5 common photo problems, avoided or solved

Here are five common digital photography problems and how to sidestep them or fix them in an image editor.

Use Your Photo Editor's Unsharp Mask

I recommend that you sharpen your photos by hand, using the Unsharp Mask tool in your favorite photo editor. To try it out, first open an image file in your editing application; I'll use Adobe Photoshop Elements here for example, but you can get the same results with almost any program.

Choose Layer, Duplicate Layer and click OK. In the Layers palette on the right side of the screen, click the top layer to make sure it's selected, and then choose Enhance, Unsharp Mask. Select whatever sharpening settings you like best. In general, you'll want to set Amount to between 100 and 200, Radius between 1 and 2, and Threshold between 0 and 10. Higher Amount and Radius values increase the sharpening effect; but the lower the threshold, the stronger the effect. For an overview of how Unsharp Mask works, read "Focus Tips, Moving Pictures Between PCs."

After you apply some sharpening to the top layer, you can vary the opacity until the photo looks right. You can also use the Eraser tool to erase the top layer selectively, letting the unsharpened lower layer peek through; it's a handy technique to sharpen the subject but leave the background softly blurred

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