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Wednesday, 30 September 2009


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I can sympathize with your technical book habits. I have a couple books on procrastination that I keep meaning to read.

Cycling has done good things to your sense of ha ha.

If any Aperture users get this book, please post a review. Of course a lot translates over but the nitty-gritty on workflow will be different.

(Only a lazy, disorderly person would make all the changes to the base layer.)

I always thought it was the devil may care, no holds barred, thrill seekers amongst us who did that.

Hey, long post, dude. I hope you don't mind that I skipped to the bottom so I could leave a comment. I promise to read it later.

I'm pretty sure I could teach you 95% of what you need to know about layers in like 12 minutes. For (what word to use here-traditional?) traditional photographers, there's like 12 cool things you can do and they are not that complicated. A lot of the photoshop stuff I see is how to get Angelina Jolie into your family photo and make it look natural. But the basics of doing layer masks is so stupid easy...it's frustrating no one seems to make a simple book about things like that.

I digress, but -

Does it come in a PDF or e-version. I just have increasing intolerance for bound volumes. They are harder for me to read, often are misplaced or hard to find when I need them, generally weigh too much, are not portable (I can put an ebook or PDF on a jump drive, etc.). I could even put it on my iPhone or Kindle.

It is so much better to flip through the "pages" on my screen. My arms get tired holding a book, and the light is often inadequate and my viewing angle is off ....

I could display the book on the right side of my screen while sharpening a photo on the left side as I read.

The possibilities are endless.

I know there is just something about the printed page, but I think getting a hard copy should be an option, not the primary way books are distributed.

About the price of "plug doohickeys".

I was once told by someone who I think had cause to know, that for a tank (I mean a huge metal thing with tracks and a gun) about 10% of the cost was in electrical connectors.

Similarly it's astonishing how much batteries can cost, especially if you would like them to work in the arctic after being stored for 5 years, and you'll die if they don't.

None of this should be taken to imply that the cost of audiophile cables, connectors, and actually anything (do they sell you special air? because I bet that makes a lot of difference to the sound you hear) is other than ludicrous.

I'm sure other people have pointed out that this is Leica's mistake: their cameras are about an order of magnitude too cheap. The serious cameraphile will require something qualified for use on the moon, and costing somewhat more than the cameras they actually took to the moon did.

I saw that book on Layers and couldn't understand how animal husbandry and brooding hens had made it into the Photography section of the bookstore.

Like other Canukistans, I am waiting for amazon.ca to update its stock as I do not need two of version 1 regardless of its great technical merit.

Along the lines of things looking sharper, is it still too late to ask Jeff where he finds his shirts?

Lovely ramble!

Woodworking is an especially bad hobby for lots of people because it involves both sharp things and some rather toxic chemicals. Some duffers even resort to power tools, which are especially dangerous of course. (Me, I'm the kind of woodworker who, if it can't be done with a power tool, doesn't bother to do it, and whose polyurethane always sags. I have nowhere near the patience needed for real woodworking.)

So, based on that response from the co-author, maybe I should look up the previous edition. It sounds like the new edition is largely about software I don't use.

OK. The news (at least to me): PhotoKit Output sharpener is part of Camera RAW? So when did this happen? In other words, which version of PS does one need in order to stop redundantly sharpening one's images, first in Camera RAW and then on output in PS with the plug-in? And what happened to the vaunted three stage sharpening theory? If output sharpening is now done on input to PS, where do we do the 'input', 'creative' and the other 'output' sharpening?

What particular black hole in the photographic universe does one have to be listening to in order to find out about the fact that one's plug-in is now part of one's image editing software. Not the plug-in vendor's black hole (read communications network) obviously.


I have the CS2 edition of this book and found it quite helpful. However, I have a problem putting "sharpening" on such a high-lofted pedestal as is being done here. All it does is strengthen the tonal edges of an image, giving the IMPRESSION of being sharper. It does not actually add detail to make the image truly "sharper". It's a finishing touch, if you will (I know the different sharpening stages, thank you)

Sharpening is important, I'll admit, but it needs to be put into perspective. In the greater scheme of imaging, I place it near the bottom below: subject, tonality, exposure, vision, composition, grayscale conversion, gamut, profiles, inksets, and paper selection.

I'm not suggesting people avoid buying this book, I'm sure most folks will find it useful and learn a lot. However, we need to realize that sharpening is but one small step in the presentation of our images.

Gee, Mike -- not being interested in reading / buying AN ENTIRE BOOK about sharpening is akin to being "not interested in photographic craft at all"? Well, I hope you at least accept that one can be a photographer without being interested in "photographic craft," then, given that definition.

Seriously, though, the incessant focus (!) of so many digital photographers on 'sharpness' (and its cousin 'noise') is a problem in itself -- a serious case of missing the forest for the trees. There are endless debates about how "soft" a picture is, or how "soft" a lens is, etc. When, all the while, the real problem is simply that the picture (and/or the photographer) just plain sucks.

Many of Cartier-Bresson's best pictures are not at all sharp (e.g., the bicyclist and the winding stairs in Hyeres). Same with R. Frank ('The Americans' just opened here in NYC) etc.

To put it bluntly, sharpness is overrated.

And no wood-working for me, either.

Any book by Fraser/Schewe is worth owning

I have learned so much from them.

Bob Rapp

"Turning to alternative hobbies, there's always fabric arts. But that might take some skill and knowledge as well, I'm afraid. Is it true what they say, that anyone can learn to knit?"

Sort of. Maybe 85% of the knitting process is just the repetition of a very simple mechanical operation. Of course, if all you're doing is very simple scarves, you just need to practice doing this one operation consistently (which does take some doing).

However, if you're doing a sweater with intricate cable patterns, steeking, bust shaping, etc., then -- while it's probably still true that anyone can learn to do it -- the skills involved (not to mention time and cost of materials) are non-trivial. : )

I actually initially became interested in photography so that I could take pictures of knitting projects. (Nothing elaborate -- just scarves and socks and fingerless gloves.) Then before long I discovered that I was more interested in what I could do with a camera, and the time, money, and energy I would use on knitting went into photographic tools and materials, and into taking pictures. : )

None of which is actually relevant to this post, I suppose...

Like the comment about power cords (or "leads", as we say here in the UK!). Although I'm a bit of a nut for high quality sound, I've long suspected that so-called esoteric cables at monstrous prices are closely associated with snake oil, placebos and homoeopathy. I fail to see how a one-metre mains cable tacked on to the end of goodness-knows how many miles of "ordinary" stuff from the power station, plus transformers and switch-gear in the path, can possibly make any audible difference whatsoever to one's hi-fi kit - especially at the equivalent of an eye-popping 1675 - odd British pounds!

No, no, Mike, Brooks is just affirming his secret "lust" ,for in depth knowledge of sharpening. He's probably already purchased several copies, quietly, through your links, to give as presents.

The cigarette as timer took me right back to the darkroom. Which brand; filtered, or un; a vast range of timers. Some of us are just more attuned to "real" engineering, where hair coloration of a certain variety is an accepted measure.


Mike your free plug (boom boom) for the power cord must have caused a rush because it's now on backorder. Don't you wish Amazon sold it?

Mike, what have you been smoking? It's that, or TOP's senior editor must off today.

As someone who read and loved both the original Camera Raw and Image Sharpening books, I am very much looking forward to these new editions. The naysayers will always find something to say; the reality is that these two books helped me more than anything to understand the subtleties of digital capture.

"None of which is actually relevant to this post, I suppose..."

Au contraire, very relevant indeed. There are many ways into photography, and many of the best ones involve a need for pictures of *something*. Some people actually believe that pictures are best when they make an honest attempt to show something, and clearly. Personally I have a great love of the huge variety of such photographs, and their best exemplars.


Tending to agree with Messrs. Kimmerle and Lee, above, I note that your post, Mike, does not really even attempt an actual explanation/justification for reading an entire book on sharpening. (Your post is more of an ad hominem on those who criticize from ignorance). I am more of a darkroom worker and pretty uninterested for now in digital "output," but I would like to read a SHORT quick explanation of why sharpening is so all-fired important to "capture" and "imaging."

Brooks who?

Who's Brooks??

Nevermind, I figured it out - a reference to a commnent (or two) in a previous post. Subtle.

Cycling is way more important than sharpening.

Keep on...

I recently started to use Smart Sharpen.Why do they call it smart if I use it because I am dumb?

I need a book.

"Brooks who?"

Very sorry, I left out those links. Fixed now.


I love woodworking, because it's so emotionally fulfilling; Someday, I'm going to get a second tool, in addition to the hammer.

One of the problems with all of these books is that they're written by (excuse the word) geeks, who know everything about the subject, and put it all in the book. That's because if they don't, other geeks will object, and say the book is worthless. The first Martin Evening book that I bought (from Amazon) was "Adobe Photoshop CS2 for Photographers" and it is 675 pages long, including the index, and has an included CD. I had essentially given up before I opened it. Martin's Lightroom book "The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book" is 601 pages long, for a program that was supposed to be a simplified "Photoshop" for straight photographers. What we need is much simpler books, which will give us a bunch of basics, and then move on to higher levels (if we want them) with more books. I have Richard Lynch's "The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book" which is 257 pages, plus a CD, but has a very large number of illustrations and screen shots, so is actually a step in the right direction.

Whenever I'm trying to learn a new skill, I look for an instruction book called "Learn XXXX, for Women" or "The Woman's Guide to XXXX." That's because the publishers believe that most women are idiots, and need to be told the basics of a technical skill, while men will instinctively know that you're supposed to hook the framinjamitz to the decellerator or you'll be electrocuted. I have not yet been able to find such a text either for digital cameras or post-processing software, but I'm still looking.

By the way, Mike, I really picked up on your stream-of-consciousness post this morning, and I enjoyed it. I thought you'd finally freed yourself from bourgeois inhibitions, and here you are, apologizing. The thing that caught me was that open parenthesis, that never closed. I thought that was, like, *so* R Mutt.


Although I do agree with the approach espoused in the book of separate capture and output sharpening (I can't say that I've ever felt the need for "creative" sharpening), there were two things about the original book that bothered me:

1) I don't think it makes sense to use an edge mask for capture sharpening, and

2) Many of the "after" examples in the book look over-sharpened to me. Nothing spoils a print for me more than ugly halos caused by over-sharpening. It just looks so 'digital' and I don't mean that as a compliment.

Sadly, as I age all too rapidly find reading a book to enable me to perform some function beyond simple manipulation of an image often ends up in the garbage.

I much prefer hands-on learning as it reinforces what I think I know versus what I need to know.

To that end was honoured to be in attendance today September 30, 2009 at the first public presentation in Canada ! of Photoshop Elements 8 (there is no 7)
for Macintosh at my local Mac dealer here in Burlington Ontario. And all of us in attendance (about 30, mostly from the local Mac Users group) were suitably impressed.

I used to use house wiring electrical cable to my speakers. 2.5 mm twin and earth. About 25 Amps capacity at 240 volts, if memory serves. It cost pence.

I used to be an electrician. Electricity can kill you and it's invisible, so
it's a dodgy occupation. No wonder we were called 'Sparkies'.

I know what you mean, although actually "Image Sharpening," "Camera Raw," and "Layers" are all relatively slender books.

And while I've never thought of your "books for women" trick, I admit that when I need to know the basics of something I know nothing about, I sometimes head for the children's section of the bookstore. For instance, when I wanted to learn how to watch baseball on television more intelligently (having never played it as kid or had any relative who did), I went to the children's section and bought a book called "All About Baseball" or "Baseball Basics" or something like that. It was written approximately for 12-year-olds, and it was perfect for me--it explained everything in orderly, simple terms and not in too much depth. I now know what a bunt is, and that a player can hit the ball without getting a hit, and why the second baseman doesn't often stand by second base, so forth.


I have to agree that this really was a singularly uninformative book plug, and the "if you don't own this book you're a moron" tone frankly put me off even considering it.

Besides, as far as I can glean from between the lines, it's not a book about sharpening. It seems to be a book about how to drive various plug-ins in a couple of software applications. Unless Mike completely neglected to mention major parts of the book there is not a word on how the actual algorithms work, their benefits and drawbacks, other possible options (could probably write a chapter just on variations on bilinear filters) and so on.

I wish somebody would write that book, by the way: signal filtering and image enhancement, but from the perspective of photographers. Particulars of a given filter that are critically important for, say x-ray crystallography may be safely ignored for visual photography and the other way around.

That's why I apologized for it in the next post...it was a vamp, not a review. I was just jumpin'. Trying to be entertaining.

But I did *not* say "if you don't own this book you're a moron." What I actually said was "there's no requirement attached. You can do as you wish." And believe it or not, I meant it. I don't think there's one single technical book out there that people can't do without if they so choose. Reading technical books is not a requirement for enjoying photography or for successfully making photographs.


@Dave : For the question of "fail to see how a one-metre mains cable tacked on to the end of goodness-knows how many miles of "ordinary" stuff from the power station, plus transformers and switch-gear in the path"

Well, the answer is you have to buy a very expensive equipment to first stabilize the electric wave so to remove all those noises built up in their 100 miles journey has built-up. Now that you have a stable wave and given the many equipments in your hifi gear cabinet, you need to protect the sweet and stable electricity from being affected by the pre- and power amp etc.

You need that $1,500 power cables and sometimes 2 meter too.

But as regards whether you need to add a special $500 steel-with-plastic ring around the cable/lead to stabilize further the electricity in transit, opinion differ ...

There's a whole category of products best described as "talismanic"--the mere owning of them wards off the evil demons of missed opportunity and failure, and leads the owner towards greatness. D3xs, the most expensive carbon fibre tripods, flawless but phenomenally expensive lenses and top-of-the-range strobes all come to mind, along with Salomon XW-Furys. And pretty much any book can be talismanic in the right (or wrong) hands. We need James Randi to do some kind of experiment to see if it works.

"That's why I apologized for it in the next post...it was a vamp, not a review. I was just jumpin'. Trying to be entertaining."

I just realized that in the RSS feed for your site the posts come in the order they're _edited_, not posted. So for me, as I looked over the latest posts, your apology came before this one, and seemed to apologize for some other post further down.

That might be something worth looking into, and keeping in mind for us using the RSS feeds.

Thank you. Thank you Mike. I now know who I am. The most hopeful man in the universe.

Brooks says: "But, as the cliché advises, we can't go back." It's not just the cliché that advises this, Brooks himself advised this in the podcast I was listening to this morning. But actually you can go back. They still make tripods and sheet film, and nobody else is keeping you from working that way. But if you are making digital photographs, then you kind of have to deal with sharpening one way or the other.

great rant/ramble- I'm still smiling. Whatever you were taking keep doing it.. cheers

Me thinks Mike J. should take over where Bill J. left off...


Well, I think that may be the best post I've ever read here - and I've read some good ones.

Myself, I felt like a bit of a goon when I bought the previous edition of the book, wondering if I was in my right mind thinking that I would read an ENTIRE book on...image sharpening. That, of course, is only until I actually read the thing. Definitely the best technical photography book I've read, and one of the most useful.

Last I checked, my DSLR had a 1/4"-20 threaded socket in its bottom plate, and when attached to a suitable three-legged support, photographs made with said camera are rendered with greater sharpness and finer detail, despite the fact that it doesn't use film.

I tried to make a further point about sharpening earlier this afternoon but, when I hit the POST button, the browser, much like your garage door, froze up on me. Couldn't scroll, couldn't copy, couldn't refresh. The only movement was the spinning lollipop of death, taunting me. No choice but to reboot. There was no time for a rewrite (yeah, yeah, copy first. Gotcha), my French lessons were looming (Heh. Fiber arts reference). I was hoping against hope my little comment got through, but, alas, I'm home now. I see that it vanished into the ether. Grrr.

Just wanted to lay down some pro-sharpening advocacy because the anti side here seems to be missing an important point. Digital sharpening is only initially about making pictures sharper or crisper. After posting hundreds of photos to my blog since last November, putting each and every one through Lightroom & then Photoshop, I've come to realize textural subtlety is the main benefit of a well-honed sharpening regime.

Say you have concrete, skin, leaves, water and glass in the same photograph. Do you want them all to look as if they're made from the same material? Or would you like each element and edge to exist separately within the picture in a natural manner?

Please don't think I'm speaking as an adept. Far, far from it. I'm more of a rookie-for-life kind of guy. I'm lucky if I can barely grasp scientific concepts. Any technical know-how I might have has been gleaned from sneak-a-peeks in bookstore photo sections or what I see here on the internet. But I've had a lot of practice in the last year and I can now say, at the very least, that sharpening, contrary to the common sneer, is what will prevent your photos from "looking digital", properly handled.

As for the "simplified" books, they are now titled "for Dummies" or "for Idiots". I've seen books of that kind that address Photoshop or Lightroom, but I've never seen one devoted to sharpening.

Years ago, I bought a book called, "Use Less Stuff". I never read it and it is still on my bookshelf. Someday..... ed

I read the first edition cover to cover a couple years ago, understood maybe a third of what Bruce said. Then a month or two later, I started again, and this time most of it made sense. Finally last year I reread the whole thing and I realized that it had profoundly altered the way I sharpen my images. Comparing prints I make today with prints I made before digesting the book, I can't believe I was satisfied with how they were coming out back then. I got more out of Bruce's advice than any other book on any aspect of photography or printing.

You bet I'm going to buy the new edition, because there's a chance that some day I'm going to look back and say, I can't believe I was satisfied with my printing before the second edition...

I admit that when I need to know the basics of something I know nothing about, I sometimes head for the children's section of the bookstore.

That brought back a memory! When I was involved with a university photo society many years ago, we used to teach photography and basic darkroom techniques to novices.

We had a required text: "The Ladybird Book of Photography" (out of print now) - in fact I think it was so cheap we gave members copies. Yes, a book for children but it covered pretty much everything you needed to know. Digital aside, every other photo technique book I've read since simply expands on the details.



Speaking of over priced stereo cables and photography, yes, the cables are hype. Read the part of the post in the link I've sent you that talks about coat hangers. This isn't the first time that these type of tests have been done and they prove that money doesn't always get you better results and that equipment snobs and self proclaimed purists and experts exist in every hobby. Not all of us are world class, award winning photographers working at a magazine or e-zine. Some of us want or need a little guidance since photography can't be our primary source of income and we're unable to spend as much time behind the camera or computer learning through trial and error as as we'd like.
Thanks, Mark http://consumerist.com/362926/

Mike, I enjoyed your "stream of consciousness" post immensely. It really was fun in a LOL way. Don't apologise!

I sharpen using a tripod and the focusing ring. Yes, and medium format film. And "however it looks is however it looks" has an appealing ring to it.

Regards, Rod

Speaking of high-end cables, this is perhaps my favorite set of Amazon reviews for any product ever.

If I buy a Leica 9 which doesn't have an anti-aliasing filter, does that mean I don't have to sharpen anymore? If the answer be affirmative, then that means I don't have to buy the book, which means I save $31.50 and my Leica will only cost me $6,968.50 - COOL!

It appears that the Art of Sharpening is the holy grail of skills in both woodworking and photography. For every photographic plugin, there is an equivalent jig in woodworking to make the sharpening of your tool/photo easier.

Spiny Norman,
Those comments are just...literature. A collective masterpiece....


Dear Jeff Glass,

Sharpening is a non-trivial subject. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts, sometimes it has no effect at all. Sometimes the amount by which it helps or hurts is minor, sometimes it's huge. It's not a simple thing, and anyone who routinely applies the same techniques and degrees of sharpening to all their photographs is either remarkably consistent in the kind of photograph they produce or else isn't paying very close attention to the results.

Furthermore, there are two kinds of sharpening: there is edge enhancement, as Chuck points out, which should not be belittled -- it was a big part of what made some black-and-white film and developer combinations a lot more acceptable and pleasing than others. It doesn't add real detail to the photograph, but it makes existing fine detail perceptible. There are also algorithms that actually increase the amount of fine detail: Smart Sharpen in Photoshop, and third-party plug-ins like FocusFixer and Focus Magic. They cannot work miracles, but they produce increases in fine detail roughly equivalent to a 30-50% increase in pixel count.

I am by no means a guru on sharpening. I'm ordering the book, because I KNOW it's a complex subject.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

An entire book on sharpening? layers? channels? By studying such books, a photographer can learn more and more about less and less until he or she is qualified to do everything with nothing. Zen!

And wire is wire is wire. Spending three grand for a power cord won't repeal Ohm's law.

A sharp mind would ask what ever happened to soft focus or did that get blown with the wind and highlights on some cycling tour carving out this article :)

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