I’m sure you’ve taken a picture that needed sharpening at least once in your life. We all have. If a photo is slightly out of focus or if there’s a tiny bit of movement, you can usually make it look better by sharpening it in post-processing. If it’s too blurry though, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Sometimes a photograph just can’t be corrected.
In general, sharpening an image is last of all the photo editing steps. This is because it needs to be applied to the entire image, even to any previous corrections that were made. Yes, you’ll be sharpening your corrections. So if you have any touching up to do with any other tool in Photoshop, be sure to get all of that completed before this step. If you don’t make those corrections, the sharpening tool that I’m about to show you down below may actually emphasize those questionable areas. Remember though, not all photos need to be sharpened. If yours doesn’t need it, don’t do it. Sometimes leaving good enough alone is the best route to take.
The tool I’ll be showing you today is called the Smart Sharpen filter. It’s basically Photoshop’s more modernized and much more powerful version of their earlier Sharpen tool that pretty much did its sharpening behind the scenes without any user input. The Smart Sharpen tool is much more customizable. Actually, if memory serves, there used to be a Sharpen tool and then a Sharpen More tool, if you can believe that. I guess the second option was used when someone wanted to sharpen something more.
When do you know if your image needs to be sharpened? Well, if you zoom in on an important area and the edges of objects appear soft, you may need to give things a bit of love. If you don’t zoom in and leave the image its regular viewable size and the entire photo just seems to lack crispness, you should probably sharpen it a bit.
To access the Smart Sharpen tool, navigate to the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen menu item and click.
After the option has been clicked, the Smart Sharpen dialog box will appear. It’ll look something like this. Obviously, yours will look slightly different because you’ll be working on a different photo. Your setting will likely be different as well.
After this box opens, you’ll want to make sure a few things are set. First, be sure that the Preview box up top is checked. That’ll allow you to see any changes you make in real time. After that, make sure that Lens Blur is selected in the Remove drop-down box. This will automatically remove any blur that was added due to the particular lens you were using. If you really know what you’re doing and have a reason to choose either Gaussian Blur or Motion Blur, then go ahead and do that. Your choice of these blurs will come down to your situation and necessity.
As you can see, the left side of the palette is part of the image you’re working on. In my case, I’m working on sharpening a car. To zoom into the car, I can click on the + magnifying glass and to shrink the view, I can click on the – magnifying glass. I can also click right on the sample image itself and drag it around if I need to view a different area of it.
Back to the three different types of blur you can automatically remove via the Remove drop-down box for a moment. As I said, there are Lens Blur, Gaussian Blur, and Motion Blur. To expand upon what each of these options can do for you, I’ll offer some information below.
Lens Blur: Reduces overall blur and softness throughout the entire image.
Gaussian Blur: Looks for the edges in the image and increases the sharpness and contrast of them.
Motion Blur: Attempts to reduce blur that was created by the camera moving while the shot was being taken. When this option is selected, you’ll see that the directional circle that sits to the right of it activates. Click this circle and drag it in the direction of your motion blur.
In most cases, you’ll only need to concern yourself with the top three sliders; they are Amount, Radius, and Reduce Noise.
Amount: When any post-processing application “sharpens” a photo, it essentially finds areas of contrast (edges) and tightens up that contrast. So if there was an edge that consisted of a smooth, broad gradient and you attempted to sharpen it, the application would shrink the gradient so it appeared thinner and more crisp. In this case, Photoshop’s Amount slider controls how much that gradient would be reduced. It’s sort of like the volume knob on a stereo. The more it gets pushed (or turned), the more will change.
Radius: This slider controls the number of pixels surrounding an edge that will be affected when the Amount slider gets pushed. Do you want a large area outside of every edge to be affected or a small area? Remember, if you’re working on a high resolution image, you’ll need to set this higher to account for all of those pixels. If you’re working on a lower resolution image, you can set this lower, since there are fewer overall pixels in your image.
Reduce Noise: Sometimes when sharpening a photo in Photoshop, the photo can become grainy or show what’s referred to as “noise.” This is merely the result of a consolidation of pixels in the photograph. To combat some of this noise, you can push the Reduce Noise slider to the right. Just be sure to use a light touch with this option because you can easily reduce too much noise and make your image end up looking like a cartoon.
If you are an advanced user, feel free to use the sliders contained in the Shadows and Highlights sections. I’ll skip those areas for now, but I may return to touch on them in a later thread.
Once you’re finished sharpening your image and what you see in the preview box looks good to you, go ahead and click the OK button to close the palette and apply the changes. Photoshop has really streamline the sharpening process, so there’s not a whole lot to do.
If you have any questions or anything to add, please contribute down below. Thanks!
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