Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask Filter – Are Your Images Flawed?

About The Unsharp Mask Filter…

Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask Filter is the most common sharpening tool used by photographers during post production. Although its name sounds like an oxymoron when the goal is to actually sharpen an image, it definitely does exactly that — sharpen. Well, sort of. Applying the Unsharp Mask Filter actually results in the illusion of sharpening, where the human eye is tricked.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Most photographers new to Photoshop have a tendency to do a bit of overkill when first learning the program and experimenting with its filters. I know I was certainly guilty of that in my early days with the program and my entry into the world of digital post production.

Use of the Unsharp Mask Filter is certainly one area where lack of experience — or limited understanding of the filter’s slider controls (Amount, Radius, and Threshold) — visibly shows its hand.

The sharpening error that most often appears in the details of certain images is called “halos.” However, halos are not always due to inexperience and overkill. There are times when halos are just a byproduct of a perfectly legitimate use of the Unsharp Mask Filter.

Regardless of whether due to inexperience or a legitimate byproduct, halos are ugly and distracting.

What Exactly Are Halos?

Halos are those white (sometimes dark) lines that appear between highly contrasted areas. View your images on-screen at 100% and really check the edges of your subject matter. While halos might not be that visible in a small size print, they will be exponentially more visible in larger print sizes. Definitely not a good thing!

Let’s Take A Look

Here’s an example where I deliberately oversharpened my image. At first glance the overkill might not look too obvious. Don’t be fooled. Halos are indeed there.

Oversharpened using Photoshop Unsharp Mask

A beautiful sunset, except for…

Now Let’s Take A CLOSER Look

When we zoom in to take a closer look, you can clearly see that oversharpening produced very noticeable halos along the edges of the lighthouse (as well as along the railing, rocks, and horizon in the full image above). Can you imagine just how obvious and distracting that would be in a nicely framed large size print? Ugh! That’s why it’s important to always check the details in your images on-screen at 100%.

Unsharp Mask halos

Halos revealed

Now if I noticed the halos during my initial post production of this image, I could immediately correct the flaw by making some adjustments to the Unsharp Mask Filter control sliders. But what if I only discovered the halos after the fact?

Don’t panic. It’s never too late to correct the problem.

To start, find your current “final” image file and open it in Photoshop.

How to Fix Halos In Your Images

Photoshop Darken Blend Mode

Darken Blend Mode

As with most things in Photoshop, there are several different methods on how to do something. This includes fixing halos. Most techniques for fixing halos have one thing in common — selecting the Darken (or sometimes Lighten) layer blend mode.

Here are a few different video tutorials to show you how to remove halos in greater detail. Try the different techniques and decide which method works best for you and your image.

Unsharp Mask Tutorial

Let’s go back to basics for a moment. For those of you new to Photoshop or those of you simply in need of a quick refresher on the Unsharp Mask control sliders, Adobe’s Principal Digital Imaging Evangelist, Julieanne Kost, has a great video tutorial on the very subject.

In A Nutshell

Before you have prints made from your files, do yourself a favor — check for halos first. You’ll be glad you did.

~ Liz Mackney


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The “Sort of New” HDR


As related to photography, those three letters usually bring an immediate response from purists, and it’s usually not a nice response. Cartoonish, garish, cheesey, overcooked, overbaked, etc., are words I’ve heard to describe HDR photos. True enough, in the early days of HDR software, there was one player on the market and it was easy to create an image that would best be described by one of those words.

For what it’s worth, I don’t mind HDR images that could be described that way. (For the most part I should add.) Many can be creative and artistic, pushing the boundaries of digital photography. However, as many nature photographers will agree, it has been historically difficult to use HDR software to create realistic and natural looking images.

Dedicated HDR software is limited to a set of instructions with minimal user control as to how it should combine the bracketed images. Then, along came Tony Kuyper with his luminosity masks and that was a game changer. Unfortunately, even though his methods have been around for a while and have been used with great success to blend multiple exposures, it is fairly difficult for some of us to wrap our heads around the ideas. Until camera manufacturers come out with a sensor that has a dynamic range equal to or better than our eyes, HDR in one form or another is here to stay.

A “New” Way

I refer to this method as a “new” way, but it has really been around for while. About a year ago, I came across a video demonstrating a different method for creating HDR images that generally yielded great, natural looking results. After testing it out, I have incorporated this method into my workflow for about 50% of my images. To use it, you will need at least the full version of Photoshop and Adobe Camera RAW. My preferred method is to use the combination of Lightroom and Photoshop. You will also need a series of exposure bracketed images. For this example, I will walk you through how I created this image:

Turner Reservoir Sunset

Vibrant sunset over the Turner Reservoir

First, select one of the images in the bracketed series in ACR or LR. I will usually perform only minor edits such as lens correction and white balance. Then I will sync these adjustments to the remainder of the series.

bracketed images

Bracketed images in Lightroom 5

While all of the images are still selected, right click and select Edit In>Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop. In a short while (depending on the speed of your computer), a 32-bit HDR image will load up in the HDR Pro window in PS. Here, I will usually check the box to reduce ghosting. It is important to note that you need to have the mode set to 32-bit and if you are using Lightroom, to uncheck the box “Complete toning in Adobe Camera RAW”. No further adjustments need to be made here, so you can click OK. This will take you back to PS.

hdr pro image

Image in Adobe HDR Pro

32 bit image

32 bit image back in Photoshop

From here, just save the image and then close it. Switch back to LR, and the image will automatically be loaded as a 32 bit TIF.

In Lightroom (or ACR) is now where the magic happens. Load the image in the Develop module and try moving one of the basic sliders for exposure. You now have 2 to 3 times the dynamic range of adjustment compared with a normal image. Even sliders like clarity and vibrance have more adjustment room than they do on a non HDR image. You should be able to see the possibilities of generating a realistic image using this method.

hdr screenshot4

File back in Lightroom 5

I’ve also found that after you perform edits in LR, it is still sometimes best to bring the LR edited image back into PS for further adjustments. I will often selectively blend in portions of one of the bracketed images to get rid of any artifacts that may have been created in the HDR process. Fine tuning using luminosity masks can also help the final image. With this image, I did use some luminosity masking to make some finer adjustments, as well as some minor cloning to create the image you see here. These methods are beyond the scope of this article, but there is a wealth on information online and even some on the NEPG blog in past articles.


Now, you should also know that this method is not perfect. It can still generate digital artifacts in the form of miscolored pixels that show up as blotches in places. Highlights in the sky can be over-recovered into gray, zombie looking clouds, and noise can be introduced in darker areas. Halos around high contrast areas can also plague your final image. I’ve found to minimize these events, it is best to use at least 3 exposure bracketed images, but 5 is really the best. The old cheating method of using one image and generating 3 brackets will not give good results either. Despite the potential flaws, I feel this method yields the most natural looking results and provide a solid image that can be further refined to reduce the aforementioned issues with relative ease.

I encourage you to give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results of your new HDR.

~ Bryan Bzdula



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The Charles W. Morgan

Historic Subjects

My last blog was about an encounter I had photographing items that were fashioned by the hand of a historic icon – Paul Revere. I had another blog subject in mind for this rotation in the Guild writing schedule. That blog went out the window when I happened upon an opportunity to photograph another historic icon – this one from the glory days of New England whaling.

The Charles W. Morgan hoists sail for the first time in 73 years.

Under Sail Off Pt. Judith

Charles W. Morgan – Last of the Whalers

Two weeks ago, while watching the local news, I saw a piece on the Charles W. Morgan. The Charles W. Morgan has been berthed at Mystic (Connecticut) Seaport since she was pulled out of the sand along the southeast Massachusetts coast in the early 1940’s. The last of the square-rigged whalers, she was refurbished and became a living history lesson at the seaport. Built in 1841 in New Bedford, the Morgan made 37 voyages from her home port over an 80 year period.

Sailing off Pt. Judith RI

Return to the sea under sail.

Three Years Before the Mast

Many of those voyages lasted up to 3 years. From 1841 to 1921 she sailed every ocean and rounded the notorious Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn many times. She was known as a lucky ship because she always returned. In 1921, she was beached in southeast Massachusetts and left to decay until she was saved to become part of Mystic Seaport. Recently, she was pulled from the water there and her hull was refitted to make her seaworthy, capable of putting to sea under sail once more. She is the oldest merchant ship afloat and the 2nd oldest ship after Old Ironsides. Amazingly, after 173 years in the water, she still carries her original wooden keel.

Two of the Morgan's long boats.

The Whale boats

The Voyage Begins

On June 15th she set sail on her 38th voyage. This was to be a voyage of celebration, a triumphant return to the sea under sail. Leaving New London on a bright, sunny day, she set sail for Newport, Rhode Island, on the first leg of her celebratory 38th voyage. I was able to find a website where you can track ships in real time. I followed the Morgan that Sunday morning and went to Pt. Judith Light when I was able to determine this would be the closet point of land she would pass under sail. When I arrived, I walked to the lighthouse and looked west. Against the blue horizon the white billowed sails of the Charles W. Morgan stood in contrast against the blue sky.

The Charles W. Morgan returns to her home port of New Bedford.

Back Home in New Bedford

After 73 years – Under Sail Again

I had plenty of time to get my gear. I even had time to lie in the sun for a while as she made her way toward me. I photographed her as she passed Pt. Judith, wonderfully absent of the pleasure craft that usually clutter an opportunity like this. After she passed, I drove to Newport to see if I could photograph her coming in. By the time she got to Newport she was surrounded by all kinds of boats and I skipped this leg of the voyage and headed home. She will visit many historic whaling ports on this journey, including a triumphant return to her home port of New Bedford over the 4th of July week.

On deck, amidships on the Charles W. Morgan.

On Deck

Triumphant Return

On June 30th, we drove to New Bedford. Tied to the state wharf, the masts and yardarms of the Charles W. Morgan dominated the skyline over the waterfront – just as she must have looked for the 80 years she sailed from this historic port. The old whaler, her majestic yards and masts with bright white sails, stood in stark contrast to the large commercial fishing fleet now berthed in New Bedford Harbor. In my mind, I could see a scene from a bygone era: many ships, like the Morgan, all birthed along the waterfront – creating a forest of masts, yards, and sails. Imagine the photo op that would present if you could go back to a time when whaling made New Bedford the richest city in the world.

A Walk Through History

We boarded the Morgan for a tour. We walked her decks – decks that had been awash with seawater from Cape Horn, the South Pacific, The Arctic Ocean, Cape Hope, the Sargasso Sea, and the Indian Ocean; decks and a ship that had carried men to all parts of the globe, for up to three years at a time, and then brought them back home again, 37 times. As I stood on the dock taking in the scene from a bygone era, I wondered how many ghosts stood among us – there to welcome their ship back home.

The rigging of the Charles W. Morgan

Ropes, Yards, and Masts

Saving a Treasure

We are so blessed that some people had the foresight to save this piece of floating history. Generations to come can walk her decks, grab the wheel, lay hands on the rigging, looking up to the top of the masts, 100+ feet above. Visitors can gaze out across her bow, imagining the many men who lived and worked aboard her doing the same thing – looking for whales, storms, land, and most of all, home. The Morgan came home to New Bedford for a week – the city and the ship reunited after 73 years.

A Summer of Celebration

Traveling on, she visits Provincetown, making a ceremonial sail to the whaling grounds of Stelwagen Bank, and then a trip to Boston. In Boston, she will be berthed with Old Ironsides – the two most iconic sailing ships in the world in one place. Later in the summer, she will return to Mystic. It will be a summer of celebration: celebrating the days of sail, when men went down to the sea in ships like the Morgan. Don’t miss an opportunity to see and photograph this wonderful event.

~ Butch Lombardi


Last chance for Friendship in Fireworks in Salem!

Last chance for Friendship in Fireworks in Salem!

Friendship of Salem is a tall ship with fireworks exploding above the ship

Bombs bursting over the Friendship in Salem Harbor

As some may know I’m now a National Park Ranger in Salem and I get to give tours aboard the Friendship (tough job but someone has to do it!)

Well, if you were going to hold off till next year to get down to Salem to photograph the fireworks with the ship in the frame, DON’T WAIT! The masts are going to be coming down this fall, (All of them) and they will be working on the keel for the next year or two depending how much rot they find. So If you like my shot down below with the explosions going off behind the masts, like a battle is going on?? Then get down there and see it this year!

Leave me a comment if you have any questions on where to sit… I did get out there at 2 in the afternoon so bring a cooler but be prepared to be looked over very carefully. The police and park rangers will be looking at packages, backpacks and coolers (Thank you idiot terrorists for making our lives a little more secure) :-(

I have the day off so I will be out on Winter Island looking over the fireworks from that angle. please enjoy your 4th of July, be safe! But if you can’t make it down this year, I will be sure to post when the ship is… Shipshape again hopefully 2016!

Focal Length or how much lens to use

I like a 24-105mm for this purpose. A wide angle is nice but I usually have to be too close. A big telephoto has its own issues unless you are a half mile away. I prefer a mid-range telephoto that allows some wide and zoom capability. I believe in flexibility.


I plan on setting my aperture/f-stop for f4 but I will usually go higher, earlier in the evening. You generally don’t need too much depth of field. As it gets darker you can trade off the fstop as needed. [note] I also lock my focus on the first shot and then turn off autofocus. Most cameras won’t focus if it doesn’t have something bright to focus on.

My secret technique is to open the shutter before anything is happening (black sky) and then I hold the shutter open for the count of one thousand one, one thousand two.  You get the idea, and then at some point, I release it and stand ready for the next shot.


This depends on your camera. My normal setting is an ISO of 200-400 but my newer camera can go as high as 1600 if I wanted to. By going higher, though, you take the chance of inducing noise into the shot (colored dots of light). If your camera is prone to noise then set it for a low ISO and make your exposures longer.

Shutter Speed, cable release, and a tripod

a three burst salvo of fire for the fourth of july

ISO 250, f10, 11 sec photo byJeff Folger

Fireworks look better when you have the Rockets trail rising from the ground and the explosion with the points of light expanding outward.  To accomplish this, the shutter speed will need to be measured in seconds.  Most times my shots range from 2 seconds out to 12 seconds.

To me shutter speed is the key to successful fireworks photos.

hand holding fireworks inducing movement

photo by Jeff Folger ISO 100, f6.3, 1.7 sec

There are  two trains of thought on this. If you want some crazy patterns to the lights then by all means hand hold it. What-the-hey, move the camera while the shutter is open and paint with light. But for images that people really enjoy (or buy) then I will put the camera on a sturdy tripod and use a shutter release. The type of release doesn’t matter as long as you can use it to keep the shutter open manually

My cable release allows me to open my shutter, hold it open, and then close it, based on what I’m seeing.

Putting it all together

Friendship of Salem is a tall ship with fireworks exploding above the ship

photo by Jeff Folger ISO 400, f6.3, 3 sec

Each year I pick a different location to see what the fireworks look like from a different aspect. To me the best images (not always mine) are the ones that have a strong visual element in addition to the firework explosion.

In this image I was in Salem and I positioned myself so that the Friendship of Salem was between me and the fireworks. The result was the ship looked like it was in a massive battle with the bombs bursting in the air above the ship.

 People in your shots or not?

People on the rocks at low tide for the Marblehead fireworks going off overhead

photo by Jeff Folger ISO 400, f8.0, 5.0 sec

This next image is over in Marblehead on Fort Beach. Low tide hit an hour before the fireworks were to start. So I found a large rock to get an unobstructed view and away from the crowds. As luck would have it the tide kept going out and revealed more rocks and the crowds went out in front of me to sit and watch the fireworks.

So, for the first time ever, I had people in my 4th of July photos and I think these are some of my best.

 The Grand Finale

The Grand Finale by Eyal Oren of Marblehead

The Grand Finale by Eyal Oren of Marblehead

One of the problems we all have is the finale. They starting throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the air and you have way too much light. In an effort to tame the light you have to shorten the exposure, but then you lose the light trails due to a half second exposure.

My friend Eyal Oren used the photo tree in the image to block much of the intense light, resulting in this very pleasing image. See more of his work at Wednesday in Marblehead.


I suggest you go read the manual (RTFM), Yes, Read The Freakin Manual and see what it says..

Fort Pickering lighthouse with the Beverly fireworks going off in the distance

photo by Jeff Folger ISO 500, f4.0, 4.0 sec

Don’t wait until one hour before the start of the fireworks.  Pull the manual out now and read what it says for low light situations and then go out and practice with it.

I hope this article helps you take some real winners and, if you are so inclined, please share them on our NEPGuild Facebook page.

Questions? Leave a comment.

Jeff “Foliage” Folger
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Chesterfield Gorge Resurrected

Chesterfield Gorge Sign

Chesterfield Gorge Sign

Chesterfield Gorge off Route 9 in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, is only about 13 acres in size, but it packs more interest and drama in each of its acres than any other park in the state. In recent years the Gorge had suffered from neglect and disinterest, but the great news is that it has recently made a wonderful comeback, and it has been all though the work of a small group of dedicated volunteers. Chesterfield Gorge was formed through a shift in a fault line creating a channel for flowing water. Over the millennia Wilde Brook has eroded the rock and continues to carve its way through tumbling cascades and dramatic falls. From top to bottom the Brook drops about 175 feet on its way to Partridge Brook and then to the Connecticut River. The park was created as the result of the foresight of one local farmer. In 1936 George White bought the 15 acres around the gorge to protect it from logging. He eventual sold the land to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, who donated it to the state for preservation. Officially, the Gorge was set aside as a geological preserve to highlight the interesting rock formations.



Old Man at the top of the Falls

The Old Man of the Gorge

The area features a .7 mile Loop Trail which follows both sides of Wilde Brook through the Gorge. It is an easy/moderate hike along the edge to the bottom of the drop. Along the way there are various points to observe the brook as it cuts through steep rock formations and over a series of waterfalls and cascades. Although the Old Man in the Mountain slipped from the side of Franconia Notch in 2003, Chesterfield Gorge has its own “Old Man.” The Old Man of the Gorge, as I call it, protrudes from the west wall, watching over the beginning of the long cascade. It is seen best by looking up from the first long view on the west bank. To me it looks like a colonial soldier wearing a tri-corner hat, but you may need to squint a bit to appreciate the full effect.



Old Man of the Gorge at the top of the Chesterfield Gorge


Unfortunately, in recent years, the Gorge had suffered from the effects of shrinking state budgets. The trail and bridges which encircle the gorge had fallen to disrepair and most of the dramatic trail side views of the falls had become suffocated by the uncontrolled growth of trees and shrubs. The visitors center was closed and the rest rooms were boarded over. The region was at risk of loosing one of its most valuable natural attractions, but happily a small group of local volunteers have stepped in to save the day.

The Friends of Chesterfield Gorge

The Friends of the Chesterfield Gorge was organized in 2010 with the goal of improving the trails, and facilities, and making the park a

Kiosk Ready to Go

Kiosk Ready to Go

more pleasant, family friendly attraction. The Friends have done amazing work improving trails, repairing and replacing bridges, cleaning up the picnic areas and performing routine maintenance in the park. That guy mowing the lawn around the parking lot is a volunteer, not a state employee, but the Friends have also worked to increase the state government’s appreciation of the value of the Gorge, and it seems hopeful that more state support will be forth-coming. They have promised to refurbish the visitors center, create a gift shop and reopen the bathroom facilities.



Chesterfield Gorge

Clear View to the Gorge

A few weeks ago we on the Chesterfield Conservation Commission had the privilege of joining the Friends of Chesterfield Gorge in the dedication of a new Kiosk erected next to the Gorge parking lot. The Kiosk provides information about the gorge, but also includes a great new map showing all the public lands and trails in Chesterfield. It is a perfect place to welcome visitors to the many natural attractions of our town and to highlight the work done by the Conservation Commission, the Friends of the Gorge, the Friends of Pisgah State Park and many other regional volunteer conservation organizations. New Hampshire is wonderfully rich in natural treasures and sadly poor in the governmental commitment required for their preservation. Without the tireless work of volunteers our state’s priceless natural resources would fall to neglect over development.


Chesterfield, Gorge Mist, Chesterfield, New Hampshire

Chesterfield, Gorge Mist, Chesterfield, New Hampshire

Sculpting the Compositions

After the dedication of the Kiosk, the friends of the Gorge led a hike along the refurbished trails. The effect of their work has been remarkable. The views from the trails have been opened revealing dramatic vistas of the tumbling waters that I had not seen for years. Sections of the trail are quite steep, but although care is still needed, the footing has been much improved. A new foot bridge at the bottom of the Gorge was built by a local Boy Scout and is beautifully constructed. The most exciting part of my hike along the loop trail was that the members of the Friends kept asking me, as a photographer, how I thought the trail could be modified to improve the vistas. Really?! Imagine walking a trail and being able to point out the obstructing branches or unsightly piles of brush. I felt I was sculpting my future compositions with a group of people who were thrilled to have the input. The energy, dedication and excitement of the Friends of the Gorge is truly remarkable.


There is still more to be done at the Gorge and the most difficult test will be how the volunteers and the state are able to work together to maintain the park in the long-term. We in the Conservation Commission will continue to support and applaud their efforts. Come visit the Gorge when you are in New Hampshire’s southwest corner. It is easy to find and a joy to explore and while you are there remember the volunteers whose hard work has made the Gorge the special place it is today.


Bridge at the bottom of the Gorge

Bridge at the Bottom of the Gorge


For more images  check out the Chesterfield Gorge Album on this week’s  Getting it Right in the Digital Camera Blog.

Also Check out : “Waterfalls of Cheshire County”


The Gorge Natural Area is located on Route 9 west of Keene, NH. It is about 5.6 miles west of the intersection of Routes 101 and 9 in Keene. Look for the sign on the right side of the road. The area has a parking lot which accesses the trial.

~ Jeffrey Newcomer

Partridge Brook Reflections