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How to Sharpen Your Images in Capture One

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This time around we’ll be taking a look at how to best sharpen your images in Capture One, using the three types of image sharpening – pre-sharpening, creative sharpening, and output sharpening.

In the world of post-production, there is a myriad of processes to go through to prepare your photo for the viewer’s eye. If you’re like me, you may have overlooked the importance of properly sharpening your shots. For the longest time I’ve been just pre-sharpening my work, thinking that would do the job, but now’s the time to expand on that and going into the details of how to properly sharpen your images in Capture One.

But before we dive deep into the details, first, let’s define what sharpening is. In reality, sharpness is very subjective. If you show a photograph to a few different people, it is highly likely they’ll have a different opinion on whether the image is sharp enough or not.

So, what is sharpness?

A graphic of what acutance is.
This is how acutance is usually visually represented.

Sharpness is the combination of resolution and acutance. The resolution, as you well know, is the size of the image in pixels and acutance is basically the measure of the contrast of an edge. And while the resolution is something objective, acutance can be something that will vary from person to person. Simply because there isn’t a unit to measure it – it either sharp or not. The simple way to put it is that if an edge has more contrast – it will appear sharper to the human eye.

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Pre-sharpen in Capture One: Getting the most out of your base image

The most widely spread method is pre-sharpening. It’s also known as input sharpening or raw sharpening. Most of us use it every time to some extend. Generally speaking, this is when you apply sharpening via the sharpening slider be it in Capture One, Lightroom or PS.

Capture One toolbar menu
By default the Sharpening tool is in the Details tab in Capture One

In Capture One you’ll find this menu in the “Details” tab by default. There you’ll be able to choose between the sharpening amount, radius, threshold, and halo suppression. Let’s have a look at those individually.

Amount

The amount does exactly what you think it does. It allows you to choose the amount of sharpening being applied to your image. It goes from 0 to 1000, which quite a lot in numbers compared to LR’s 0 to 150, but the idea here is to ramp up way slower giving you more control to fine-tune it.

Radius

Close up of a photo showing how much sharpening is applied on details.
Here I’ve pulled the radius up 1.6 and you can really start seeing the sharpness. Unfortunately, that is how you introduce halos as well. But more on that later.

The radius is the slider that controls the size of the edges you intend to enhance. If you’re trying to sharpen smaller details in your shot you will want to go with a smaller radius. Generally, a good starting point is a radius comparable to the smallest detail. Over-cranking the radius will give you thick edges of your sharpening. In some cases might start to look like a glowing effect, which is something you’ll perhaps find undesirable.

Also, an important note here is that if you intend to crop your image post-sharpening, it’s a good idea to come back and re-adjust the radius. When cropping you’ll essentially see and use fewer pixels than the original image, so as a rule of thumb you’ll have to bring the radius down a notch.

Threshold

Close up of a photo showing how much sharpening is applied on details.
Dial in a higher threshold helps me mask out some areas which I don’t want to sharpen. Like the spring in the top left corner. This slider very much works like the Mask slider in Lightroom

Now, the threshold is the most important one, in my opinion. It works much like Lightroom’s masking. Or you may be familiar with Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask, where threshold does the same thing – it limits the effect applied by Amount and Radius.

Threshold makes it possible to sharpen the higher tonal differences in pixels, without applying the sharpen effect on less contrasty edge pixels. This helps you enhance the naturally sharp details in your photo while leaving out the areas where you normally wouldn’t want any sharpening. Like camera noise, for example.

Halo Suppression

Halo suppression is in other words the “Details” slider. This tool will help you reduce or remove unwanted artifacts when more aggressive sharpening has been applied. If, for example, you’ve taken a softer image and you apply more sharpening than usual to achieve the desired look, you may introduce halos. Those are the dark and bright lines alongside areas with higher tonal contrast. The halo suppression slider will help you clear those lines and sort of hide the effect of the excessive sharpening.

Close up of a photo showing how much sharpening is applied on details.
Hardly noticeable, but here I took the Halo Suppression all the way to 40, which helped me get rid of most of the darker lines between the white and the yellow in this sign.

Capture One Sharpening preset list
Capture One built-in presets for sharpening.

Something else worth mentioning here is that In the Sharpness tool you can also use the “Manage and apply Sharpening Presets” dropdown under the three-line icon. There you’ll find already created presets for your convenience. You can choose to save any desired settings you may have dialed in as a User preset and use it at any time in your other edits. Those presets are both accessible in sessions or catalogs, just like any other presets available in Capture One.

Getting Creative with Sharpening in Capture one

When shooting, and later editing your compositions, your goal is always to have a center of attention in your shot. Be that a person, an object, or even parts of the face like eyes in headshots for example. In a lot of cases, pre-sharpening might even enough go get your shot there, however, when you specifically want to bring out details in your shot selectively, that’s when you’ll use creative sharpening. You may also find it called local sharpening or selective sharpening.

Creative sharpening (or de-sharpening for that matter) is the process of sharpening specific areas of choice with the intention of bringing or taking away viewers’ attention. And while you’ll very much use the same tool and sliders, there are multiple ways you can approach this in Capture One and I’ll try my best to give you a few ideas.

How to Sharpen Based on Luminosity

Options of the new layer menu in Capture One
Creating a new filled adjustment layer in order to use Luma Range tool.

Luma Range Tool
Here I’m trying to remove all the shadows out from the selection, so I can affect only the highlights and mid-tones.

Screenshot of the Luma Range tool selection.
By clicking to Display Mask I can have an idea what I’m selecting.

In all cases you’ll be applying the selective sharpening on a separate layer, so we’ll start by creating a new filled layer and clicking on the “Luma Range” button above. If you click the “Display Mask” option you’ll be able to see your masked area and adjust it accordingly by using the shadows and highlights handles. You can further adjust the selection with the Radius and Sensitivity sliders. Once you’re done you can proceed to the Sharpening tool and dial in your preferred sharpening. I find this method particularly useful when I want to further sharpen highlights in a mostly dark image. That way I am sure I won’t sharpen any noise or other artifacts that may hide in the dark. Additionally, you can also decrease the opacity of the layer for more control.

You can, of course, use the Luma Range tool to invert the selection and de-sharpen the shadows, or maybe sharpen just the mid-tones in an image that has your subject in the middle of the histogram.

Using Color as a Starting Point for Sharpening in Capture One

This method may be a bit niche, but could potentially save you a ton of time. You could mostly use it when you want to sharpen an object with a certain color or a part of the image which has a predominant color tint.

You can use the color range to in Capture One to create a mask for sharpening.
Selecting the “View selected color range” will help you see what part of the image has been selected.

Start by selecting the background layer and going to the Color Editor tool. Using the Advanced Color Editor select the color you want to use to make a selection out of. Don’t forget to click the “View selected color range” and adjust your selection accordingly. Once done go to the “…” button on the top right corner of the Color Editor tool and select “Create a masked layer from Selection”. You now have created a masked layer that you can sharpen to your liking.

Creative Sharpening in Capture One Using the Brush Tool

Option menu when right clicking on a layer in C1
Clearing the mask, so you can brush it back in wherever you think it’s needed.

Another more straightforward way is to create a new filled layer and zoom to the area or parts of the image you wish to sharpen. Dial-in your adjustments and then go back to the layer, right-click and select “Clear Mask”. Now your sharpening is gone, but when you select the Brush tool you can start painting back your sharpening settings on top. It is a generally good idea to toggle back and forth the mask by pressing “M” on your keyboard just so you know how your mask is going.

Screenshot of Capture One
Here I’ve already dialed in all my sharpness settings as I like them.

Brush Settings menu
In the Brush tool menu you have a lot of control on how exactly you’ll introduce your adjustments.

By using the brush tool you can have the ultimate control, not only because you’ll just paint where you want your sharpening to appear, but also because you can choose to brush with less hardness or flow. That way you can slowly and carefully introduce precisely the amount of sharpening that you think is needed. Furthermore, you can then go back to the layer and adjust the opacity, too.

The brush tool is often the most precise way to control local or creative sharpening in Capture One.
With the brush tool selected, you can draw your adjustments on top of the background layer.

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Output Sharpening in Capture One: Making Sure Your Sharpening is Consistent

The last sharpening you may want to do on your image is arguably the most important one. First, you must be aware of what your output will be. Whether you’ll be outputting your image for screen viewing on a website, social media, a slide presentation or for print, which can also be on several different materials like aluminum, photo paper, fabric, is up to you, but you must be aware that each of those requires a different output sharpening.

Outputting for Social Media

As you know outputting for social media like Instagram or Facebook will require you to export lower resolution files and as we mentioned above, this will mean lowering the radius and maybe bump the amount of the sharpness. The best thing about Capture One with regards to changes like these is the Recipe Proofing.

Turn recipe proofing on when you work with output sharpening in Capture One
Make sure to enable Recipe Proofing, to be absolutely sure what you’re looking at.

The recipe proofing will show you exactly how your image will look after you’ve processed it with the process recipes. You may already have a process recipe for social media. But to take this a step further you can now add some output sharpening to it. By going to the process recipe tool and then to the Adjustment tab, you can switch the Sharpening from “No output sharpening” to “Output sharpening for screen”. Make sure the Recipe proofing is selected and proceed with adding sharpening to the already proofed image. Now, this is where Capture One truly shines.

Output Sharpening for screen in Capture One
Here I’m applying sharpening for screen.

You can not only preview the output format of your photo but have an idea of how output sharpening will affect it.

In other photo editing applications, this can be achieved through exporting and re-importing the resized image, working on the output sharpening, and exporting again. Not a very convenient workflow in my opinion.

Outputting for Print

Output sharpening for Print in Capture One
The settings for print output are slightly different.

If you’re going to output your image for print, you’ll find out that the options are slightly different. The logic behind this is that you have to sharpen for the distance your image is meant to be looked from. So, assuming you know what your print size will be you can choose the sharpening distance as a percentage from the diagonal of the print or simply in centimeters or inches.

For example, if my print is meant to be seen from a meter away, I’ll put in 100 cm. Then after that, I’ll adjust the amount and the threshold. With Recipe proofing turned on, of course. The most important thing here is to be mindful of what your output purpose will be.

Rounding up

You must remember – there isn’t a correct amount of sharpening. How much you sharpen an image will always be up to your personal preference. Monitors nowadays are the sharpest display media there is. They vary in sizes, quality, and user settings, so doesn’t matter what you choose – your image will always be viewed differently on different displays and devices.

The best you can do is get your shot to look as best as possible. Resizing it correctly will depend on what media it will be posted and do the output sharpening carefully. If you intend to print, it will be a very wise decision to do a few print tests if you have the budget, so you can decide what the best paper for your particular image will be. Ink printers distribute the ink differently on different paper types, so a few tests will go a long way. And will give you more of an idea as to how much sharpness you need to add in post-production. Glossy paper will give you a much sharper look than matte paper for example.

As always, my best advice is to edit your image to your liking as best as you can. Pre-sharpening, creative sharpening and output sharpening are all, but tools to help you help your audience to see the image through your eyes.

Author Details

Hey, my name is Krassy Dimitrov. I’m a commercial photographer based in Bulgaria. Among the things I like shooting you’ll see a lot of travel, product, wedding and portrait photography. I’m also an author and contributor to the ever-growing Photography-RAW website here. 

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Hey, my name is Krassy Dimitrov. I’m a commercial photographer based in Bulgaria. Among the things I like shooting you’ll see a lot of travel, product, wedding and portrait photography. I’m also an author and contributor to the ever-growing Photography-RAW website here. 

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