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Web Sharpening Action

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Almost all photographs are viewed digitally and getting your images to display as sharp and crisp as possible is of paramount importance. Most professional photographers nowadays make use of advanced resize and sharpen methods, which sharpens any image to display optimally at a specific resolution. Fortunately these methods can be saved as a Photoshop action and anyone can apply that method to their images with the single click of a button. All you need is a working copy of Photoshop. 

Our current favourite resize and sharpen action is that of mountain and wilderness photographer, Alex Nail. If you aren't interested in the technical stuff and just want to see what it does right away, click the blue download button above.

INSTALLING THE ACTION

Once the file is downloaded to your computer, you can just double click it and the action will appear at the bottom of your actions palette in Photoshop.

USING THE ACTION

To play the action, open any image, select the resolution you want to resize to and hit the play button at the bottom of the palette window. It's that simple!

CONTROLLING THE AMOUNT OF SHARPENING

The action creates two layers of sharpening - 

  • 'Sharp' is like a basic all-over sharpening, which seldoms need fine-tuning.
  • 'Sharper' is a fine sharpening that plays a critical role in sharpening areas of fine detail like foliage. This some times needs a bit of fine tuning and this is why it is applied as a layer with a mask. 

If you want to make a global reduction to the image, simply reduce the opacity of the 'Sharper' layer. If you want to make a local reduction, simply use a black brush of desired opacity and brush on the mask to reduce the sharpening in a specific area. 

ADDING A WATERMARK

Many photographers like to add a watermark to their images and you can program the action to do this automatically. To achieve this all you have to do is record something in the ‘Optional Customisation (Step 3)’ action. In the specific case mentioned above this would be the process:

  • Click on the action named ‘Optional Customisation (Step 3)’ and press the record button.
  • Flatten the image
  • Select the text tool and type the text as you would like anywhere in the image (for example ©alexnail.com)
  • Alternatively draw a shape of your logo/signature anywhere on the image
  • Transform the watermark so that it is the right size (nb you don’t have to position it yet)
  • Select the background layer
  • Hold down ctrl and select the watermark layer
  • Select the move tool
  • Use the move tool alignment buttons to move the text/watermark layer to the bottom right (or wherever you want)
  • Use the keyboard arrow keys to move the text layer so that it isn’t touching the edges.

ACHIEVING THE ‘OPTIMUM’ RESULT

There are a few factors that can affect the output of a web image.

  • The quality of sharpening applied (this action ensures the sharpening quality is outstanding)
  • The amount of sharpening applied
  • The amount of compression when saving
  • The amount of compression and resizing the website you upload to applies (Facebook for example can quite heavily compress jpeg images)

To get the most out of the action you may need to adjust the layer opacities to prevent the action from oversharpening / undersharpening your image. Unfortunately the action cannot see how sharp the original image is, nor how large it is, so it can require some modification. In our experience from using this action on hundreds of images, it is very well set up to produce sharp images from 15+MP images that have been well captured. Note that if you have already sharpened the image prior to running the action the result is more likely to look oversharp.

Photoshop’s ‘Save for Web’ (File - Save for Web...) is very good at producing high quality jpegs with very small file sizes. We strongly recommend using a range between 50 and 80. Using a compression setting between 60 and 70 gives a good balance between quality and file size. Going above a quality setting of 80 produces very minor improvements to image quality, but quickly increases the file size and our recommendation is to avoid doing that. Going below a quality setting of 50 uses such heavy compression that artifacts start to become easy to see. Images with fairly little detail (for example silhouettes against a blue sky) will have much lower file sizes anyway, so one can use a quality setting of 80 so that artifacts become essentially invisible whilst the file size is still small. The smaller the file size the faster people can see your images, given that people sometimes have slow internet speeds (or short attention spans) making your image file sizes as small as possible is very worthwhile.

Once you have produced your web image it’s now time to upload it. Having spent time making your image look as detailed as possible you upload it to a website only to find that the image quality has been destroyed! Facebook is probably the worst offender. Websites do this to make your files as small as possible to minimise the bandwidth use and improve user experience (faster page loads). This isn’t something that photographers want, but fortunately, aside from Facebook, most major sites are pretty good in this respect. To avoid the facebook compression you should ‘Save for web’ as a 24 bit PNG. The drawback is much larger file sizes (and correspondingly longer loading times for people viewing your images).

Web Sharpening Action