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If you dig through the menus in your photo editor, you may come across a corrective filter called Unsharp Mask. Although its name implies just the opposite, this filter enables you to apply image sharpening with a high degree of control. The name comes from a traditional photographic process that had the same goal but involved a purposely blurred negative. (Don t ask.) Figure 5.6 shows the Unsharp Mask filter dialog box from Adobe Photoshop Elements. Most programs that offer an Unsharp Mask filter offer the same trio of controls as this one, although the control names may be slightly different.
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FIGURE 5.6 To get better control over image sharpening, do it yourself using an Unsharp Mask filter.
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Each control alters a specific aspect of how the sharpening is applied:
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Increase or decrease the Amount value for a more pronounced or more subtle effect. As discussed earlier, a sharpening filter adds light and dark halos along image edges (areas where a color change occurs). The Radius control enables you to specify how thick you want these halos to be. A smaller halo is less noticeable but also doesn t create as much of a sharpening impact as a thicker halo, obviously. Let your eyes be your guide, but normally, anything above 2.5 is going too far.
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CHAPTER 5: Capturing Close-ups
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SHARPEN WITH UNSHARP MASK (continued)
Threshold
Finally, you can specify how much difference must exist between two adjacent pixels before the program considers their border an edge and creates the sharpening halo. By using a high Threshold value, you limit the effect to areas of strong contrast. For example, the border between a dark gray stripe and a light gray stripe would get the sharpening halos, but the border between a dark gray stripe and a medium gray stripe would not. For portraits, raise the Threshold value if you notice the skin taking on a rough texture.
For a look at how various combinations of these sharpening controls affect an image, check out Page 23 of the color insert. I used the same Amount value for all three of the sharpened images but varied the Radius and Threshold values. Notice that the sharpening halos in the lower two examples, for which I used a Radius value of 4, are significantly larger than the top-right example, for which I used a Radius value of 2. In the final example, raising the Threshold level to 20 sharpened just the high-contrast areas and left the green background largely untouched.
Lighting at Close Range
Getting enough light on your subject can be a special challenge in close-up photography. Here are a few tricks that can help:
Try to position the camera so that the
light source is in front of you. Otherwise, the camera may throw a shadow on the subject or block the light, or both.
Using a built-in flash probably won t
produce good results. At close range, a built-in flash typically blasts one part of the subject with too much light, as shown in Figure 5.7. If your camera offers a flash exposure compensation (EV) control, however, you may be able to use your built-in flash successfully. Flash EV enables you to
FIGURE 5.7 At full power, the camera s built-in flash lit the upper-right corner of the image much too strongly.
Shoot Like a Pro!
reduce or increase flash output. For the example image, reducing the flash EV to 2.0 solved the problem in the hand portrait, as shown in Figure 5.8. Of course, you may need to increase exposure time (by reducing shutter speed) or open the aperture (by selecting a lower f-stop number) to account for lower flash output.
FIGURE 5.8 By lowering the flash EV to 2.0, I was able to use a built-in flash successfully.
No flash EV on your camera You can reduce the impact of the flash by placing a piece of white plastic or thin fabric over the flash head.
If you do a lot of close-up work, consider investing in a special macro flash unit.
FIGURE 5.9 A macro flash unit such as this two-head model from Canon enables you to achieve better close-up lighting.
Figure 5.9 shows one example, the Canon Macro Twin-Light, which retails for about $650. This particular unit has two flash heads that you mount to the camera lens via an adapter ring. You can tilt the flash heads in and out and move them around the lens to arrive at the perfect position for even lighting. You can also control the amount of flash output and even have one of the flash heads emit a stronger light than the other. The lower two images on Page 24 of the color insert show you the difference this type of equipment makes in close-up work, especially if your subject contains reflective surfaces.
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