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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

5 Essential Photo Enhancements

Postprocessing adjustments you’ll need for every image

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Even though today's DSLR sensors produce incredibly low noise, they do still create digital noise that must be addressed at almost all ISOs. Longer exposures create noise, too. To improve an image's signal-to-noise ratio after exposure, simply make noise reduction a standard step in your postproduction workflow.

Noise reduction can be done in Photoshop and plug-in programs that offer enhanced noise-reduction controls for photographers who consistently push the boundaries of high-noise images. In Lightroom, noise is mitigated with fairly simple controls that address luminance and color noise. Color noise is largely addressed by default, though the Color and Detail sliders (within the Detail panel in Lightroom's Develop module) allow you to eliminate even more noise with a simple adjustment to one slider.

The really powerful control comes from the Luminance sliders under the Noise Reduction panel, in my opinion. Luminance noise reduction dramatically eliminates the most visible noise from high-ISO and long-exposure image files. The Detail slider allows you to toe the line between eliminating noise and the complete obliteration of image-forming detail. Detail settings are different for every image, and it's affected by how large an image will be viewed.

5 Sharpening
It's no coincidence that I saved sharpening for last. Sharpening should be the last step prior to final output because sharpening should be done based on how a photograph will be viewed. For instance, if you're delivering a photograph to be printed in the newspaper, you'll want more sharpening than if your image is intended for a high-gloss substrate that won't bleed.

With Lightroom, I adjust sharpness in two ways. The first one is closest to other sharpening methods available in Photoshop, Aperture and other applications. Within the Develop module, I start with the Clarity slider to easily make an image appear sharper by enhancing edge contrast. (This is a great technique for creative sharpening, which can be done earlier in the editing process.) I really fine-tune sharpness within the Detail panel—which enhances edge contrast similar to the Clarity slider, but also adds considerable control over the intricacies of sharpening. Radius and Amount sliders affect how bold sharpened edges will look, and the Detail slider helps keep you from oversharpening.

The Masking slider is my favorite way to prevent unsightly oversharpening (much like Threshold in Photoshop's Unsharp Mask sharpening control), by limiting sharpening to only the biggest, boldest edges in a scene, effectively minimizing noise without sacrificing the appearance of improved overall sharpness.


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