Tag Archives: nat coalson

Ask An Expert: Photoshop Unsharp Mask Vs. Lightroom’s Sharpening Tool

Today’s “Ask An Expert” question is an outstanding one.  I’d never given much thought to the difference in sharpening an image using unsharp mask in Photoshop vs. using the sharpening tool in Lightroom.  Apparently Nat Coalson hasn’t only given it a lot of thought, he’s developed some really solid logic behind why you should use Lightroom to sharpen your images.  Nat is an Adobe Certified Expert and the author of Lightroom 2: Streamlining Your Digital Photography Process.  He’s also co-leading our “Wildflowers and Reflections in the Tetons” workshop June 10 – 13, 2010.  Here’s the question I received and Nat’s thorough response.

The Question:

How does the sharpening in Adobe Lightroom compare to unsharp mask sharpening in PhotoShop. I have heard several people claim it is good to use for capture sharpening for images submitted to agencies that will be licensed by clients who will then resize and do additional output sharpening.

What is the difference in Lightroom sharpening and Unsharp mask??

Nat Coalson Responds:

The sharpening on Lightroom’s detail panel is very different from Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask.

Unsharp Mask was developed many years ago in the early days of digital imaging. Though it has been the de facto standard on which many other methods of sharpening are based, it’s crude in comparison to newer algorithms, and can produce destructive artifacts relatively easily.

On the other hand, Lightroom’s sharpening is designed to be “gentler” in it’s application, and will produce fewer haloes and other artifacts if used properly.

Modern sharpening workflows involve several steps of sharpening, unlike older techniques of the past, when it was believed that the optimal amount of sharpening could (and should) be done in a single pass.  These days, sharpening is broken down into three stages: capture, creative and output.

Capture sharpening overcomes the loss of sharpness resulting from the pixel grid itself. Every digital image capture suffers from some amount of softening as a result of the real, organic world being mapped to a discrete grid of pixels. The sharpening on the Detail panel is intended to be capture sharpening only and to simply overcome this inherent loss of sharpness.

Creative sharpening is used to enhance specific areas of the image.  Lightroom’s local adjustment brush provides the ability to “paint” on sharpening in localized areas.

Finally, output sharpening is applied when the file is Exported or printed. Output sharpening is applied using the appropriate method and strength for the inteded output destination. For example, if you’re printing to a matte fine art paper, you would apply more sharpening than if printing to a glossy coated paper.

My default settings for sharpening on the Detail panel:

Amount 60 > The strength of the sharpening to be applied.

Radius 1.1 > The width of the sharpening along the “edges” of contrast. For images with lots of fine detail, I might go down to .8 pixel radius, and increase the Amount. Images that don’t have lots of fine detail might go up to 2.0 radius, but never more than that.

Detail 50 > Similar to radius, if the photo has lots of fine detail, use higher levels of Detail.

Masking 15 > Masking restricts the application of sharpening from being applied to areas of smooth, solid color and limited contrast. For example, blue sky or the skin in a portrait usually should not be sharpened; masking keeps the sharpening from being applied to these areas.

For all the controls, holding the option or alt key while moving the slider will show you a grayscale preview of the effect being applied.

To see the sharpening previews on the image itself, you need to be zoomed in to 1:1 or greater.

I usually fine tune these settings on an image by image basis, but these settings will give me close to the ideal amount of sharpening to begin my processing, on the majority of images.

I often apply standard or high levels of output sharpening, too.  Though there’s not a lot of direct control over this in Lightroom, the levels of output sharpening they’ve included work pretty well, and are very simple to apply.

All of this is based on raw capture; if you shoot JPG then some sharpening is already applied in the camera, and the settings would be different. (But in the Lightroom workflow, there is no reason to ever shoot JPG!)

If you do as much of your work as possible in Lightroom, you may find that you never need to go into Photoshop, especially for sharpening.  Though there will be special cases and images that need the pixel-level editing that Photoshop provides, using Lightroom’s sharpening options properly may be all you need.

Share your techniques for sharpening in Lightroom and/or Photoshop in the comments below.  Someone just might learn something and that’ll send good karma your way.  We can all use a little extra good karma!

Ask An Expert: Color Shifts On MacBook Pro

Here’s a tough question I received recently.  Once again, I went back to Nat Coalson for the answer.  Nat’s one of the most well-informed color management experts I’ve worked with and he’s an excellent teacher on the topic.  Here is the question and his response.

The Question:

Hi Brett,

I was wondering if you or a reader may be able to help me. I have a macbookpro and also a Mac Pro with an Eizo Coloredge monitor. I use a Eye One Display to calibrate both and the Eizo is wonderful (as you would expect) however, my macbookpro display shows severe magenta shifts when trying to display blue colours (the sorts of blue you get in the shadows on a blue sky day – see here http://www.flickr.com/photos/timparkin/4251366239/).

However I try to calibrate my macbookpro using the Eye One product, I always end up with these areas coming out a vivid magenta (a bit like the magenta you get from old velvia film). I’ve tried changing the colour temperature and brightness but to no avail – I can’t get close.

I have heard other people have a similar issue and was wondering if anybody had any comments about this?

Nat Responds:

I haven’t seen or heard of this problem. It’s most likely due to incorrect settings. A couple of ideas:

First, make sure that the Eye One software is up to date and the sensor is clean.

Second, make sure the settings used for performing the calibration are correct. I seem to recall there is a “Laptop” mode (but I could be confusing it with another app).  After calibration and profiling is done, go into the Displays control panel and make sure the correct profile is loaded. Also make sure the Mac’s built-in “calibration” isn’t interfering.

Finally, confirm the settings in your ColorSync utility are correct; they should be left at their defaults.

I’ve successfully calibrated a number of macbooks and macbook pros without a problem. Understand that a laptop will never calibrate as well as a standalone, desktop display, so you won’t ever see your macbook and Eizo looking the same. That said, you shouldn’t expect a magenta color cast, either.  I suppose it is possible that for some reason the macbook’s display driver doesn’t like the profile being generated by the Eye One. In this case, you’ll need to Google a bit to see if other people have the same problem, and what the fix is.

I know this isn’t a definite answer but hope it helps point you in the right direction.

Ask An Expert: Pantone Huey Pro

I received a question that was generated during discussion of “The iMac Calibration Conundrum” about using the Pantone Huey Pro for monitor calibration.  Read on…

The Question:

Have you heard anything about the Huey Pro system? I am seriously considering getting that after it was highly recommended.  Curious to hear your thoughts.

Nat Coalson Responds:

The short answer: I believe the X-Rite i1 series is the only product 
line to consider when shopping for calibration and profiling software.
The longer answer: With X-Rite acquiring both Gretag Macbeth and 
Pantone in the last couple of years, they are not only the best color 
management supplier out there, they are one of the only ones remaining 
(Datavision and their inferior Spyder systems being the notable other).

The Huey system has long been plagued with poor performance and 
questionable results. It’s nowhere near “professional”. I’ve 
personally worked with several clients who had one, and determined 
that not only did the Huey not correct the colors on the display, but 
in many cases actually made things worse by introducing strange and 
undesirable color casts.

That said, I would expect that now that Pantone (and the Huey systems) 
are now under X-Rite’s wing, they might improve.

But you really do get what you pay for. If you’re really looking for 
accurate, predictable color, you need to be looking at around the $200 
range for a calibration kit with hardware and software.

For now, I’d avoid the Huey in all its flavors and go for the i1; 
either the LE or the Display 2 will give you significantly better 

Do you have personal experience with the Pantone Huey Pro?  If so, why not leave a comment?


Ask An Expert: Bosque del Apache

One of my favorite clients emailed me yesterday to ask for my advice on photographing at Bosque del Apache.  He doesn’t have a ginormous telephoto lens and was curious about whether his current gear would still allow for a fruitful trip.  I’ve never been to Bosque del Apache and the only bird I shoot is the one you’ll get for cutting me off in traffic.  So, I consulted the experts and emailed him their responses as well as an esoteric one from me.  Here’s what we came up with:

The Question

Hi Bret,

Looks like I have a weather window to spend this weekend shooting at Bosque del Apache. Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Research tells me I do not have lens to do this perfectly, but wonder what potential I have shooting with 28-300 on my Nikon D300?

Since this is a 700-800 mile round trip I’d like to have some idea of what to expect before I invest the time and effort.  I’m not so much into extreme close-up work on the birds, but more into the water, horizon, sunrise or sunset background image. Trip is as much to discover if I want to work this subject more in the future so I’m thinking my equipment may be adequate.

Any advice you might have would be very welcomed.

The Experts Respond

Nat Coalson said: 

I think your equipment will be adequate for a lot of different kinds of shots at Bosque.  If you decide you really want more length, a couple of things you could consider: 

1. Rent a lens. It’s cheap. I can give you a promo code for BorrowLenses.com, which I highly recommend. Renting a lens is also a great way to try out new equipment before buying. 

2. See if there’s a tele-extender that works with your current lens. A 1.5 or 2x extender is a really handy gadget in your bag. 

Hope you have a great trip!

Andy Biggs said:

My hunch is that 500mm would be a good focal length. 

Scott Bacon said: 

Ditto what Andy said.

And finally, my response:

I’m going to get a little more esoteric.  From a practical standpoint I think the gear you have will be fine for just about everything you’ll find there.  If you do find a bird to photograph you may well wish you had a longer lens but as you said, you’re going more for landscapes and less for birds. 

Here’s where I get esoteric – with the right attitude whatever gear you have is the right gear for the moment.  Huh?  What I mean is that regardless of your gear, the weather, the light and the subjects available you can almost always find something to photograph if you keep an open mind and let your creativity take over.

Been to Bosque del Apache and have some advice that might be helpful?  Please leave a comment.  You never know when someone else will stumble across this thread and find great value in your response.  You can never have too much good karma.