Sharpening with Layers


Today’s Question: [Using a separate layer for image cleanup work in Photoshop, as covered in the September 7th edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter] would all be great except for the final critical step, sharpening. I don’t see any way around making a second file, or double BG layer, and still get to a suitably sharp image.

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is exactly why I perform sharpening as part of a specific “output workflow”, where I create a copy of my master image, flatten that copy, resize for the intended output size, and sharpen the image. Thus, the sharpening is being applied to a flattened (and resized) copy of the master image. In most cases I don’t even need to save this duplicate output file, because any future output will be created based in the “master” image file that still contains layers.

More Detail: Today’s question is a follow-up to the question I addressed in the September 7th edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, which related to the use of an empty layer for image cleanup work. One of the key benefits to this approach is that the file size is not significantly increased the way it would be if you instead created a copy of the full Background image layer.

By taking this approach, I am able to retain all of the layers I used to produce the final image as part of my “master” image file, without unnecessarily increasing the file size. My approach is to never flatten this master image, always preserving the layers for maximum flexibility should I decide to make any changes to the image.

Of course, while I never flatten my master image, that doesn’t mean I won’t flatten a copy of that image for purposes of my output workflow. As noted above, this workflow involves making a copy of my master image (via the Image > Duplicate command on the menu). I can flatten the copy in the process of creating this duplicate by turning on the “Duplicate Merged Layers Only” checkbox in the Duplicate Image dialog. I will then resize based on the intended output for the image, and apply sharpening (generally using the Smart Sharpen filter). This results in an image that has been optimized for the specific output size and output conditions, based on (for example) the print I plan to produce.

If I think I’ll likely want to print the same image at the same size in the future, I could save this derivative image with a reference to the output size in the filename. But personally I don’t tend to need to re-print the same image at the same size very often, so I generally don’t save the derivative image. Instead, I simply return to my original master image whenever I need to produce additional output for that photo.