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How to get even better panning photos with Sharpen AI

Panning with a moving subject is one of the best—and most fun—ways to convey a sense of dynamic action unlike any other technique. It’s especially impactful to pair panning with wildlife photography and sports photography, but there are all sorts of creative ways to apply it to everyday photography, too! While there are ways to fake motion during post production, you gain a new level of appreciation when you put the time in to capture that motion in camera.

While viewers usually marvel over the sense of motion conveyed by the blurry background, what always stops them in their tracks is when you juxtapose it with a tack sharp primary subject… which isn’t an easy thing to do straight out of camera.

Just about any time I practice panning photography, the bulk of my photos are culled and marked for deletion. They’re just no good. With the few (and I do mean few) keepers that I do get, every single one of them needs just a bit more help to make them pop. That’s where Sharpen AI comes in.

© Brian Matiash
© Brian Matiash

We’ll be sharing our tips for getting great panning photos in future posts but for now, we want to show you how you can get that extra snap using Sharpen AI and its powerful built-in masking tools. When you finish watching the video, download a free trial of Sharpen AI and try it with your panning photos!

Download Sharpen AI for free

Video transcript

In this video we’re gonna take a look at how we can use Sharpen AI to improve panning photos. Now, as you can see here, this is a photo I took actually in Havana, Cuba, and a bunch of cars were zipping by and so I like practicing with panning photography. There’s a lot of fun, it’s very dynamic feel when you can capture a moving subject. But the key is to get the moving subject to be kind of sharp while conveying motion in the background. Now I’m going to record a whole separate video walking through how I actually expose for panning photos. That’ll be coming in a bit, but for now, I just wanted to focus on how I use Sharpen AI to improve the overall execution.

So again, here’s this, the photo here of this little Beetle and I already have the photo opened in Sharpen AI. Now I haven’t done anything to it, I just opened it and let the motion blur AI model under the normal setting apply itself, and if I press and hold, you can see the original and you can see the car’s kind of soft and then it kinda snaps into focus, but here’s the thing, sometimes when Sharpen AI runs globally on a photo, it can over sharpen areas that you might not want specifically kinda, you see right over here, the trees here, I want that blur. What I want is the sharpening to be applied to the car. And so there’s actually a really easy way to do that. But before we do that, the first thing we need to do is figure out which of the AI models will work best for the photo.

The easiest way to do that is go to view and then select comparison view. And then what I’m gonna do is I’ll zoom in to about 100% and put focus right over here. So this is the way that I use Sharpen AI, you might have your own workflow, this is not the… I don’t wanna tell you that this is the only way to do it, but this is kinda how I do it. And I actually think it’s a pretty functional workflow. So first thing I do is I just look at the three different AI models. So you can see in this quadrant, we have Motion Blur, bottom left we have Out of Focus and bottom right we have Too Soft. Now when I find the AI model that I think gives me the best results, I’ll stick with that.

So I can see here, motion blur is the best according to just my own kind of visual aesthetic, I like motion blur the most. And so the next thing I have as far as an option, I selected the model that I like, now I can choose the mode, whether I want it to be normal, very noisy or very blurry. And so I’ll start by clicking a very noisy and then very blurry. And then I’ll just click between them and see if there’s one that I like over the other two. And in this case, I actually like very blurry, I think that one looks the best. So now that I have the AI model and the mode selected, I’ll just double click on this quadrant and then I’m gonna change the zoom to fit so I see the entire image.

And so again, like we started with, if I press and hold, I can see the original notice the car is soft. You know, it has most of the detail there, but with Sharpen AI, it just especially, I mean, you look at the door handle and this is the area that I really want focus to go with the passengers and the details of the car door. Also the hubcaps, even though they’re moving, there’s even more detail to them, which I really like. But like I said, there’s all this kinda extra crispiness in the background, which I don’t like. And so this is how you can take an extra step to really let Sharpen AI bring focus to where you want.

To do that I’m gonna click on the mask button here in the bottom, and I’m gonna click on this button over here called find objects. And you can see our AI engine has detected a car and a person, and I want the car, basically I just want sharpening to apply to the car. So it’s super easy. I’m just gonna go ahead and select this checkbox and you can see the mask was automatically applied, I didn’t do anything. All I did was click on the checkbox and because I’ve got this overlay checkbox selected, you can see the mask being visibly presented. Now here’s the thing, it detected two cars rightfully so there’s another car here in the background, even though it’s blurred, I’m gonna de-select the overlay so you can see it.

So it’s actually kind of impressive the way that Sharpen AI found this car, even though it’s way too blurred. But I don’t want it, and so to remove it, what I’m gonna do is select the sub button to subtract, I’ll increase my brush size, and I’m just gonna draw over the car. I’m gonna make sure that I get basically everything, let me also drop my, the softness or the feathering of the brush. And I can confirm with the little mask preview thumbnail over here, that the only thing that is having Sharpen AI applied to is the car. And I’m gonna go ahead… Let me just click on the overlay one more time, just to make sure see if I missed anything and it looks like I did.

So I’m gonna make a smaller brush, get rid of that right there, and we are looking good now. So I can further refine this, like I can again, turn the overlay to see the mask and then if I want, I can further refine the mask, but I’m fine with this for the purposes of the video. And when I’m done all I need you to just click apply mask. Now, when I click to toggle the original and the after you can see that the only thing that’s being affected is the car in the foreground, and you still get that motion the really great motion in the background, you are getting motion in the car as well because the tires have that kind of quality to them. But you’re also getting this really nice sharp detail that wasn’t there. And I think that really adds to the effect of the panning shot. Now let’s try it again with another panning photo.

All right, so here’s a photo I took of my buddy out in the middle of Nebraska, you can see these are cornfields in the background and he has been working on restoring his truck for a while. This really cool vintage truck. Now, if you’ve never practiced panning photography it requires a lot of trial and error and you’ll probably end up having a ton of photos where a few of them are actually usable. It’s just the way it goes, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it, and the more intuitive it’ll be. So this is one of the better photos that I got from the shoot. And so what I did was I opened it up into Sharpen AI because I wanna see if I can get a little bit more detail, especially in kinda the cab area and on him.

Now, this is the default settings, you can see if I press and hold, especially notice this area here behind the truck and in front of the truck, Sharpen AI it’s kinda looking for things that aren’t necessarily there or things that you don’t really wanna sharpen. That’s a big part of panning. There are a lot of areas that shouldn’t be sharp. You want sharpness to be focused on a specific area that you wanna draw the eye to namely this section of the composition. So just like before, let’s go ahead, we’ll go to view and we’ll select comparison view. And then I’m gonna go ahead and select 100% zoom, and let’s just kinda put the focus box right around there.

And just like before, what I’m gonna do first is look at the three models and see if one jumps out at me over the other two. In this case, again, motion blur looks really good, but I’m gonna try these other two modes, so I’m gonna click on very noisy and then very blurry. And again, I think very blurry really does a good job, especially when you compare it to the original, just look at my buddy here how much sharper he is, the mirror looks so much better and then the edge details of the doorframe they just pop. So I think this is our winner here. So I’m gonna go ahead and double click it and then let’s go ahead again and we’ll go to zoom to fit.

And you can see if we click to see the original, see how all the details around the cab snap into place also, around the wheel well here, that was totally blurry, but it just gets nice and sharp over here. So again, I wanna bring the focus here. Also, I don’t want the sharpening to apply to the road or to the background. So just like before let’s click on that mask button and this time, even though we have the car and the person selected, I don’t wanna use the auto masking, so I’m gonna click on the button to hide it. I’m just gonna manually paint in what I want. And so to do that, I’m gonna click on the add button. Sharpen AI is applying itself to the entire photo, which I don’t want. Once I start drawing though, the mask will automatically turn black because I’m in an additive mode. So it’s gonna remove the effect everywhere and only apply to where I paint.

So I’m gonna increase my brush size a bit, and I’m gonna start drawing kinda here along the edge, cover my buddy. And basically the areas that I showed you before that really were positively improved from Sharpen AI. So something around here, let’s go over the windshield and I’m gonna go along with the entire top of the truck here and along the side. Now let’s click on that overlay button just to see if I missed any areas, it looks like I missed a spot right there, so let’s just get that. I’m gonna hide that overlay, I’m just gonna draw a little bit more like a right around here, gonna add a little bit more and we’re done, let’s click apply mask, and then if we click, you can see just how much of an improvement you get just by selecting where you want Sharpen AI to apply itself. Notice again, that all the other surrounding areas of the truck are clean, they’re not overly sharpened, but we get that really nice snap. Exactly where we want the eye to go to the cab and to the passenger.

And so that’s how I use Sharpen AI to add just an extra touch to my panning photos, I hope you found this helpful and inspiring, and I look forward to see you on the next video.

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Here’s Proof that Topaz Sharpen AI can Sharpen Out-of-Focus Images

You can now do the impossible with Sharpen AI by Topaz Labs: Fix your missed-focus images using the power of machine learning.

Every photographer has been there: you capture the perfect moment, in beautiful light, but somehow you didn’t quite get the shot. Maybe the light was a bit dim or your subject moved a little too quick, but your final, favorite shot ended up blurry. A fast-moving subject, camera shake, low light, and incorrect camera settings can all reduce the sharpness of your photo, leaving you with soft details, motion blur, and an imperfect photo. We’re here to fix it.

Sharpen AI application interface

We built a futuristic solution for blurry images

Using the power of machine learning technology, our cutting-edge software doesn’t simply “sharpen” your photo — it can actually help you recreate authentic details in your photo. With sophisticated artificial intelligence tech, Sharpen AI analyzes your image and compares it alongside a library of millions of photos to help you achieve the most stunningly accurate results. It’s your image, re-imagined the way it was supposed to be — with sharp lines and crisp detail.

Before and After Sharpen AI Stabilization - 200% Zoom

Download Sharpen AI for free and see for yourself

The only way to believe in our technology is to see for yourself. That’s why we offer a totally free, full-version, 30-day trial of all of our applications.

Download your free trial of Sharpen AI along with the original TIFF photo used in this article.

Comment below with your results or tag us on Instagram with #TopazLabs. We’d love to see how Sharpen AI helped rescue your blurry photos!

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Topaz Tutorial: Editing Landscapes with Miroslav Petrasko

Landscape photos are quite different from cityscape photos. If you are not shooting right into the sun, you usually have much less local contrast and extreme differences in brightness in the photos. You can’t just take one and be done with it, so some editing is always required–even if it’s only to fix lens problems.

Sharpness is really important in landscape photos. Together with a bigger depth of field, it makes landscape photos stand out more. Here is where Topaz Sharpen AI can come in handy.

A Stunning View

This is a view from the Five Fingers lookout platform in the Austrian Alps, high above the town of Hallstatt. It was taken during an overcast day, so while it’s properly exposed, it’s a bit dark, hazy and bland. I won’t go through every edit I did on these photos, but will point out some of the most important techniques to help you get more from your landscape photos.

Original Image (Click to view at 100%)

I took three exposures for this photo in 1EV increments. I could have gotten away with just using a single exposure, but I knew I would want to lighten and darken certain areas. So, having a proper exposure of every area makes for a cleaner photo than one that was over or underexposed in post-processing. Here are the two additional exposures.

(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)

There is a photo post-processing technique called matching, which I’ll show you below. By doing so, you end up with a nice even blend that looks like one seamless photo. The idea behind it is to take the RAW files as smart objects into Photoshop and blend them together to get the desired exposure everywhere. 

(Click to view at 100%)

Once this is done, you go back into the RAW editor and tweak the RAW files, to create a similar look for each one. You do this by mostly tweaking the exposure, highlights, and shadows. You can also add enhancements like vibrance, dehaze and clarity to the RAWs, to make further editing even easier.

(Click to view at 100%)

I blended the photos into one by using layer masks and luminosity selections. Once done, I matched the exposures and added vibrance, clarity, and dehaze to them. Above is a screenshot of the blended, tweaked underexposed RAW and below is how it looked afterward. You can see that the blend has almost no contrast to it. That is normal because when you remove highlights and shadows, you also remove contrast. 

(Click to view at 100%)

From this point on, all of my edits are just tweaking brightness and contrast, maybe a bit of saturation here and there. Usually, you don’t need to edit saturation at all, as adding contrast makes the photo more saturated on its own. But as this was very overcast, I wanted the foreground color to stand more.

(Click to view at 100%)

You can see in this Photoshop screenshot all the layers I used and how I only painted them by hand to the areas I needed them in.

Best Practices for Sharpening

With this done, we’ll move on to sharpening. There are three things to consider here. Firstly, the whole photo should not be of the same sharpness. Our eyes are drawn towards sharper (and brighter) areas so you can use that to draw it towards your main subject. In this photo, that would mostly be the foreground and the middle area around the lake.

Secondly, not everything should be sharp. For instance, you would not expect the peaks in the further background to be as sharp as the closer ones. And you wouldn’t expect to have much darker clouds than the rest of the scenery.

Thirdly, it is good practice to resize the photo to your final desired resolution and only afterwards sharpen it. 

Topaz Sharpen AI

Let’s sharpen this photo now. We need to merge all the layers into a new one, and then use Topaz Sharpen AI from the plugin menu. There are multiple processing modes available in Sharpen AI to target specific problems–Sharpen, Stabilize, and Focus.

With a landscape photo, you can use all of them. For instance, if you got your focus a tiny bit off, you can try the focus mode to return some sharpness to the out of focus areas. Or perhaps you had a bit of wind come through and the foliage moved. In that case, you can try the stabilize mode.

Sharpening in Topaz Sharpen AI (Click to view at 100%)

For this photo, let’s go for the standard Sharpen mode. The standard settings look a bit strong for this photo, so let’s move the Remove Blur slider to 0.4. You can see a few areas in comparison below, all are at 100% zoom.

(Click to view at 100%)
(Click to view at 100%)

We can remove the sharpness from the areas where it’s not needed, and tone it down in others. You can choose to go back to Photoshop and remove the sharpness from the clouds, if you want them to be a bit blurry and soft. I also removed the sharpness from the peaks in the distance and toned it down on the peaks that are close. Like this, there is a nice progression, with the sharpest things close to you, losing the sharpness the further away you look.

The Final Result

Final Result (Click to view at 100%)

About Miroslav Petrasko

While I started as a game designer, I switched to photography around 10 years ago. Since then I have been working with different luxury travel brands and almost daily, stubbornly updating my blog at with new photos, articles, and guides. It really is not an easy task.

Below are a few other landscape photos from my travels. The first three are from Austria: the view from Dürnstein Castle, Grossglockner High Alpine Road and the reflection at Altaussee. The last two are from Switzerland: the peaks over Zermatt and Matterhorn.


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Sharpen AI is the first sharpening and shake reduction software that can tell difference between real detail and noise. Create tack-sharp images even when you’re shooting handheld, at night, or with a shallow depth of field.