Getting any photo in perfect focus can be a challenge, and particularly when you’re shooting a moving subject like our high jumper above, you’ll need to use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action at a key moment. We used a speed of 1/800 sec to capture our athlete clearing the bar with the minimum of motion blur.
However, as the shutter speed was very fast we had to open up the aperture to f/5.6 to get a decent exposure, which meant that our depth of field was very shallow.
Fortunately, the focal point was on the athlete’s face and upper body, and the shallow depth of field produces an attractive bokeh that throws the distracting background details out of focus and directs attention to the subject.
Although the key features of our athlete are fairly sharp in our original image directly above, we can create a print with maximum punch by sharpening them a bit more in Adobe Camera Raw.
The way to sharpen photos is by increasing contrast between pixels on either side of edges; however, the process can exaggerate noise, and create artefacts such as light or dark halos clinging to edges.
Below we’ll show you how to sharpen a raw format image to tease out delicate details in key areas without adding artefacts, to produce action shots with real impact.
01 Improve composition
Open the image you would like to sharpen. Using Photoshop Elements, the Raw file will open in Adobe Camera Raw by default. We’ll start by cropping the shot to make the athlete more prominent in the frame; it’s worth cropping first, so that you don’t waste time editing areas that won’t be in the final shot. Click and hold on the Crop tool and choose Constrain to Image, then draw a crop as shown and hit Return.
02 Adjust the exposure
Before sharpening it’s worth making sure a shot is correctly exposed; if an area is overexposed it will be missing detail, so you won’t be able to sharpen that area effectively. Set Recovery to 30 to pull back missing highlight detail. Set Clarity to +45 to increase the local contrast and bring out detail, and to boost the colours set Vibrance to +20 and Saturation to +10.
03 Check the sharpness
Click the zoom menu at the bottom-left of the interface and choose 100% – you can only tell how sharp a shot really is by looking at its actual pixels. Now click the Detail tab. By default, the Raw editor sets the Sharpening Amount to 25 – this setting controls the strength of the contrast adjustment. Drop Amount to 0 to view the shot with no sharpening applied – you’ll notice that the facial detail becomes quite soft.
04 Adjust the sharpness
Set Amount to 50 to increase the contrast along edges, and to increase the width of the edges over which sharpening is applied set Radius to 2.0. Leave Detail at the default 25; if you push it higher you run the risk of sharpening and exaggerating the picture noise caused by the fast ISO setting of 400. To pull back the sharpening and minimise noise in the smooth background tones, drag the Masking slider to 80; this limits the sharpening to more detailed areas.
To see which areas are being sharpened, hold down Alt as you move the Masking slider. At low values the entire shot will be white, indicating that all areas will be sharpened. As you drag the slider right the background will turn black; only the remaining white areas will be sharpened.