The Esoterics of Image Sharpening

I’ve been working on clearing out my huge backlog of photos. I’ve been trying to streamline my process as much as I can in order to get the pictures out the door. As it stands right now, I use no fewer than four programs to get a picture from my camera to the internet:

  • Adobe Lightroom: 99% of all editing
  • Adobe Photoshop: Image sharpening
  • Microsoft Pro Photo Tools: Geotagging
  • Flickr Uploadr: Image uploading

There’s some overlap in what Lightroom and Photoshop can do in terms of sharpening. However, I was curious to see what the actual differences are.

On the right is the regular image, as exported from Lightroom, with no sharpening.

In the middle is the image exported from Lightroom with the maximum amount of sharpening for the screen1.

On the left is the regular image, as exported from Lightroom, with the 100% of the “Smart Sharpen” filter applied with default settings.

Here’s the image at 100% normal:
Can you tell the difference?

Here’s the same image, enlarged to almost 250%:

Looking at the eyes, you can definitely tell the difference. It also make a big difference in the hair too. However, I wonder if the Photoshop Smart Sharpen is adding too much grain? Sure, the eyes don’t look as good, but the cheeks seem more natural.

Like I said, esoteric.

Another issue also cropped2 up with the differences in saving a JPEG at “12” (super best quality, there is no higher quality) versus “8” (just high quality). As it turns out, not as much difference as I had expected. The file size is also reduced by about 7 times as well.

Another thought, what happens when you save a JPEG over and over again? Hadto solves the question, or raises more questions, with his video Generation Loss, in which he “Open the last saved jpeg image. Save it as a new jpeg image with slightly more compression. Repeat 600 times”:

Generation Loss from hadto on Vimeo.

And yes, these are honestly the things that keep me awake at night.

  1. versus print 

  2. no pun intended, I swear