for the brush.
  • Manually painting with a standard brush. Sometimes the best fix for small areas is to paint by hand, and it’s often quick to make a few enhancements this way. This is most commonly needed when the subject and background have similar colors and tones, which causes problems for many of the tools above.

 

Workflow used for this edit:

I placed a slightly darker copy of the image on a lower layer so that I could paint a white mask on the bird and branch to reveal the darker background below. I used the “Edge” tool in Lumenzia, which ultimately was equivalent to using Select Subject to get the bird, Quick Select to add the feet and branch, and a roughly 12 pixel refine edge radius via Select and Mask to create the layer mask. I then needed a black brush to manually paint out one small piece of the brighter background showing by the bird’s foot.

Once the cutout was done, I proceeded to dodge and burn through luminosity selections to lighten the eye for interest, darken the feathers on the back of the bird, and add some contrast in the feathers around its belly. When working with a cutout, adding a clipping mask is a very simple way to ensure that the dodging and burning targets the subject without spilling onto the background.

The edit was then finished by using a lasso selection to target an area to vignette.

 

This image used here is the copyright of Jim Kay and edited with his permission.

See how easily you can restore beautiful color and detail with exposure blending

Slot canyons feel like a nightmare to photograph. Even the most perfectly captured RAW files will show dynamic range that goes from extremely black shadows to blown highlights. Tools like HDR (automatic blending of multiple exposures) tend to produce very flat results and possibly strange artifacts. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to restore all that beautiful color and detail: exposure blending with luminosity masks.

I originally posted an edit of this image 5 years ago (coincidentally to the day) using Lumenzia v1 (!!!). So I thought it was time to update it and show how to fully take advantage of several improvements in Lumenzia since then. If you want to see just how far things have come since then, you can still see the original video. Some of the key new functionality used in this updated tutorial includes: PreBlend to align and prep the layers, sliders to quickly get customized luminosity previews for better results, split-screen mask views for better quality, BlendIf masks to get targeted adjustments that are more flexible and do not increase file size, BlendIf visualizations, BlendIf sliders for quick and easy customization, and automatic gray working space optimization for higher quality shadow detail.

I am also making the RAW files used in this tutorial available in my Exposure Blending Master Course. If you have the course, please see section 1.2 to download them.

 

Here’s a quick summary of the workflow demonstrated:

  1. Process the RAW images and open then open them in Photoshop. The goal here isn’t just brighter and darker exposures, but to optimize each for the parts of the image where they will be used. And you do not need multiple RAW files, you can create virtual copies and process the same file different ways to blend with itself using the same techniques that follow.
  2. Click “PreBlend” in Lumenzia to stack and align the handheld images to get them ready for blending. This adds black layer mask to the top layer and locks it to prevent accidental painting on the image.
  3. Click L and use the slider as needed to get the desired luminosity preview (in this case L1.5 ). You should see gray or white in target areas for blending, and black in the areas to protect.
  4. Click “Sel” to convert the preview into a luminosity selection.
  5. Paint with a white brush onto the layer mask (through the luminosity selection) to reveal the darker exposure in the highlights.
  6. Click “Split” to see the mask and image at the same time to help find any holes in the mask that should be filled.
  7. When the exposure blending is done, you may put the blended layers into a group. This has no effect on the image, but is a nice way to stay organized.
  8. Click “Dodge” to add a transparent dodge/burn layer. Create an L1.5 luminosity selection to dodge (paint white) just the highlights of the main subject.
  9. <ctrl/cmd>-click for Solid Fill in color blend mode, sample red color, and then paint white onto a black layer mask over purple/yellow areas to simplify colors.
  10. Add a Vibrance layer with L1 BlendIf to improve highlight color. The contribution here is slight, this is an optional step.
  11. Use lasso tool and then click “Vignette” for  inner vignette to bring attention to the main subject. <shift>-click and slide as needed for L0 BlendIf, which helps keep the vignette from making shadows too dark.

This tutorial shows the workflow using Lumenzia, but you can also use my free luminosity masking panel to create the required luminosity selections for blending.

 

How to Get Beautiful Color with the Infinite Color Panel

Even though I’ve come a long way as an artist, I still find it can be challenging to find the right color to enhance my image. That might be because I’m unsure which color to blend with existing color. Or perhaps I’m stuck in a rut and having a creative block. You might find that some of Photoshop’s adjustment layers (such as Selective Color or even using Curves to generate color) are a bit tricky.

My friend and professional portrait retoucher Pratik Naik has created an awesome software add on for Photoshop called the “Infinite Color Panel” (or “ICP”) to help get great color and creative inspiration. So in this tutorial, I wanted to demonstrate how it works and how you can take fully advantage of it it by customizing the results, including with the use of Lumenzia to generate luminosity masks or BlendIf for more targeted results.

 

I’ve also coordinated with Pratik to allow you to get ICP at a great discount (this also includes the bundle for his other similarly creative Black and White panel). Through April 7, use “GREG40” for $40 off ICP during checkout, or “GREGBUNDLE” for $15 off the ICP + BW bundle. Use the blue button above for more details or to get ICP or the ICP + BW bundle.

 

How to generate great color in ICP

ICP has several options below the “Create” button. Anything that is brighter white is selected. Here are the various options and how to use them:

  • Light / Medium / Intense controls the strength of the effect. If you are trying to get the result in one go, you might choose the lesser options – but I prefer to just always use “Intense”. I then use opacity as outlined below to reduce the effect if needed. And when using luminosity masks or BlendIf, the strength is naturally dialed down a bit, so it helps to use stronger adjustments to start.
  • Curves is great for adjusting both color and luminosity. This is an ideal starting point for adding some punch to the image.
  • Color Balance is somewhat similar to curves, but with less effect on the luminosity. This is a great way to create a more unified color across the image, and I like to start cycling through color balance variations after finding an ideal curve.
  • Selective Color adds a lot of color to the shadows. This is great if you want to create a stylized look, but it probably isn’t something you’ll use on a lot of landscape images and the opacity should generally be turned down.
  • Gradient Map has a lot in common with Selective Color, as it also affects the shadow color a bit- but also changes color more evenly across highlights and shadows. This is also something you may not use as much for landscape images.
  • Color Lookup is great for controlling contrast and tonality of the image. I like to cycle through the options here after setting Curves or Color Balance first.
  • Harmonize. This helps push the image towards a color triad based on the dominant highlight color. If you want to create a bit of that hipster color filter look you get on sites like Instagram, give it a try. This is a self-contained option that is otherwise unrelated to the other options.
  • The Shuffle column is a way to cycle through different versions of a specific layer you have already created (without changing all the layers in the ICP group), or to add an effect to an existing group. It is also not a setting that you turn off/on. See the demo video on this page to get a better feel for this.

Once you have the options you want, click “Create” to start generating the requested adjustment layers. Keep clicking the “Create” until you get a look that is headed in a good direction. It does not need to be perfect at this stage, the goal is a good starting point. And if you want to go back to a variation you blew past, just use the history panel in Photoshop (or undo shortcut keys).

 

How to refine the color

Once you have you have a group of layers that looks promising, you can start to tweak the results. Here are a few adjustments to consider:

  • If the overall result is too strong, turn down the opacity of either the group or of individual layers in the group for even more control.
  • If the color is close but perhaps too blue, magenta, etc: try turning off and on various layers to find which one is causing the unwanted color. You may then tweak its settings, reduce the opacity, or delete/hide it to remove it completely.
  • If you only need the effect in one part of the image, add a layer mask to the group (or a specific layer) and paint it in just where you want to reveal the adjustment. Great options to do this include soft brushes or the radial/linear gradients, as all of these allow you to create a soft transition for a natural look.

Of course, this last option for using a layer mask can be taken even further by using Lumenzia to create luminosity masks.

 

How to refine the color with Lumenzia

The sort of adjustments you get from the ICP often work even better if you apply them specifically to the shadows or highlights in the image. That makes the use of both ICP and Lumenzia a powerful combination. ICP helps you create great color and Lumenzia can help you apply it where it looks the best.

There are two key workflows I recommend here: luminosity masks on the group, or BlendIf on the individual layers in the group. Luminosity masks have the benefit of giving you additional control and can be applied in one place on the group (something that Photoshop does not currently support for BlendIf). And BlendIf gives you the benefit of smaller files that are more flexible (as you may need to update a luminosity mask if you change the image content in the layers below the ICP adjustment).

The basic workflow for using the group luminosity mask approach with Lumenzia is:

  1. Select the group layer
  2. Click on the various previews (D1-D5 or L1-L5) in Lumenzia to find the best targeting of highlights or shadows. You may use the slider or tweak the orange levels layer to further customize the preview.
  3. Once you have the preview you’d like to use, just click “Mask” to apply it as a mask on the group.

The basic workflow for using the BlendIf approach with Lumenzia is:

  1. Select the layer you wish to adjust. You may also apply the same BlendIf to multiple layers by holding <ctrl/cmd> or <shift> while clicking to select multiple layers.
    • Be sure you do not select the group. If you add any BlendIf to it, the result is that none of the adjustment layers in the group will have any effect on the image. This is like making the group invisible, and is unfortunately just how Photoshop treats BlendIf on groups (to be more specific, it treats the group as if you changed the blend mode to “normal”, where adjustment layers cannot affect anything outside the group).
  2. Either <shift>-click the desired BlendIf (D1-D5 or L1-L5) in Lumenzia, or change the panel mode to “If:under” and click on the same button. This will immediately apply the BlendIf.
  3. You may now customize the BlendIf by dragging the blue sliders in Lumenzia. (If you see a white slider, that is because the target layer’s layer mask is active and Lumenzia is trying to feather it. Just click on the layer outside the mask to stop targeting the mask, and the slider will turn blue for BlendIf adjustment).
  4. If you would like to visualize the BlendIf, you may click the red “If” button at the bottom of Lumenzia to see a color overlay of the affected areas. <shift>-click “If” to change the color of the overlay.
    • Alternatively (if you are more comfortable with viewing layer masks), you may <ctrl/cmd>-click the “Mask” button in Lumenzia to convert the BlendIf temporarily to the equivalent layer mask. (Just be sure to undo if you want to stick with using BlendIf, this is just a way to visualize the BlendIf, not a way to adjust it).

 

Next steps

I often create several ICP adjustments. Either to build on something I’ve started or because I want different effects in different parts of the image. The key is to create a new ICP group, and there are a few important things to know about how ICP and Lumenzia work:

  • If you have a group named “Infinite Color”, it will be used every time you click “Create”. If you like what you have created and want ICP to use a new group, just rename the group to anything else.
  • If you use Lumenzia to add a luminosity mask, it will rename the layer to add the name of the luminosity mask used. This will give you a name like “D2 Infinite Color”. As a result, clicking “Create” in ICP would then start generating a new group.
    • If you want to be able to mask the group and keep cycling through ICP options, you may rename the group back to “Infinite Color” (exactly with that spelling and no extra spaces).
    • Or, you may go to Lumenzia’s menu and uncheck the option labeled “add luminosity mask name to layer name via Mask”. Once that is unchecked, Lumenzia will stop renaming layers when you use the “Mask” button.

 

Disclosure:

This article contains affiliate links and Pratik provided me with a free copy of ICP to evaluate. See my ethics statement for more information.

 

I’ve also coordinated with Pratik to allow you to get ICP at a great discount (this also includes the bundle for his other similarly creative Black and White panel). Through April 7, use “GREG40” for $40 off ICP during checkout, or “GREGBUNDLE” for $15 off the ICP + BW bundle. Use the blue button above for more details or to get ICP or the ICP + BW bundle.

 

How to sharpen and resize photos for the web in Photoshop

After you’ve spent all the time and effort to post-process a beautiful photograph, you’re probably going to want to share it online somehow. On your blog, on a social media site like Facebook or Instagram, or maybe just via email to friends and family. In all of these cases, there are some critical steps to make sure you are sharing an image which is easy to view, looks great on the viewer’s monitor, and is an appropriate size (since the full resolution image is rarely ideal because it makes too large a file, won’t look as sharp if you leave resizing up to a 3rd party, or you want to prevent theft of your full-resolution original).

I get questions regularly about web sharpening, including my preferred approach or how Photoshop’s “Export As” compare to “Save for Web (legacy)”. It’s an important topic with complicated answers. So I’m writing this post to not only help show my approach, but also provide a simple and free software tool for you to quickly and easily get better images to share online.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to use my free script to do the work for you, how to sharpen for the web manually, how my approach compares to other common approaches with Photoshop/Lightroom, and how web sharpening should be used in combination with capture and creative sharpening.

 

Free web sharpening script:

You can sharpen your own images using the workflow described below, or you can simply download and use my free web sharpening script. This script takes care of all the critical steps for you to get amazing results with minimal effort. Under its simple user interface, it uses an advanced/proprietary method that goes beyond the approach outlined below in order to provide more optimal results than would be practical to do manual. You can install it so that it shows up in Photoshop’s menus for easy access. And you can even assign it a shortcut key to run it anytime you need it.

 

 

How to use the web sharpening script:

This script is designed to create high quality images in the simplest way possible.

For those who want a little more control, hover over the “Sharpen” button and note that there are some extra options available by holding modifier keys. This gives you the ability to apply sharpening locally, use the “Save for Web” interactive controls to interactively optimize JPG compressions settings for the best file size and quality, or even convert to the P3 colorspace for Instagram (P3 is available on Photoshop CC for Mac only).

There are two ways to run the script. You can simply go to File / Scripts / Browse and run the script as needed. However, a much better option is to install it in Photoshop. Just follow the instructions that come with the script and you’ll see a new web sharpening option under the “Filter” menu in Photoshop. You can even assign a convenient shortcut to it (via Edit / Keyboard Shortcuts in Photoshop). For example, I have set <cmd><option><shift>-S to run my web sharpening script anytime I need it.

 

How to sharpen for the web manually:

Photoshop includes the “export as” and “save for web” utilities, but they do not take care of sharpening for you, and “export as” does not let you crop. Lightroom includes some convenient options, but again you can get better results using other methods and it does not give you control over cropping. If you want the best results, your best bet is to process the image manually or use a dedicated tool.

 

The general workflow for sharpening for the web manually involves several steps:

  1. Duplicate and flatten the image
  2. Convert to sRGB
  3. Resize
  4. Sharpen
  5. Crop
  6. Remove sensitive metadata
  7. Save as a JPG file with appropriate settings

Let’s walk through each of these steps in detail…

 

Step 1: Duplicate and flatten the image

Unless you are sharing with another Photoshop user, the preferred file format is nearly always JPG. And while saving as a JPG will flatten the image automatically, it is better to do this manually first. The reason is simple: resizing and converting color spaces on the flattened image creates better results than you get by doing those steps on the layered image. For example, if you have an adjustment layer like curves in your image and convert from ProPhoto to sRGB, the image will change because the points in the curve are specific to the ProPhoto or sRGB color spaces and cannot be automatically adjusted for you.

My free sharpening script does this for you, and it always does it on a duplicate copy of your image (the original is not changed).

 

Step 2: Convert to sRGB

Even though color management and web browsers have been around for more than 25 years now, we still do not have broad support for proper color management on the internet. Many images are treated as if they are in the sRGB colorspace, regardless of whether that is true or not. As a result, sharing images that have not been converted to sRGB can easily cause some terrible results, particularly dull colors.. So even though many monitors support more expansive color gamuts (such as P3 or Adobe RGB), it is nearly always best to convert to sRGB when exporting to the web.

One exception to this is sharing images on Instagram, as they have built support for the P3 color profile into their platform. You can safely upload images in P3 there. However, you wouldn’t want to send that same file elsewhere and you may be setting yourself up for frustration if you try using different colorspaces for sharing images from a phone. If you want simplicity, stick with sRGB.

Conversion to sRGB can occur anytime after you flatten the document, but I prefer to do it early. That way, if you decide to play with different approaches to sharpening, you won’t have to redo this step.

If you use my free sharpening script, conversion to sRGB is automatic. You may alternatively hold <shift> while clicking “Sharp” to have the image output in Display P3 for enhanced color on services like Instagram (the filename will indicate that P3 has been used).

 

Step 3: Resize

There are several reasons to reduce the size of your image when exporting to the web. This reduces file size significantly. You’ll frequently get higher quality results when you upload the exact sizes recommended for a particular service than if you leave resizing to their system. And you may wish to protect your high quality originals from theft or misuse.

To resize in Photoshop:

  • Go to Image / Image Size
  • Leave the link icon on to constrain the aspect ratio
  • Choose the desired height or width in pixels. The other dimension may not match exactly, so let one of the dimensions go longer than needed for now. You should not force the dimensions in this step, as you’ll distort the image by squishing it here instead of cropping it in the next step.
  • Select “Bicubic (smooth gradients)” or “Bicubic sharper“. Use the sharper version if you want to retain greater detail before sharpening, or the smooth gradients version to help suppress halos. You can safely ignore the other methods for downsizing (see the Adobe site for more details).
  • Ignore the resolution, it has absolutely no effect.

There are an endless number of optimal sizes for sharing online. The best choice depends on which platform you’re using (Facebook, Instagram, etc). It also depends on what your doing there (normal post, page banner, etc). And the best choices tend to change as these platforms evolve. For that reason, I recommend you simply Google something like “best image size for Instagram” to get the latest advice. For what its worth, 1080 pixels wide and 566-1350 pixels tall for Instagrame is ideal for Instagram at this time.

If you use my free sharpening script, just type in the desired final dimensions for width and height. If you have the “maintain aspect ratio” option checked, the height will be automatically set if you change width (and vice versa) so that the full image is used.

 

Step 4: Sharpen

When you reduce the size of the image, it may naturally appear more soft. So sharpening after resizing is an important step to maintain quality. You may also use this as an opportunity to give you image a bit more pop by adding sharpening. Deconvolution sharpening or creative sharpening such as high pass that you may do on the high resolution original is generally fine, but if you have done a lot sharpening, you may wish to use less sharpening at this phase. Regardless of any capture or creative sharpening you do on the master image, it is critical that you do this final output sharpening step after resizing to get the desired results.

There are several good options for sharpening:

  • Unsharp mask.
    • Start with 100 amount, 1 pixel radius, and threshold of 5.
    • If you need to emphasize larger details, you may try a larger radius. Or if you are concerned with halos, try 0.5.
    • You may increase the threshold to 10 if you wish to suppress sharpening of noise in smooth details.
    • You may then increase or decrease the sharpening amount to get the desired amount of sharpening.
  • Smart Sharpen offers a little more control over suppression of sharpening halos, if you’re willing to get comfortable with the highlight/shadow controls.
    • Start with 100 amount, 1 pixel radius, reduce noise of 10-20%, and “remove” set to “lens blur”.
    • If you wish to reduce halos, open the shadow and highlight controls (use shadow controls for dark halos and highlight controls for bright halos). Use the fade amount to control the amount of halo suppression, tonal width determine how far from black/white you want to suppress, and the radius controls how far from the edge to suppress (so 1-2 pixels is generally a good choice).
  • Multi-stage sharpening via Filter / Sharpen / Sharpen. With this approach, you don’t resize directly to final dimensions in step #2. Instead, resize to 1.67x the final dimensions and run Sharpen (this filter has no options). Then resize to final dimensions and run Sharpen again. This is a popular technique amount many landscape photographers.
  • Note: With any of these methods, the amount of optimal sharpening is affected by your resizing algorithm. For example, if you choose “Bicubic sharper”, the image will naturally need less sharpening to get to a similar result.

If you want to get more sharpening in some parts of the image (such as foreground details) and less elsewhere to avoid noise (such as the sky), you may wish to apply the sharpening locally. To do this, just duplicate your flattened layer and sharpen the top layer. Then use a layer mask to reveal the sharpening wherever desired.

If you use my free sharpening script, you may control the amount of sharpening using the sharpening amount slider in the script. Everything else is optimized for you automatically. This slider is set at the default recommended value of 100%, but you may increase or decrease it as desired for your specific image.

If you wish to sharpen locally with the script, hold <ctrl/cmd> while clicking “Sharpen” and a layered document will be created (but not saved) for you. Just paint black on the white mask of the sharpening layer to reveal the original (not sharpened version) underneath. So paint black on the mask in smooth areas like sky and water. Then save as a JPG with your preferred quality settings (you do not need to worry about flattening this document, as the limitations mentioned above do not apply in this simple scenario).

 

Step 5: Crop

There are many situations where you should crop your image. Resizing for platform-specific sizes to optimize quality often requires it. Or you may have other goals, such as cropping a landscape image to a square format to display better on Instagram. If you don’t crop the image, it will likely be cropped for you, often with a centered crop that gives poor results. If your image is close to the final dimensions, just go to Image / Canvas Size, type in the desired dimensions, and click OK. This will give you a centered crop. But if you are making a more significant crop, you should use a custom crop.

How to get a custom crop:

  • Use the crop tool (shortcut <C>).
  • Enter the desired image ratio in the toolbar to force the exact right ratio. Since you’ve already resized the image, the crop tool should be touching either the long or short edge perfectly and showing a centered crop of the other dimension.
  • Simply click and drag on the image to achieve your desired crop. If you see the crop rectangle jump off the edges (because you didn’t more in a straight line vertically or horizontally), just slowly move back and it should snap into place on the edge.
  • When everything looks good, just click <enter> to commit.
  • Note that you can click on the grid icon in the toolbar to select helpful overlays, such as “golden ratio”.

I prefer to do this step after resizing and sharpening, at least when using a multi-stage approach to sharpening where you don’t get to the final resizing in one step.

If you use my free sharpening script, you must uncheck “maintain aspect ratio”  in the script if you wish to crop the image. Otherwise, the image will be resizing proportionally and used in full. If the dimensions you then choose are not proportional to the original height and width, the image will be cropped. If a very slight crop is needed, it will be done for you. If a larger crop is needed, you will be be provided with an option and instructions to customize the crop after you click “Sharp”. The image is never stretched, just cropped when necessary.

 

 

Step 6: Remove sensitive metadata

Your camera records a lot of information about shutter speed, aperture, etc as “metadata”. Most of this is fine or even preferable to share. However, you may also be sharing information you wish to keep private, such as the GPS location, the date the image was taken, serial numbers for your camera or phone, etc. While you may edit some of this data under File / File Info in Photoshop, much of it cannot be changed there. A simple solution is to use File / Export As or File / Save for Web in Photoshop. While these tools also allow you to resize the image, they do not have sharpening tools built into them, so I would still do the other steps above before using Photoshop’s export tools.

Another option is to create an export action in Lightroom that has metadata settings set to “Copyright only”. You can use such a Lightroom export to flatten and resize the image as well if you like, and then simply sharpen in Photoshop.

If you use my free sharpening script, just use the checkbox option to control whether the image is saved with all metadata or just your copyright information.

 

Step 7: Save as a JPG file with appropriate settings

There are many file formats used on the web, the most common are JPG, GIF, and PNG. GIF is useful for making animations, but should be avoided for sharing photos online due to its generally low quality. PNG has some advantages such as 16-bit depth (which is unnecessary compared to a properly prepared JPG) and transparency (which is useful for marketing images on a website but generally not something you’d want to share photos), but are typically 5X larger or more.

JPG is the way to go. It provides very high quality, small file sizes, and is the most compatible. When you save as JPG in Photoshop, there are several choices and I would generally recommend the following:

  • Leave embed color profile checked. If you have converted to sRGB, most browsers and applications will correctly assume what do for this missing profile, but why leave it to chance? The sRGB profile changes the file size of your image by less than 1%, so there is no reason not to embed it. And if you are outputting your image in Display P3 or some other color space, it is critical that you embed the colorspace.
  • Quality = 6-10 is generally ideal. Using 6 is fine for most use, but higher values will help reduce some artifacts which may be particularly useful if you expect the user will zoom into view your image larger than 100%.
  • Format = Baseline Optimized. This should reduce the size of your image by about 7% and is widely compatible. I am not aware of any modern browsers or social media services that have problems with this format. But if you want to ensure 100% compatibility with every conceivable piece of outdated software, you may choose to use Baseline Standard instead for a slightly larger file.

 

If you use my free sharpening script, all of this is taken care of for you by the quality dropdown option.

  • Good creates the smallest file size and should be indistinguishable from the other options in most cases.
  • High is great if you are concerned that viewers may zoom in more than 100% when viewing your work.
  • Ultimate offers the best quality compression as well as dithering, making this the ideal choice if you see any compression artifacts with the other options, if you are concerned with possible banding in the sky or other smooth gradients, or if you just want to ensure the best quality and do not care about file size. Files saved with “ultimate” quality are typically 4x larger than those saved using “good”.

 

How should does this approach compare with using Photoshop’s “Export As” or “Save for Web”?

Photoshop includes a couple of relevant utilities under the File / Export menu (CS6 just have “Save for Web” under the File menu). However, neither includes sharpening, which should be done after resizing. That’s a serious issue if you want to create the best-looking photos. Neither give you any control over cropping. It’s possible, but you always get a centered crop. And both interfaces include an intimidating number of choices which aren’t important for most photography. These are ultimately tools optimized for people who create websites, iOS apps, etc.

On the other hand, both Export As (in CC 2020 or later) and Save for Web include a very nice “2-up” preview where you can compare the image quality degradation for different levels of compression and resulting file size. If you are trying to make a website load a few hundred milliseconds faster by creating the smallest files possible, this may be a helpful way to find the perfect quality setting for your image. Otherwise, if you’re just uploading to Instagram and such, I wouldn’t worry about it. **

There are some important differences between these tools.

  • Export As offers a simpler interface (it also offers the ability to save files with dimensions larger than 8192 pixels, but that’s not relevant for 99.9% of web files).
  • Export As also offers a “Quick Export” that lets you define your preferred JPG settings and then you can assign a shortcut key to this menu option for one-click export. Note that there is no option to have the sRGB profile embedded. Probably not a big deal since it is generally assumed, but I generally prefer to leave it embedded as it adds almost nothing to the file size and helps avoid potential display issues if some software or browser doesn’t assume sRGB.
  • Save for Web offers a little more control over JPG settings (whether “progressive” or “optimized” options are used for support of legacy browsers) and the ability to use a 4-up mode if you really want to nerd out on compression optimization. It’s also the only option for 2-Up display on any version of Photoshop older than CC 2020.

** If you are using my free script, hold <shift> while clicking “Sharpen” to invoke the “Save for Web” interface. You will need to manually set your preferred settings for each comparison version of the image. If you used <ctrl/cmd> to create a layered file for local sharpening, just run the script again with the image open and it Save for Web will be invoked automatically. This allows you to combine the best of both to get optimal sharpening from the script and use Save for Web’s handy interface to determine how much JPG compression you would like to use.

 

How should does this approach compare with using “Lightroom”?

Lightroom’s export has some very good tools for exporting that include resizing, converting to sRGB, and even sharpening. However, you cannot crop (unless you make and virtual copies before exporting, and its still hard to get perfect crops to hit specific pixel dimensions for Instagram, etc). And while the three levels of sharpening are pretty good, you cannot apply the sharpening locally and sometimes an image benefits from more sharpening than the “high” amount allows in Lightroom.

If you are using Lightroom, create an export preset with appropriate File Settings (JPEG, sRGB, preferred quality), Image Sizing, and Output Sharpening (screen / standard).

 

How should web sharpening be used with other forms of sharpening?

Proper sharpening generally falls into three categories: capture sharpening, creative sharpening, and output sharpening.

Capture sharpening

You may also hear this type of sharpening referred to as “input sharpening”, “camera sharpening”, or “RAW sharpening”. You may also hear it referred to by the name of a specific technique (such as deconvolution sharpening). But don’t get confused, they all refer to the same concept aiming to improve the quality of fine detail of your original image. This is a technical form of sharpening designed to offset the limits of our equipment. This helps offset some natural softness caused by filters, lenses, etc. When done correctly, capture sharpening can help you get higher quality enlargements for print. However, because this improves fine detail of the full resolution file, this has no significant effect on web sharpening and isn’t very important in the the context of this article.

 

Creative sharpening

Unlike the other forms of sharpening which compensate for limitations of our equipment, this phase of sharpening is purely intended for creative purposes.  A simple way to think of this is the sharpening you would apply locally (after capture sharpening) in order to get the best looking image at its original resolution. As this is an artistic process, there aren’t as many standard “rules”, but techniques such as “high pass sharpening” are common in creative sharpening.

 

Output sharpening

This category includes the web sharpening we are doing here, as well as print sharpening. Unlike capture sharpening, creative sharpening is likely to affect the low resolution image you create for sharing online, so the amount of web sharpening you need may likely be affected by this stage of the process. If you process your images with a consistent style, you can probably use the same output sharpening settings for most of your work – but it still depends on the image content and you may wish to apply output sharpening locally if you wish to fully optimize the results. By “locally”, I mean to enhance sharpness where it is really needed as in step #4 above. Also note that by applying the output sharpening locally, I’m also making output sharpening a somewhat creative process.

Web sharpening is also very different from print sharpening. In print sharpening, the softening occurs after you have saved your file (during printing). So you need to compensate and add more sharpening that looks ideal on your monitor. That’s not the case with web sharpening, where the softness is created when the image is resized.

With web sharpening, it is generally best to evaluate the sharpening at 100%. If you think your audience is going to zoom into the image, you may wish to view at 200% or so and add a little more sharpening. Or your audience may be viewing on a screen where the physical size of the pixels are larger than the screen on which you are editing. But don’t fall into the trap of zooming further into your image, as that is not how it will be viewed and it may cause you to make some sub-optimal choices. The most likely result of “pixel peeping” is that you’ll waste a lot of time worry about or fixing issues that no one will ever be able to see. When you’re done, be sure look at the image at 100% for a final check.

 

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