3 Tools For Sharpening Your Photos

One thing to note about digital photos before we go on… the picture format which you use. If you’ve set you digital camera to capture in JPEG format, it is likely you’ve encounter some loss of quality in the picture due to image compression. In this case, it does make sense to apply sharpening on the photo. If, however, you’ve selected to shoot in RAW mode, then you’ll unlikely face any image degradation – sharpening a RAW image is usually not necessary.

1. The Unsharp Mask
The Unsharp Mask tool is common in many photo editing software programs, including Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paintshop Pro. Typically, when you apply the Unsharp Mask, you can control 3 factors – the Amount, Radius and Threshold:

  • Amount – this refers to the intensity of the sharpening
  • Radius – this refers to the distance sharpening occurs around a pixel)
  • Threshold – defines when sharpening starts to occur when two points are different in brightness

Learn to play with these three factors to obtain the optimal amount of sharpening in a photo. Apply just enough sharpening but don’t over do it. Sharpening a photo too much will usually make the edges in the photo too “harsh” or visible.

2. Smart Sharpen
Another tool at your disposal when sharpening photos is the Smart Sharpen tool. In Adobe Photoshop Elements, this tool is available as the Adjust Sharpness option within the Enhance Menu. Other photo editing programs (e.g. Corel Paintshop Pro) have similar tools but under different names.

Typically, I’d make sure that I perform the sharpening step as the last step in the photo workflow. That means that I’ll clean up the image, adjust its color, tone, brightness, etc. and flatten the image before perform a sharpen. I find that ultimately yields a better looking image in the end. The nice thing about invoking smart sharpening tools is that all the settings have been built into the sharpening algorithm already – the program will select the most appropriate sharpening options for you.

3. Advanced Sharpening Tools
If you’ve used Photoshop Lightroom or the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop, you’ll realize that these programs give you much more powerful photo sharpening toolkits. The algorithms for sharpening in Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop far surpass what you see in simpler packages like Photoshop Elements and Corel Paintshop Pro. In fact, the tools in Photoshop Lightroom are so good that I’d highly recommend that you buy a copy if you’re a serious digital photographer.

Also, here’s a little known secret about working in Photoshop Lightroom. Press down the Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) key as you adjust any of the sliders and the sharpening appears in black-and-white, which is much easier to see. If you’ve used Lightroom to some extent before, you’ll know this tip is a great help.

There are dedicated photo sharpening tools out there. One of the programs I like a lot is the Nik Software Sharpener Pro. The sharpening algorithms in this package match those in Photoshop Lightroom and you can tell the difference in the sharpened image’s quality, as compared to those sharpened by more inferior programs.

Conclusion
In summary, sharpening is a common procedure in photo workflows. However, to ensure that your sharpened image looks good – you should be sure what kind of sharpening settings you should apply – set these either manually or through a smart sharpening tool. If you’re a more advanced user, you should try using tools like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop, as well as the Nik Software Sharpener Pro – all of which have very good sharpening algorithms.

So until next time, here’s wishing you luck in editing your photos!

Top 7 Free Photo Editing Software Programs For Windows

Many of these free photo editing programs aren’t lousy or lacking in features. Some of them are industrial grade (e.g. GIMP) and some are geared towards simple, online photo edits (e.g. Fatpaint). In this article, I’ll introduce you to seven of the best photo editing software programs for Windows.

1. The GIMP
The GIMP is a great free, open-source image editor that brings high-end photo editing to users for free. The interface is a bit complex to pick up, but it is very powerful. If you’ve used Adobe Photoshop before, you’ll find many of its functions available in the GIMP. For a free piece of software, it has an amazing repertoire of functions.

2. Fotoflexer
Fotoflexer is a web-based photo editing application that has casual and prosumer appeal. If you’re a novice, you’ll be able to go in, do some simple edits and be done. If you’re a more advanced user – you’ll be spoilt for choice in terms of what this tool can do. We’re talking about blurring, comic, retro, animatinos, distortions and even layer support – all done online with your photo.

3. Paint.Net
Paint.Net has been around for some time and boasts an easy-to-use interface and a huge array of effects. If you don’t need to use the full power of Photoshop and simply want a quick and dirty tool, Paint.Net is a good bet.

4. Picasa 3.5
Owned by Google, Picasa is a very pretty and top notch photo editing program. You need to install a desktop client in order to use it. However, it’s interface is very clean and has cool tools like geo-tagging, great sharing support, web albums and name tags. Picasa gets my vote as one of the best in this list – it’s a terrific, easy, and free way to edit and organize your images.

5. Picnik
Picnick is another photo editing tool that is web-based and has been around for some time. It’s quite powerful in the photo editing options it offers – although it’s not as full-featured as Fotoflexer, in my opinion.

6. Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011
Microsoft has jumped on the photo editing bandwagon too – with Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011. It gives you face recognition and retouching capabilities and is in fact a very good alternative to Google Picasa or Apple iPhoto.

7. Fatpaint
Fatpaint is an online and free, graphic design software and photo editor. It’s one of the newer tools in this list – you can create page layouts, paint and draw vector images, logos and illustrations very easily.

Conclusion
As you can see, there are many choices available when you’re picking a good photo editing software program for your Windows machine. What I’ve shown you are 7 of the best and free tools available out there. Be sure to check them out. For more serious work, you’d of course want to use a commercial package like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel PaintShop Pro X4.

Until next time, happy photo editing!

Better Fall Photos in a Few Easy Steps

Fall is upon us and that means it’s time to take some memorable foliage photos. The turning leaves create vibrant multicolor scenes that almost photograph themselves. The vivid gold, orange, green and red colors provide many photographic possibilities, but it’s up to the photographer to capture and frame these elements into a pleasing pieces of art.

Professional photographers, using high-end equipment have produced breathtaking views of fall, but if you do your homework and follow a few simple steps you can do the same even with a modest camera.

Location, Location, Location

The first and most important step is to carefully choose your locations. Ideally this should be done before the leaves start to turn to give you more prep time, but as with most things, it’s better late than never.

It’s best to find 3 to 5 locations close to, or on the way to where you live or work. This approach gives you options and also allows you to quickly take advantage of ever-changing light and weather conditions.

Choose locations that have a variety of tree species. The contrasting colors combined with the proper light can provide a gorgeous setting. The times just after sunrise and early evening generally work best.

Look for Big and Small

While you are scouting for, or shooting at you locations don’t forget to look for small objects. A collection of leaves on the ground can sometimes be more artistic than an array of multicolor trees in the distance.

Try to look at your location from every possible angle in order to take advantage of less than obvious shots. Also look for opportunities to capture reflections. Many times a scene’s beauty can double if it is also seen from a reflective lake, pond or river.

Steady Does It

Another easy way to improve your Fall photos is to use a tripod. If your shots are taken at a distance or in low light the tripod will help to keep you camera steady and your pictures sharp. The tripod will also help if you want to take the same shot several times using different camera settings. I have found that when you find the perfect composition, but the light is not quite right or something unwanted is in the frame, the tripod is indispensable.

Color is Key

Color is what needs to stand out in your fall photos, so you should consider using the vibrant mode setting on your camera if it’s available. If your camera is not equipped with this setting you can increase saturation to achieve the same effect.

You can also tweak your photos after the fact with a photo editing program. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel PaintShop Photo Pro allow you to adjust exposure, saturation, and contrast to improve the overall look of your photos. If your photos were captured using the RAW setting on your camera you will have the maximum flexibility during the editing process.

These steps should help your turn beautiful Fall scenes and objects into photos that can be enjoyed forever.