For many photographers, the last step in the image processing workflow is the creation of a downsized JPG from a large Photoshop file. During this downsizing process, you lose some sharpness in your image. Because of this, it is important to add back some “output sharpening” while creating the JPG. There are a range of options for doing this, including sharpening during export in Lightroom, sharpening a layer in Photoshop or using a Photoshop plug-in, such as Nik’s Sharpener Pro.
I tried a number of methods and landed on a Photoshop action created by Tony Kuyper. The “Web-Sharpening” tool is built into Tony’s “TK Actions” panel. This set of actions is the best value out there. In fact, almost all of the landscape photographers I know use TK Actions. But, this blog is about the Web-Sharpening tool, so I will [try to] stay focused on that.
I sharpened the image below using the action and, as you can see, the sharpening looks great (click on the image to see it as it appears on my site). I’ll take you through the process so that you can see how easy it is.
Below is a screen shot of the Web-Sharpening section of Tony’s actions panel. To size this image at 800 pixels wide for my website, I simply enter “800” pixels in the box, check “horizontal” for a horizontal image, leave the layer opacity at 50% (this can be adjusted later) and hit “OK”.
If I understand correctly, the action first creates an image sized at 1.67 times your final specified image size. This image is over-sharpened and then re-sized to your originally specified size (in my case, 800 pixels wide). The action creates a separate file with a layer stack, as pictured below. Your Photoshop file is left unaltered.
Below is a close-up of the layers. The sharpened image layers are grouped together in the layer called “TK Web-Sharpen”. You’ll notice that the 50% opacity that I had specified appears as the opacity in the sharpened group layer.
I find that 50% opacity works well on the sharpening group layer for most of my landscape images. For landscape images that have a clear horizon line (such as in this example), I then add a white mask to the sharpening group layer and paint a black line on the mask along the horizon line at between 80-100% opacity. This is because sharpening a high-contrast horizon line can often make a slight halo look more pronounced. Masking it out solves this potential problem.
You then have the option of making additional adjustments using the available hue/saturation, curves or levels layers/masks. I normally use the Curves layer to increase contrast slightly to try to match the contrast of the Photoshop file. These three layers are available to further tweak the color or contrast of your JPG if you noticed a loss of either from your Photoshop file.
With the JPG copy still open, hit the “Save for Web” button on the Web-Sharpening section which opens Photoshop’s Save for Web dialogue box. This dialogue box is beyond the scope of this blog, but here is what it looked like prior to saving my image:
The image below was shot several hours after the image above. Because it was very dark, I shot this at high ISO. I was concerned about sharpening the noise which would make the JPG image appear noisier. So, for this image, I masked out almost all of the sky in addition to the horizon line.
I also use the Web-Sharpening action for my portrait work. Because I want to avoid over-sharpening my already-heavily-sharpened subjects, I drop the opacity to 30% which seems to be the right amount to me.
You can find the TK Actions panel at the link below, as well as excellent videos by Sean Bagshaw on how to use the actions, including the Web-Sharpening tool.
Even though the Web-Sharpening tool alone is worth the price, you get loads of actions as part of the TK Actions panel, including the famous luminosity masking actions which will change your life.