Resolution No.9


“B*gger!… It’s small and blurry, I’m done for”*


In my recent posts, I’ve waffled on about colour and how we experience this in different ways. I realised that there is lots of stuff out there that confuses people and more often than not, it puts them off making the effort to take really good photographs of their really good models.


The old, “my model looks much better in real life” excuse doesn’t cut the Gentleman's Relish anymore chaps, so let’s just crack on shall we?


NOTE: This article explains how to increase resolution But there is a caveat. And it’s this: resolution is all about the amount of image detail captured in the original photo. Doing this properly the first time is the only true way of high resolution, sharp images.

Good photographers never rely solely on post production sorcery.


*Also. . . the word ‘b*gger!’ is in common use in New Zealand and is variously used as a term of endearment, or as an exclamation of surprise following a less than pleasant event.


Elsewhere it means different things in different societies. It's a bit of fun, don't call the authorities they have better things to do.


Separated at birth?


Common and garden variety photographers love talking about and chasing after image quality, including maximum sharpness, detail, and resolution. In our bizarrely parallel universe of model making, it’s something akin to perfect gloss coating for decal application. Something which requires the testing of at least 15 different brands of clear coat, waiting for a day where the humidity and wind direction is perfect (accompanied by lots of swearing and gnashing of dentures due to dust or feline incursions) and a smidgin of luck too. Almost impossible to achieve, but still, modellers and photographers alike, we will persist in a groundhog-esque parody of coveting perfection.


With all these similarities, it’s almost as if photography is model making’s twin brother, separated at birth with one child going to wealthy physicist parents and the other being brought up by feral cats. "Mr De-Vito and Mr. Schwarzenegger, they're ready on set for you now".


“So what’s this post all about young feller me lad?”


Most likely, we’ve wondered at some point how to increase the resolution of older digital images. Maybe taken years ago on an antique 3MP point and shoot at a show in some poorly lit damp and dingy church hall in the arse end of nowhere; the images aren’t all that bad, it’s just they lack a bit of detail, a bit soft and indistinct perhaps. Like those old school film photos too?  



What is resolution? (Tip: it’s not making rash promises like some desperate politician who knows their time is up)


In photographic terms, resolution is the amount of detail held in an image. This is determined by factors such as focus precision, lens optical quality, and camera sensor pixel count or how many bits of information the sensor can capture. If we want to print our image, other factors come into play as well – the size of the print, display medium (paper), and quality of the print, and so on. This image quality is determined by dot size Print resolution is essentially the size and number of ink dots on the page. It's got nothing to do with screen resolution. In this article we'll look at improving screen resolution only.


Increasing resolution in Adobe Photoshop CC


Most post-production software can increase the pixel count of an image. That’s not the hard part. The difficulty is in getting any meaningful detail along the way.


But before we go all sci-fi, the Gill Grissom CSI “enhancing” of a low-resolution thumbnail security camera shot is really only possible on TV, and enhancing the licence plate of that Suzuki Hayabusa doing a 200mph wheelie on the M6 will never happen. No matter how good your post-processing software is, you can only go so far to improve a low-resolution photo.


But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. It still can help to increase the resolution of an image (meaning pixel count in this case) through a process known as up-sampling. (Don’t worry, we aren’t going to introduce some slightly overachieving hipster who likes to ‘find’ ‘gems’ in skips and turn them into ‘art’)


Up-cycling, err up-sampling also helps as a sort of last-ditch way to improve an image that otherwise could be unusable. If that sounds useful, here’s what we need to know in order to increase resolution. (I’m not a big user of Photoshop, and by no means an expert; I feel its too complex for me. I prefer Adobe Lightroom, it has many Photoshop features and is more than capable of ‘sorting’ my images quickly. As always, learn to take good shots in camera and avoid spending time you’ll never get back sat in front of a screen).


Basic How to: up-sample in Photoshop CC


It is quick and easy to upsample an image in Photoshop. We simply go to Image > Image Size, type your desired pixel dimensions, and select the upsampling method you prefer based on visual comparison between the original and the upsampled copy. Don’t go large immediately and incrementally increase the pixel dimensions until we reach the point where the image starts to look soft. But surely there's more to it than that?


Intelligent doesn’t mean smart


Intelligent upsampling is the ‘brand’ feature of Photoshop CC. With this feature we can actually enlarge a low resolution image, which makes it look great with enhanced clarity for print. The attribute of the upsampling feature is that it preserves detail and sharpness without introducing digital ‘noise’. Noise is associated with ISO (sensitivity to light) and high ISO usually means a noisy or grainy image with poor detail.


Step 1:        Go to Image > Image Size:

Step 2:        Change Width and Height to Percent and choose a new value

Step 3:        Toggle Resample: – Choose Preserve Details (Enlargement)

Step 3a:      (There are 7 options here but try this one first)

Step 4:        Reduce Noise with the slider (if necessary)


“Ten steps to heaven”


Photoshop CC’s Smart Sharpen feature is about rich textures, crisp edges, and distinct details. Considered to be one of the most advanced sharpening technologies available today, it analyses images to maximise clarity and minimise noise and pixel halos while allowing us to sharpen for high-quality, natural-looking results.


It’s a bit more involved than the previous process:


Step 1:        Go to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen

Step 2:        From the Preset menu, select Default

Step 3:        Lower the Reduce Noise slider to around 5% to view the sharpening effect.

Step 4:       Choose an Amount value for the strength of the sharpening

Step 5:       From the Remove menu, choose Gaussian Blur is a good all-purpose choice

Step 6:       Increase the Reduce Noise value to lessen the noise produced by sharpening

Step 7:       Expand the Shadows/Highlights. To reduce sharpening in the shadow areas


TIP: Choose a Radius value (between 10 and 25) to control how many neighbouring pixels will be compared to each adjusted pixel. The higher the radius, the larger the area that Photoshop uses for comparison.


Step 8:       under Highlights, adjust the Radius, Fade Amount, and Tonal Width values

Step 9:       under Highlights, adjust the Radius, Fade Amount, and Tonal Width values

Step 10:     If sharp, reduce the uppermost Radius value or raise the Reduce Noise value.

Adobe have a blog dedicated to Photoshop tutorials and updates, check it out.


Just call me Shaky, Stephen


Having a decent photo ruined by camera shake is a common phenomenon, which until now was largely unfixable. But with the latest Photoshop CC, we now have a solution to this problem – Camera Shake Reduction feature analyses its movement blur and helps restore sharpness, irrespective of whether our blur was caused by slow shutter speed or a long focal length or an attack of the wobbles.


Is it cheating? Perhaps. . .


Another more advanced technique is to capture three or more images with the camera of a single subject. Normal camera operator motion will capture slightly different details in each image. Then combine the images in Photoshop CC using the ‘auto-align’ feature. Up-sizing the individual images before combining them improves the results. This also can greatly reduce noise in the image. There are several excellent Adobe online tutorials describing this method.


"More resolution sir?" "Why yes my good man"


So now thanks to Photoshop’s recent incarnation, all hope is not lost if our photos don’t have enough resolution. However, the best method (by far) for capturing higher-quality photos is to get as much as possible right in-camera at the moment we press the shutter release.


Essentially:

  • learn and practice good camera technique

  • understand the importance of light quality and white balance

  • always use the highest settings the camera can offer.


And when editing:

  • start with the sharpest photo available

  • crop as little as possible in your software to minimise lost pixels.

We need to always start with good camera technique if we want to get true high-resolution images. Use a tripod whenever possible. Learn to focus properly on our subject, understand the importance of optimal aperture and shutter control, and avoid high ISOs.


With 16+MP and above sensors being the norm today,  all cameras can capture high-resolution images. The upsampling techniques covered earlier are useful, but they’re mainly intended for salvaging low-res images or printing larger than normal.


Have fun!

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