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Tips on using the unsharp mask

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Elliott PowellTips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 3:10:06 am

I've been messing around with the unsharp mask with only mixed results, so I'm wondering how other people get the most out of it. Thanks!


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Dave LaRondeRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 5:46:46 am

[Elliott Powell] "I'm wondering how other people get the most out of it."

This may sound strange, but the answer is by not using it. The most common use of the unsharp mask is to salvage bad footage.

Dave LaRonde
Former Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Elliott PowellRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 3:34:55 pm

Really? Don't people use it instead of in camera sharpening? Or do they use the regular sharpening filter? Either way I still need help, the only reason I tried it at all was to fix bad footage.


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Dave LaRondeRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 4:54:10 pm

[Elliott Powell] "Don't people use it instead of in camera sharpening? Or do they use the regular sharpening filter? "

For best results any time, pictures need to be sharp in the first place. The subject needs to be in focus. Likewise, proper exposure, proper composition, and proper camera movement are all necessary.

Here's the deal: AE or any kind of software can only do so much to fix picture problems without leaving behind the telltale signs that a picture has been fixed.

If you start thinking that you can always fix your bad shots in AE you will:
1) develop bad shooting habits, which limits the usefulness of your footage and
2) eventually encounter a shot that just can't be fixed. It will probably be a shot that you could have gotten properly in the first place, and it very likely will be a shot you can't live without... and
3) be unable to pull good-looking chroma keys, because you never learned how to shoot them properly in the first place.

Don't use AE as a crutch for consistently crummy photography. No good will come of it.

Dave LaRonde
Former Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Elliott PowellRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 5:10:59 pm

Yeah thats what I thought too, but then why do a lot people say to leave sharpening at 0 in the picture profile?

I usually don't do any kind of sharpening in post, I am just trying to find out how to use it best in case I DO need to use it.


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Dave LaRondeRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 5:39:32 pm

I'm sorry, but I'm of little help to you on that score.

I've only resorted to using it once: a low-light shot with a very narrow depth of field, and the focus just wasn't right. The results were so bad we bit the bullet and re-shot.

Dave LaRonde
Former Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Dave LaRondeRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 6:21:55 pm

...and to answer the first of those two question, people don't use sharpening in-camera because it's a lousy way to make things look like they're in focus. It doesn't really improve the focus, it merely puts a higher contrast on edges.

Which means that edge pixels are distorted in color.

Which means that green or blue screen shots intended for chroma key are screwed up from the get-go. In pulling a chroma key, it's all about the edges. If you have bad edges, you don't have a good-looking key.

Going with the most accurate representation of the subject is always the best policy. Leave all those fancy image-altering settings for the high school kids who think such stuff is cool... until they have to do some serious work with their images, and they're sunk.

Dave LaRonde
Former Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Elliott PowellRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 7:04:02 pm

Lol I am in high school... but thanks. The only reason I think about in camera sharpening at all is that despite the fantastic image on my camera screen (sony a77), it looks much more flat and soft on my computer screen, but I've since given up on trying to fix that problem in any way except shooting flat and grading, although that isn't exactly a fix but it helps. I was only trying the unsharp mask for a few especially bad cases.


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Dave LaRondeRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 20, 2012 at 8:10:29 pm

[Elliott Powell] "...I've since given up on trying to fix that problem in any way except shooting flat and grading, although that isn't exactly a fix but it helps..."

That statement reveals a common misconception among new media practitioners: great gear ensures great results. It doesn't.

If you suddenly found yourself behind the wheel of a Formula One race car, would you expect to win a Formula One race? If you do, I hope you're prepared to meet your maker.

You are simply looking at your camera settings, expecting one to magically reveal what you see in your mind's eye. You're ignoring the more fundamental components of good media production that have nothing to with the type of camera used:
  • The nature of light and shadow, and how to use them to your advantage
  • The nature of camera movement, and how it can enhance your images
  • The nature of depth of field, and how it can draw the viewer's eye to what you want the viewer to see
  • The nature of editing, and how to tell your story by the proper selection, order and duration of images
A Formula One car has brakes, accelerator, clutch, transmission and steering to let you control it. It has gauges to monitor its performance. But none of those things teach you how to double-clutch, execute a four-wheel drift, draft an opponent, follow a constantly-evolving strategy nor possess the sheer physical stamina and mental toughness necessary to win a race.

The controls on a camera don't teach you how to execute good photography.

For both, you have to practice. Study. Gain experience. Learn the situations in which to use the proper technique. There are no buttons that do these things. There is no software that can compensate for lack of them.

There are things that you just have to learn on your own, and they take time.

Dave LaRonde
Former Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Elliott PowellRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 21, 2012 at 9:56:00 pm

That isn't what I was saying at all, the best camera is the one thats with you I'm all for that, but there's nothing wrong with trying to make the footage from that camera you have with you look better. I'm simply trying to get the best out of what I have.


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Mike DamianRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 22, 2012 at 9:16:22 pm

Just to make a slight sharpening I would use a low radius of .9 - 1.5 and an amount of 75-125. The more you increase the radius the more you will see the signature over sharpening horrible results. Also, a cool little trick to add some contrast to a shot with this filter. Take your radius up real high (35-50) and use a low amount such as (15-25), it give a create contrast effect too flat images.


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Elliott PowellRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Oct 22, 2012 at 11:48:25 pm

Thanks! Do you just leave threshold alone for the most part?


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Jim WattRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Nov 3, 2012 at 12:15:47 am

Elliott,

To an extent Dave is right in that you should shoot the sharpest video you can. On the other hand with Canon DSLR's specifically we do shoot with the in camera sharpening set at ")" and sharpen in post. Mike's advice is good, but you need to experiment to see what works best for you and your particular camera. The results of sharpening in CS6 correctly will be much better than you can achieve with in camera sharpening.

Realistically there is no magic solution or formula that I know of for sharpening, though there are many, many more out there more experienced than me. I've only been shooting DSLR footage for the last couple of years and before that for 45 year was very much in the Dave LaRonde school of film making. Shoot it correctly and you don't need to worry about it, however with the new generation of large sensor acquisition that is not so true anymore in some respects.

Although when I was shooting back and white negative and developing it by hand in a rack & tank lab, we could do some pretty amazing things in the dark room...wow...that was more than a couple years ago :)

Good Luck...jw

Producer/DP, HD series, "Discoveries...America", "Discoveries...Ireland", "Discoveries...Spain",
"Discoveries...Argentina", Discoveries...India", "Discoveries...Asia", "Discoveries...Africa"


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Elliott PowellRe: Tips on using the unsharp mask
by on Nov 3, 2012 at 2:44:07 am

Thanks for the clarification


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