Sharpening Workflows


Workflows Considerations

Most of the considerations on this page apply to the FocalBlade plugin. It is a bit uncomfortable to use two or three pass workflows with the FocalBlade standalone, because it requires you to save the image in order to apply the sharpening. But is is still a plausible option if you process multiple images at once and use the Batch feature. Multi-pass workflows are a bit more comfortable with the Lightroom version as it handles the opening and saving automatically, but you still have to select the images and launch FocalBlade from Lightroom.

So we recommend using a one-pass sharpening workflow with the standalone and maximally a two-pass workflow with the Lightroom version in order to save time and avoid inconvenience. On the other hand you can run the FocalBlade plugin multiple times from a recorded action or script, so that multi-pass workflows only require one click in Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.


How many sharpening passes should I use?

In the old century few people would have thought of sharpening a photo more than one time. During the last decade the idea of sharpening images two or three times became popular. Sharpening more than once can make sense under the following conditions:

1. You are working with a RAW file and want to pre-sharpen it to get a better feel for the final result.
2. You need to sharpen the same image for different output devices, e.g. web and print or different printer types.
3. You want to dramatically resize your image and minimize the softening effects of the scaling process by sharpening the image before and after resizing.
4. You want to apply different sharpness effects to different image areas.

Whether you choose to sharpen your image once, twice or even three times is mainly a question of taste and your personal workflow. In many cases sharpening your images only once will do just fine and save you time. Multi-pass sharpening is not a must, it is an option. You have to decide yourself if multiple sharpening benefits your workflow and the end result.

Some people may claim that sharpening an image more than once increases its print quality, but that is a myth. In fact if you sharpen an image more than once, the risk of degrading the image increases. FocalBlade offers various features for keeping sharpening artifacts low, so using its two- and three pass workflows is no problem. With two or three pass sharpening there is also a higher tendency of oversharpening, because you do not see the final result until the last pass. But you can master this risk with increasing experience.

Basically you can achieve the same sharpening result in FocalBlade whether you use one, two or three sharpening pass. However, using similar settings with one, two or three passes may still produce slightly different results on the same image. That is because with a two/three pass sharpening approach you usually apply the sharpening passes to different image sizes whereas a one pass sharpening is applied to the final image size only. The image scaling can additionally amplify or weaken the sharpening a bit and depending on the used image scaling algorithms you get a more or less sharp scaling result. Additionally the three pass approach involves a creative part which can be quite individual. So you usually get the most consistent results with one pass sharpening and the most individual results with three pass sharpening.

FocalBlade's Advanced Mode offers various workflow options for one pass, two passes or three passes on the Auto tab sheet. Easy Mode and Classic Mode on the other hand only offer a one-pass workflow, which is identical to the "One-Pass Classic" option in Advanced Mode. When using these workflow options FocalBlade automatically calculates the sharpening values depending on the settings that you selected.

Beyond that you can also ignore the automatic functions of FocalBlade and create your own workflow by using the manual sharpening controls.


One-Pass Workflow

If you decided to sharpen an image only once, please do that as the last step of your image adjustments. For some images it can help to adjust saturation or do some manual retouching after sharpening. It is not recommended to sharpen before reducing noise, because that will bring out even more noise and make it harder for the noise reduction software.

It is a good idea to use FocalBlade AFTER the following steps:

If the photo doesn't need a very strong color, contrast and brightness correction, you could also apply FocalBlade before these steps if there is no other way. But strong color, contrast and brightness corrections can increase or decrease the sharpening which is probably not what you want.

For more explanations see the Auto: One Pass page.


Two-Pass Workflow

A two-pass workflow consists of two steps: capture sharpening and output sharpening. Capture sharpening compensates for the loss of sharpness during the capture process of the digital photo caused by the anti-aliasing filter of the camera's sensor and the Bayer grid interpolation of the RAW conversion. Output sharpening on the other hand compensates for the sharpness reduction that occurs during the printing process or when displaying the image on a screen.

The capture sharpening step is applied at the beginning of your image processing workflow before resizing the image to the output size. If your image needs dramatic brightness or contrast adjustments, it is better to apply capture sharpening after them. This avoids that capture sharpening is exaggerated. Also better apply it after noise, lens and perspective corrections. If you need to greatly enlarge your image for print output, you can also apply a stronger sharpening in the first pass to additionally compensate for the blurring that is caused during the resizing.

The output sharpening pass should be done at the end of your workflow after resizing the image to the final size. If your image was already sharpened in-camera or by a RAW converter, you can omit the first pass and only apply the second output sharpening pass.

For more details see the Auto: Two/Three Passes page.


Three-Pass Workflow

Just like the two-pass workflow the first pass of a three-pass sharpening workflow consists of capture sharpening and the third pass is output sharpening. Both are a bit less intense because of an additional second step. The second pass is called creative sharpening and as its name says should be dictated by your creativity.

The creative sharpening pass is done before the image is resized to its output size. It usually involves selectively applying sharpening to a certain image area. Applying creative sharpening more than once is viable if the affected areas do not overlap. This second pass can also be used to compensate for the blurring that is caused by resizing the image to the final output size. In this case it is applied to the whole image. During creative sharpening always keep in mind that there is still a third output sharpening step, so be cautious and do not overdo the sharpening.

For more explanations see the Auto: Two/Three Passes page.


Other Workflows

The mentioned sharpening workflows automatically generate sharpening settings depending on the options that you chose on the Auto tab sheet. If the automatic sharpening of FocalBlade does not fit your taste or needs, you can also ignore it and create your own sharpening workflow by using the controls on the Manual, Fix and Mask tab sheets. These manual settings can be saved as presets or in actions when you need them later for other images.

For more information see the Manual Sharpening page as well as the Reset, Undo & Presets page.