My brother-in-law Mike asked me the other day about a photo I posted to Google+ a while ago:
This pic fascinates me. How did you take it? What did you do in post processing? I think it might be the sharpest photo I've ever seen. I want to be able to do this! Thanks!
First things first: this is kind of a weird photo isn't it? Meg and I were traveling south for my nephew Kevin's wedding and we stayed over at the Zero Degrees Hotel in Norwalk, CT. I challenged myself to walk around and take some photos that would be interesting. This ... item was sitting in the lounge in front of the gas fireplace and caught my eye. I snapped it, munged it with Snapseed on my iPad and uploaded it to Google+.
So to answer Mike's question...
The first thing about this photo is that I took it with my favorite lens: a Nikon f1.4 50mm prime lens. This lens is not only fast and thus works well in the low light available for this shot but it is also very, very sharp and has really nice bokeh especially with wide apertures. This shot was taken at f/1.6 at 1/30th of a second at ISO 200.
Secondly, the shot was exposed a bit to the right as Martin Bailey might say. That is, I overexposed it - compared to the ambient light - in an effort to push the histogram to the right and get more information in my RAW image. This is a big topic (Martin devoted an entire podcast to it) and I won't try to explain completely. The idea however has a simple analogy in audio: when the sound gets quiet you notice the noise more. By shooting to the right (overexposing = raising the volume), you avoid seeing (hearing) the noise).
Here is the original photograph - with similar cropping and zero processing.
In this photo you can see good sharpness and good bokeh. Though I didn't use a tripod, I had the camera firmly braced when I took the picture which of course is essential at a slow shutter speed like 1/30th of a second. What you don't see is the sharp contrast that comes with a reduced exposure and of course you don't see the crazy textures.
At this point I uploaded the photo to my iPad and fired up Snapseed - a fantastic iPad app created by Nik Software which was subsequently purchased by the
Ramjack Corporation Google. Joking aside, Google has started to integrate some of the Snapseed functionality into the Google+ space for online editing which is pretty darn cool because Snapseed is pretty darn cool.
In Snapseed I reduced the exposure back to reality - and perhaps a bit beyond - to bring out the moodiness of the scene. I also added a bit of structure ("clarity" if you're working in Lightroom) from within Snapseed. That intermediate photo is lost to history but probably looked something like this.
Finally unable to contain myself and anxious to post my genius to social media so my family could see how freakin creative I really am, I fired up the dreaded "Drama" preset in Snapseed which brought extreme structure, sharpening and texture to create the final product. That is what brought out all the noise you see as well as making the table supports clearly visible underneath the glass top. I laugh but these crazy filters are a blast and I cannot restrain myself - especially when shooting pictures in a hotel lobby in Norwalk, CT.
So long story short
For a real explanation of sharpness and how to get it, I'd recommend - even without having read it - Martin Bailey's eBook from Craft and Vision called Sharp Shooter. I'm serious I have not read it but I've listened to enough of Martin Bailey's podcasts to know of his passion for sharp photos and his ability to convey technical information clearly and concisely to recommend it sight unseen.
Further proof I can't leave the presets in Snapseed alone - this was the "scary hotel scene" from the same trip. What are they taking out of that room down there...