A Couple Ways to Sharpen a Moth

moth head and antennae close up

A moth looks over its scaly shoulder and seems to wonder aloud, Did you really have to blow out my pronotum?

This photo is not my most favorite by a long shot, but I do like the convergence of the scales, green eyes and antennae. In the course of editing it, I began ruminating on sharpening and denoising. A long time ago, I did the Google to learn about these two important parts of photo-editing, and specifically to answer the question, Which one comes first? The rule, with all caveats about exceptions, etc., as I understand it, is that the denoising comes first so you are not sharpening said noise. That’s how I approached it for a while, but at some point I started doing the sharpening first. My process wasn’t giving very divergent results whichever order, and sharpening first seem to result with a slightly sharper end product. There was also a little more noise, but I preferred that to the inverse.

So while editing this photo, I sort of revisited that dynamic and tried the more conventional order of post-processing. Then I began looking for ways to have my cake and eat it too (and eat it again by excluding any purchases of additional software). I happened to run across a GIMP tutorial about so-called “smart-sharpening.” It seems like an older article, couldn’t quite pin down the date, but I decided to give it a try.The photo below is the “smart-sharpened” version and below that is a side-by-side cropped view comparison with my more typical process. (Click the image for a larger, better view!) I don’t see a big difference honestly. My typical method was a bit noisier while the tutorial’s method seemed a little more soupy or soft in certain spots. The smart-sharpening method was also more involved than using a single sharpening filter (as I usually do). I probably won’t utilize this method often, but I will say it was a nice exercise in digital photo manipulation that if nothing else helped me learn a little more about the GIMP.

moth head and antennae close up

I’m smart (sharpened), too, Mikey!

photo sharpening comparison moth head example

This 100% crop comparison shows the “smart-sharpening” technique in GIMP versus a more straightforward single filter method, also in GIMP.



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