Unsharp Mask. My preferred sharpening technique is Unsharp Mask in Photoshop. When I use this technique, I place the most important part of the photograph in the image area in the dialog box since that's the area I want to sharpen. More on this idea in the next topic.
Selective Sharpening. Speaking of the most important part of an image, I always sharpen selectively rather than sharpening the entire image. You want to sharpen selectively to draw more attention to the main subject in the viewfinder. In addition, you usually don't want to sharpen dark and out-of-focus areas of a photograph because those areas are where noise shows up the most. Sharpening increases noise.
In Photoshop CS5, I go to Filter > Convert to Smart Filter. I select Unsharp Mask and sharpen the entire image—but I'm only paying attention to how the sharpening affects the main subject. After clicking OK, I select black as the foreground color, select a brush and "paint out" the area of the image I don't want sharpened (which shows up as black on the Smart Filters layer in the Layers panel).
Contrast Adjustments. Increasing contrast can increase the apparent sharpness of an image. I use Curves to do that. To preserve the highlights and shadows, I move the top and bottom of the curve inward just a tad. Then I click on the middle of the curve to set a control point. As a final step, I click on part of the curve and move it upward to create what's called an "S" curve, which increases contrast.
Blurring The Background. Blurring the background also can increase the apparent sharpness of a subject. You can do this using the Convert to Smart Filter technique described above, using the Gaussian filter, in this case.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are other sharpening ideas and techniques, but I've focused on the most important. The ideas I shared here are designed to get you started on setting your sights on sharp shots. Set your sights high, my friends!
Rick Sammon is a regular here at Digital Photo magazine. For more information on Rick, you can check out his website at www.ricksammon.info.