Tag Archives: Compression

The effect of over sharpening

The effect of over sharpening ruins the shot

The effect of over sharpening ruins the shot. Worse, when you upload a shot to a website it will be compressed too. This makes the sharpening worse.

Sharpening can do more harm than good.

When you sharpen a *.jpg picture the application attempts to find lines and edges and make them more distinct. The process can cause damage to the file spoiling the picture. The trick is not to sharpen your picture too much. Here are a few things to consider…

First an explanation. If you want to take out any softness or poor focus then you must sharpen. In fact most images benefit from one sharpen action in post-processing. Lets say, in your image editor application, you apply the sharpen tool. When you sharpen a picture you are trying to define the edges of objects in the picture. Softness due to poor focus, out of focus, or movement blur, can have better defined edges. The softness seems to be removed as the edges give the appearance of good focus when they form sharp lines.

The downside to sharpening is that you cannot rescue an image from being very soft or very out of focus. If you attempt to sharpen a soft picture you will need to repeat the sharpening process many times creating over sharpening. This will eventually damage the picture. You get clear lines, halos and spots which indicate the over sharpening.

Look for white edges – that’s over sharpening starting

A sure sign of over sharpening is the appearance of white lines along the edges of an object. Look at the grass in the picture above. The whitened edges have become distinct and have ruined the sharpness of the grass. In fact the grass has become ‘un-grass-like’ because of over sharpening. I did that to make the point.

When sharpening an image you should look carefully at the lines, like the edges of grass. When you look in detail you will see tiny artefacts from the sharpening process begin to appear. This effect will get worse the more you sharpen the picture. In most editing programs you should not sharpen more than twice. Even though you cannot see it, damage is already there and usually it will begin to be visible after two ‘sharpen’ actions.

Repeat ‘sharpens’ happen without your permission

When you sharpen a picture you are hoping to make it a little more distinct to the eye. So lets say you have a reasonably sharp picture you want to publish online. You give it two sharpens. It looks good. So you upload the picture to the website. Suddenly it looks as if its been through over sharpening. What is going on?

First, when you save a file in *.jpg format the save process sharpens the image. You are in fact applying another sharpen action just by the act of saving. Having already sharpened twice, you are applying a third on the save.

Secondly, when you upload a picture, many websites apply compression to the file before displaying it. The website takes a look at your picture. It decides some of the data which creates the image is unnecessary. So it dumps it. This helps the website use less storage space. However, this process is similar to sharpening. Tthe result is that an uploaded image could well look like it has two ‘sharpens’ applied by the upload action. The final result is four sharpens overall. Two from you and two from uploading. The impact on the file can be substantial.

Lessons to be learned

First, it is important not to over sharpen. In some images a good eye can spot even the second sharpen action.
Second, the save process for *.jpg involves a sharpen action too.
Third, when you upload a file to a website, that site may apply sharpening too, as part of the compression process. Both the compression action and the sharpen action have the overall effect of increasing sharpening once again.

In effect image files get ruined simply by repeated saves and uploads. So if you add sharpening of your own it is no wonder that some pictures look damaged when online.

Unfortunately there are very few things you can do about over sharpening damage. The best action for you to take is concentrate your efforts on getting a better image in-camera while doing the shoot. Certainly, it is best to keep the sharpening to a minimum. That way you can make sure that you don’t see as much damage as I have shown in the image above.

Comments, additions, amendments or ideas on this article? Contact Us
or why not leave a comment at the bottom of the page…

Like this article? Don’t miss the next — sign up for tips by email.


Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is managing editor of Photokonnexion.com with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’
By Damon Guy :: Profile on Google+

Getting to know file types intimately…

Here at Photokonnexion we try to provide genuinely useful tips, tricks and tutorials, as well as background information and technical supplements. We are gradually building up a small glossary of articles on photography. It is not our intention to do in-depth technical descriptions and detailed technical analysis. We want you to enjoy what you learn and share it with others. So our definitions are aimed to learning rounded facts and interesting background. We hope this helps your understanding of our shared passion without drowning you in techno-info.

In the last two days I published two articles on file types. Knowing your files helps you know your photography! These introduce you to the two classes of files that digital photography uses in general…
Important File formats – JPG
Important File Formats – RAW

Today I have published a more in-depth introduction to RAW files intended as a background reference…
Definition: RAW; RAW format files; TIFF; DNG; NEF; CR2; CRW. There is more to the RAW file than meets the eye!

File types like JPEG (*.jpg) and RAW are distinguished by the techniques used at their creation…

  • RAW files are raw data collected directly from the digital image sensor. The unprocessed file provides a very flexible data-set allowing a wide scope for interpretation of your image.
  • Ready-to-use files like *.jpg are pre-processed. You get an idealized picture produced how the camera manufacturer thinks it should be processed. Any data that does not contribute to that is discarded with little scope for change.

Raw files can be very large. The file integrity relies on all the data from your exposure being available. So to make the file smaller any file compression must not discard data. We have published a reference on ‘Lossless file compression’ so you have a little background on how RAW files might be made more compact. Read…
Definition: Lossless compression; Lossless format

On the other hand *.jpg files are compressed by dumping image data from the file. This ‘Lossy compression’ discards vast amounts of data in order to make the files smaller. Read…
Definition: Lossy compression; lossy format; lossy

Enjoy! Please leave comments and other information below. We would love to hear what you think about these new resources.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.