Obsessions can be destructive things, but I’m happy to be obsessive about getting tack sharp captures every time I go shooting. Other things like color, exposure and framing are important too, but I’m especially careful about sharpness because sharpness is the one thing that can’t be meaningfully corrected in an editor later on. Let me say that again: You need to concentrate on the things that rob our photos of sharpness during capture, because none of the so-called sharpening tools can do anything to fix an image that was captured un-sharp.
Don’t get me wrong. I “sharpen” almost every image I use*, but until editing programs are able to know what the camera SHOULD have captured, all of our so-called sharpening tools create an optical illusion designed to trick the eye into thinking that our capture was sharper than it really was. Here’s how it works: An edge consists of dark pixels next to light pixels. The sharpening tools work by first detecting those edges, and then by darkening the dark pixels and lightening the light ones. Each tool may use a slightly different path to get there, but other than that, they all work the same way.
We’ll cover these in other sessions, but for now note that there are three things that can rob our images of sharpness: Motion blurring, focus blurring, and noise. Each one is caused by something different, and therefore each one has its own remedy (or remedies). The first step in solving a blurring problem therefore, is to determine which of the three is the culprit. Learn to zoom on your images in the review screen all the way to check for sharpness, and to not let your subject leave until you’re sure you’ve been successful!
*My preferred sharpening method is Photoshop’s High Pass filter technique (to be covered in another session soon)