Fine Art workflow (Beaver Pond Reflections)

in Photoshop -- Part IV

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

Photoshop CS or Photoshop CS2 Used in this Tutorial


Figure 1: Image Size

At this point, the tonal edits, color edits, and first phase of sharpening are done. It was now a matter of interpolating the image to the final print size, performing the final sharpening, and printing the image.

On this image, a Stairstep interpolation was performed. Now, you will not find a Stairstep interpolation method in Photoshop. Rather, it is a procedure that is followed using Bicubic interpolation. With Stairstep interpolation, the interpolation is done in small increments using Bicubic interpolation. In other words, the interpolation is done in several small steps rather than one large step. Generally, Stairstep interpolation is done in 10% increments (each interpolation is made 10% larger than the last) until the desired image size is reached). Figure 1 shows the Image Size dialog box (choose Image/Image Size) for the first interpolation step. This image required three interpolation steps for a final print size of 12.5" X 18.75" at 300 PPI.

Final Sharpening

Figure 2: Layers Palette After Sharpen Final Layer Added

The final sharpening procedure consisted of creating another sharpening layer. This sharpening layer was optimized for the printer. To create the final sharpening layer, the top layer in the Layers palette was selected. A new layer was then created (click the Create a new layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette) and the other layers effects were merged into the new layer (hold down the Alt key (Option key on a Mac); while holding down the left mouse button, select Layer/Merge Visible). This layer was renamed the Sharpen Final layer, and the Blend mode was set to Luminosity. Lastly, the Opacity was set to 50%. This was done so that the sharpening could be adjusted either up or down, at a later time, if so desired. The current state of the Layers palette is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 3: Smart Sharpen

Next, with the monitor set to 50%, the Sharpen Final layer was selected, and Smart Sharpen was launched (choose Filter/Sharpen/Smart Sharpen). On the dialog box (see Figure 3), Remove was set to Lens Blur, and the more accurate option was checked. Now, the Sharpen Final layer was to be optimized for the printer. For an inkjet printer at 300 DPI, a radius of about 0.8 works well. Some experimentation showed that an amount setting of 80% produced the desired sharpening.

No edge mask was used with this sharpening layer as this layer was to sharpen both the major and the fine detail.

Figure 4: Layer Style Menu
As in the previous sharpening step, it was desired that this sharpening layer not sharpen the shadows or the highlights. Thus, the Blend-If control, for the Sharpen Final layer, was launched (choose Layer/Layer Style/Blending Options). The Blend-If control, with the settings used in this step, are shown on the Layer Styles menu in Figure 4 (see the previous article for an explanation of how the Blend-If settings work).
Figure 5: Sharpen Final Layer Mask

It was desired to protect the pond from being sharpened by this layer. Therefore, the mask on the Reflection layer was inverted and used on this sharpening layer (see Figure 5).

Figure 6 shows the final Layers palette.

Figure 6: Layers Palette After Sharpen Final Layer Mask Added
A 50% view of the grass detail, prior to the final sharpening, is shown in Figure 7. Figure 8 shows a 50% view of the sharpened image with a Radius of 0.8, an amount of 80%, and an Opacity of 50%.
Figure 7: 50% View of Grass Detail Prior to Final Sharpening
Figure 8: 50% View of Grass Detail with a Radius of 0.8, an Amount of 80%, and an Opacity of 50%
A comparison of Figures 7 and 8 shows that the sharpening was not very strong. This is because the fine detail in the grass was easily oversharpened. Oversharpening of the grass would produce a very artificial look. It was important to protect that detail by using only mild sharpening.

Comment on Sharpening

A lot of work went into sharpening this image, but it was worth it as the approach worked well for this photograph. However, one concern that I have is that some readers may read this series and come to the conclusion that this is supposed to be "the best sharpening method". This is not correct. There are many approaches to sharpening. I select the sharpening approach to fit the image. Thus, each fine art print that I make gets its own sharpening approach. I use everything from automated Photoshop sharpening plug-ins to methods more advanced than this one. So, this sharpening approach should be taken as one method that can be learned and used when it is appropriate for a specific image.


Figure 9: Final Image

In thinking over all of the steps that were used to create this image, a few things need to be kept in mind. First, some might consider this too much work for an image. However, this image ended up as a fine art print. That fact alone justified the effort that went into the image. I would not put this type of effort into an image unless it was a fine art print (images that I intend for other purposes usually get one or two minutes of editing). Second, from reading this series, one might be left with the impression that the work was performed in a very linear fashion. In other words, step one was performed, then step two, then step three, and so one. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. The actual work was performed in a back-and-forth manner. An edit made at a later step often forced me to go back and change an edit that had been performed in an earlier step. In other words, settings and edits were changed over and over again until everything came together. This series shows only the final settings and edits. Showing all of the intermediate adjustments would make this series too long and confusing. Lastly, I did not depend solely on the monitor to evaluate the editing. Instead, many prints were made at different points in the process to assess the work.

All in all, I consider it well worth the effort.


Fine Art Pond -- III