June 8, 2015

A Simple Trick For Sharpening Your Footage In Post (& Having It Actually Look Good)

Casey Faris Post Production Sharpening Tutorial
Post production sharpening is a touchy subject.

Too much sharpening, and your footage will undoubtedly look like shit. Too little, and you might as well have spent your time doing something else. Casey Faris, whose various post production tutorials have been featured on this site many times, recently put together another one that shows you how you can achieve fantastically sharp and detailed images without many of the pitfalls associated with sharpening in post.

To boil this tutorial down to its essence, it's usually best avoid the basic "Sharpen" filters in whatever post production software you happen to be using. Instead, Casey recommends the "Unsharp Mask" effect that comes standard in all Adobe video apps. Contrary to its odd name, the unsharp mask is basically a sharpening filter that adds in a few extra parameters that you can control individually. For actually sharpening footage, he uses a technique in which he pushes each of the three controls past the point where the footage starts to look unnatural, and then dials each one back to the appropriate level of sharpness. This technique makes it easy to achieve the maximum level of sharpness without the image starting to look unnatural.

Also, while there are absolutely circumstances in which post production sharpening is necessary, I'd be remiss if I didn't say something to the effect of, "sharper images aren't always better." With camera resolutions pushing higher and higher every year, lack of image sharpness and detail aren't really something that most of us will ever need to worry about going forward. Add to that the fact that super sharp images can be unflattering to talent, particularly in closeups, and it's clear that there definitely needs to be some balance and nuance in terms of why you choose to sharpen your images.

How do you sharpen your footage in post? And more importantly, under what specific circumstances do you sharpen? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

14 Comments

I find that sharp footage isn't always desirable, but sharp pencils are. No one likes a dull pencil.

June 8, 2015 at 7:00PM

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Lane McCall
Producer/Director
534

I know some dull pencils but this isn't the time to be dragging my family into the discussion.

June 8, 2015 at 10:41PM

0
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hahaha. best joke in ages! :D

June 9, 2015 at 5:56AM

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Gilles van Leeuwen
Filmmaker
377

I have been using the unsharp mask like crazy for the past years. It really works wonderful.

June 8, 2015 at 7:34PM, Edited June 8, 7:34PM

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Edgar More
All
1270

Hmmm. I like the approach, but sometimes I do prefer my footage to be a bit creamier (not necessarily soft).

June 8, 2015 at 8:56PM

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Donovan Vim Crony
Director, DP, Editor, VFX, Sci-Fi Lover
664

I feel like 99% of the time I use an unsharp mask it's really just me trying to hide the fact that I missed my focus.

June 9, 2015 at 3:39AM

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Zachary Will
Cinematographer
981

I find that Magic Bullet's Denosier II is a great tool for simultaneously reducing noise and sharpening. By doing it this way you avoid enhancing the noise.

Sharpening and local contrast and very closely related, so I find Fixl's ALCE to be a VERY useful script: http://aescripts.com/fixel-alce/

Fixel do a few other tools, like EdgeEncancer http://aescripts.com/fixel-edgehancer/ and the interesting Detailiser, which 'decomposes the image into 5 different details scales to allow a complete control of the contrast level of each detail scale level.' http://aescripts.com/fixel-detailizer-ps/ But they are limited to After Effects.

June 9, 2015 at 4:44AM

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Karel Bata
Director / DP / Stereographer
486

I like the comparison between the sharpening in camera and sharpening in post around the 11 minute mark. I'm sold. Still need to hit my focus though. :)

June 9, 2015 at 1:01PM

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Thomas Culton
Writer / Producer / Director
85

Can't say I'm a big fan of unsharp masking, its a good way to get ringing artifacts. Unfortunately there is no deconvolver-type of sharpening available for video such Adobe's Smart Sharpen in Photoshop. Granted, you can get ringing artifacts with Smart Sharpen, but you can push it much further before the onset of ringing. It would also help to have a low frequency filter like you have in the sharpen tool in Lightroom, to keep out-of-focus areas unsharpened, eliminating unnecessary noise.

June 9, 2015 at 5:33PM, Edited June 9, 5:33PM

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Vidrazor
660

Great information. Thanks!

June 10, 2015 at 12:01PM, Edited June 10, 12:01PM

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William Scherer
Writer/Director/Producer/Fine Art Aerial Photography
247

I'm coming from a full rookie angle here, I was pointed in the direction of using a flat image profile on my 7D and sharpening in premiere, I read that around middle of the bar at 50 was the sweet spot... I open to being enlightened to a better process... is there anything wrong with what I'm doing?

June 12, 2015 at 12:47AM

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Dominico Zapata
Cinematographer, Photographer
118

Sharpening 8 bit DSLR files is always gonna be a problem with high frequency details. One of the reasons why you need 10 bit prores to work with. No one should be shooting with a DSLR these days.

June 13, 2015 at 9:58AM

11
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Great vid. Thanks for sharing.

October 8, 2015 at 9:34AM, Edited October 8, 9:38AM

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Richard Swearinger
Freelancer
145

Nice video, well explained and easy to follow.

The problem I have with in unsharp mask is that it adds about 2hrs to any export/encode we do. Take a 1 hr Dnx timeline and it encodes to h264 in about 15 mins with lumetri adjustments. Add unsharp mask and you just added 2 hrs of rendering.

Is there a better way?

June 27, 2019 at 9:44AM

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Dan Boskovic
Studio Manager
8