How to Sharpen Photos in Photoshop

  • Thread starter KodyWallice
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May 7, 2021
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  • #1
Oftentimes, if you would like to use a photo for something special or important, you'll need to sharpen in in post-processing. You can't count on your images being super sharp directly from your camera. Camera sensors sometimes slightly soften the scenes they capture as to avoid an annoying shimmering pattern effect that occurs if not processed, so by sharpening the image in post-processing, you'll be getting the best of the best. Obviously, if you take a photo that's out of focus or blurry, you won't be able to fix that. Taking a clean photo is the responsibility of the photographer. You can, however, remove any softening that's added by the camera.

I'll be using Adobe Photoshop for this example. More specifically, I'll be taking advantage of the Smart Sharpen feature inside of Photoshop. This is a super simple tool that anyone can operate. No experience necessary.

To sharpen today's demo photo, I'll first open it into Photoshop. Then, I'll right-click on the photo's layer in the Layers Panel and choose Convert to Smart Object.


Doing this will protect the image, as this sharpening process is destructive. As long as the layer is a Smart Object, I'll be able to return to the original, if need be. After converting the layer to a Smart Object, I'll see the layer name change from Background to Layer 0. These names aren't important to the task. I just wanted to mention the occurrence.

I also want to mention that some people choose to simply duplicate their photo by copying and pasting the file itself instead of creating a Smart Object out of it. This is up to you, whether you want to do that or not. Smart Objects can create enormous files and duplicating the original is a good option sometimes. Either way, you'll need to save the original somehow. Chances are, if it's a valuable image, you'll want what came straight out of the camera at some point.

For today's image, I'll use the Lamborghini logo in the image as a measure of whether the image is sharp or not. Before doing any labor, it's always a good idea to assess what you're dealing with. Zooming in and magnifying a photo to check its quality is a good idea. And intricate details you're familiar with are good to look at.

Let's take a look at the emblem before I begin sharpening.


At this point, I'll head up to the top menu in Photoshop and click on the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen menu item.


This will open the Smart Sharpen dialog box.


Inside this dialog, you'll see three primary sliders. They are Amount, Radius, and Reduce Noise. The Amount and Radius sliders will need to be moved as necessary, meaning, there's no set method for pushing these sliders correctly. It's sort of an art. Start with the Amount slider. By pushing this one to the right, you'll be increasing the contrast between adjacent pixels in your image. The more contrast, the more sharp the image will appear. After that, push the Radius slider to the right. This slider controls how far reaching the increase in contrast will be per pixel. Both of these sliders can be experimented with to get just the right effect.

Once you're set with both of those sliders, move on to the Reduce Noise slider. By sharpening an image in Photoshop, a byproduct may be some grain that's introduced to the photo. The slider in question will remove some of that grain. Pushing it to the right will remove it and pushing the slider to the left will add it back.

Remember, if you'd like to enlarge your view while sharpening, you can click on the small magnifying glasses below the preview window in the dialog box. One is a minus and one is a plus. Also, depending on the size of your photo, each change you make with each slider may take a few moment to take effect. Be patient as this is memory and processor intensive.

I'll go ahead and push these sliders until I'm happy with what I see. As a rule of thumb, it's best to under sharpen than to over sharpen. Everyone can tell when an image is over sharpened. To finish and exit this panel, I'll press the OK button. Let's see what I've come up with. This is just the emblem cropped from the entire image.


It's not too obvious, but it looks good.

Another alternative to using Photoshop for photo sharpening is to use the feature that's built into many DSLR and mirrorless cameras. While you can sharpen JPEG images though, you can't with RAW. RAW images come directly out of the camera the way they were captured. They're meant to be worked on in post-processing. If you're shooting JPEG though, give your camera's sharpening feature a try to see if you like it. It's worth a shot.

Do you have any image sharpening tips you'd like to share? Is there a better way to do this than what I just showed you? If so, please let me know down below. Thanks!


May 7, 2021
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  • #2

The 3 Best Ways to Sharpen Photos in Adobe Photoshop​


The ability to sharpen photos in Adobe Photoshop has been available for a very long time. This ability has also gone through quite a few iterations. In the earlier days, we could choose one of the three more basic sharpening filters and either stick with what it gave us or sharpen again and again, using the same filter. Today though, we’ve got options. Lots and lots of options. And in my opinion, sharpening has come such a long way, it’s turned into sort an effect filter, as opposed to something that’s simply used to clean up semi-blurry photos.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the three best methods for sharpening photos inside Photoshop. The first one is good, the second is better and the third is even better than that. So, if you’ve got images that need some cleaning up, continue reading this post to learn something new about how to go about taking your photos to the next level.

The Sharpen Filters​

Access to the first and third methods for sharpening photos can be found under the Filter > Sharpen menu items.


The second sharpening method we’re going to look at can be found under the Filter > Camera Raw Filter menu item.


I’m considering this second method one that Photoshop offers because it’s accessed through Photoshop and is a plugin that Photoshop uses. I’ll most likely write a few posts later on that cover the sharpening capabilities of Camera Raw, but for now, this topic will be filed under the Photoshop category.

If you look up two screenshots, you’ll notice that some of the sharpening filters contained under the Filter > Sharpen menu are simply words without the three dots after them. These are the filters that have been around forever. If you click on one of these menu items, the sharpening will be applied. If you do this and then look at your result and aren’t happy with it, you can either click the filter again or undo it. As you may have guessed, there’s not a lot of flexibility with these options. And if you can’t see the screenshot clearly, the items I’m referring to are Sharpen, Sharpen Edges and Sharpen More. Now, don’t get me wrong. For an overall picture cleanup and to add some crispness to it, these are great. For a preview and options, these aren’t. I still use these three filters all the time though, so don’t discount them too much. They just aren’t the three best options.

Tip: When you see a menu item in Adobe Photoshop that’s followed by three dots (Menu Item…), it means that, if clicked, a dialog box with further options will appear on your screen. If the menu item doesn’t have the three dots following it, whatever the function of that menu item is will be applied directly without further manipulation.

Unsharp Mask​

As I go about editing the example photo with the following filters, I want you to take notice of what the options can potentially accomplish, rather than how they affect the photo I’m working with. Since every photo is unique, the potential of a filter is much more important than what’s going on in the screenshots that follow. Also, try to remember, or better yet, write down, what the options contained in the dialog boxes are capable of. You’ll be working with these in the future, so it’s a good idea to develop a mental background of the tools.

The first filter I’ll be covering is called Unsharp Mask. Before I show you anything, I’m going to be sure the view of the photo is at 100% inside Photoshop. This way, I’ll have an accurate pixel by pixel representation of what I’m about to work on. Next, I’ll move the photo around until something detailed is at the center of the screen. I wouldn’t want to sharpen a blue sky. I’d much rather see something that’s got some detail to it. Finally, I’ll head up to the Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask menu item and select it. What follows is the Unsharp Mask dialog box.


Much of what sharpening filters do is create contrast between light and dark pixels. Photoshop looks for edges and defines those edges to the tune of your commands. This is why you see sliders in the dialog box above.

As you can see, we’ve got three sliders here. I”m going to go through what each one controls.

Amount: This slider controls how much a pixel is either lightened or darkened when it’s found to be along an edge. There are a few things Photoshop has to take care of here. First, it defines the edge and then, according to the position of the slider, it adjusts luminosity of pixels around it. If you keep the slider to the left, the pixels will be less altered and if you move the slider to the right, they’ll be more altered.

If there’s any grain in your photo, that grain will become accentuated. This is part of the reason I chose this particular photo to work with. I created some grain in the photo to show you what happens when you adjust the amount of sharpening too much. Take a look below.


By over sharpening the photo, you can see that we’ve lost some detail. Although, this may be a cool effect if it’s what you’re after. I’d say we need to push this slider back some.

Radius: When adjusting the Radius slider, you’re telling Photoshop where you want it to look when adjusting the pixels in the photo. A small radius (to the left) says that you want a small area around each pixel to be lightened or darkened and a large radius (to the right) says that you want a large area to be lightened or darkened. So basically, we now understand the controls for how much we want a pixel to be adjusted and how far the adjustment reach is supposed to be. I’ll go ahead and push the Radius slider all the way to the right to show you what happens when the radius is as large as possible.


In the case above, much more of the photo was altered. Instead of keeping the lightened and darkened pixels localized, they were spread out, adding contrast to a larger area of the image. Again, a neat effect if that’s what you want.

Threshold: When you adjust the Threshold slider, you’re telling Photoshop when to look at a pixel. Let’s say you have two pixels right next to each other. One is 90% white (light) and one is 10% white (dark). You can adjust the threshold to say that you only want Photoshop to look at and alter the brightness of a pixel when the difference between it and the one next to it becomes 80% white and 20% white. So, if you have two pixels, like there are in the first scenario, Photoshop would ignore them. But, if you had two more than fell in to the threshold of the second scenario, Photoshop would pick up on them and edit them according to the settings determined by the first two sliders. A low threshold (to the left) will tell Photoshop to edit more pixels and a high threshold (to the right) will tell Photoshop to edit fewer pixels. In the screenshot below, I pushed the slider all to way to the right, therefore sort of muting out the edges of the photo. There’s a higher threshold, so fewer pixels were altered.


When you adjust all three sliders, you can acquire the sharpening you’re looking for, assuming there isn’t much noise in the photo. In general, you want a higher Amount (400), a lower Radius (0.3) and a very low Threshold (0).

Camera Raw Sharpening​

If you head up to the Filter > Camera Raw Filter and select it, Adobe Camera Raw will open. Once open, head down to the lower left corner and click the drop-down box. Select 100%. Again, we want the most accurate view of our photo before doing any sharpening.


Next, click on the Detail panel in the right column. It’s the third tab in from the left.


Inside this panel, we’re going to be focusing on the top Sharpening section. If you take a look, you’ll likely see some familiar sliders as well as some that aren’t so familiar. I’ll go over each slider below.

Amount: Same definition as above.

Radius: Same definition as above.

Detail: The Detail slider controls how much Camera Raw sharpens what’s called noise. It looks at the differences between pixels in very small areas and adjusts the contrast between them. So if you’ve got a photo with some grain in it and you push the Detail slider to the right, you’ll actually accentuate that grain. In general, you wouldn’t want this to happen, so you’d keep the slider to the left. Although (again), it could make your image look better in some cases, so you’ll need to experiment with it. In the screenshot below, I pushed this slider to the right as far as it would go. There isn’t much noise to sharpen in the photo I’m using. The noise has gotten so large, by this point, it would be considered specks.


Masking: If you push the Masking slider to the right and to the left, you’ll notice that not a lot happens. It’s not until you hold down the Alt (Option – Mac) key on your keyboard for you to see the true power of this tool.


I’ll copy and paste this tool’s explanation straight from Adobe:

Masking – Controls an edge mask. With a setting of zero (0), everything in the image receives the same amount of sharpening. With a setting of 100, sharpening is mostly restricted to those areas near the strongest edges. Press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) while dragging this slider to see the areas to be sharpened (white) versus the areas masked out (black).

In simpler terms, with the Masking slider, you can control the general areas that you want sharpened in your image. And the view is ultra clear because of the fact that the image has changed to black and white. That’s pretty good.

If you’d like to see Adobe’s definitions for each of the sharpening sliders in Camera Raw, follow the link below.

Sharpening and Noise Reduction in Adobe Camera Raw

Smart Sharpen​

In Photoshop, if you head up to the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen, you see that a dialog box appears. This is the Smart Sharpen dialog. This tool is on par with the one found in Camera Raw.


In today’s post, I’ll be covering only the top area of this dialog. The lower area, which controls shadows and highlights is beyond this post. That deserves a post all of its own. Also, the noise reduction section of the Detail panel in Camera Raw will be discussed at another time as well, since it’s a topic of it’s own. Although, I will be touching on noise reduction in this post below.

If you look at the above screenshot, you’ll see that the first two sliders are the same as what we’re now used to seeing. These are the mainstays. What’s new is the Reduce Noise slider, which works in conjunction with the first two sliders. If your photo has noise in it, you can push this slider to the right to lessen the visible noise. The reason this option is so powerful when it’s situated with the other two sharpening sliders is that you can see if you’re actually making the noise worse by adjusting the amount and radius of the sharpening. Otherwise, you’d have to make all these adjustments separately, which be quite the cumbersome task.

Another new feature that we’re seeing is the Remove drop-down box.


Inside this drop-down, there are three options:

Gaussian Blur: Use this option if you want Photoshop to try to remove an overall blur. This may be caused by a slightly out of focus camera or something like that.

Lens Blur: If you take a photo in which you were moving, causing slight blur, Photoshop can attempt to remove this type of blur when you choose this option. This is perfect when you want to correct camera shake.

Motion Blur: When you take a photo of an object that’s moving, you can sharpen that movement. Choose the Motion Blur option in the drop-down and Photoshop will attempt to take some of the blur caused by that movement out of the photo. What’s particularly powerful is having the ability to indicate which direction the movement is traveling. This option can truly assist when removing motion blur.

As with anything else in photo editing applications, I can’t tell you what to do to sharpen your photos. This post was meant to introduce you to the various options available in the three best sharpening tools in Adobe Photoshop. With the knowledge you gained here, you can decide, based on the type of sharpening your photo needs, which tool is the most appropriate.


If you’ve enjoyed today’s post and found it helpful, please share it with a friend. Thanks!

COMMENT: This is great! I have been using Photoshop since roughly 2000, sometimes as more of a hobbyist, and other times in my profession. I also took a variety of classes on various Adobe products. Nobody was ever able to give me a good explanation of the sharpening tools, and this includes looking them up on the internet. This is the best walkthrough I’ve found to date. Thanks!

COMMENT: Thanks so much! This was the best comment ever. I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorial and found it useful.
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May 7, 2021
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  • #3

How to Sharpen & Enhance a Portrait with Masks in Adobe Photoshop​


A huge percentage of photography work revolves around the world of portraits. Really. I’m not sure if the general population quite understands how popular photos of people really are. When folks purchase their first real camera, I think most of them head outside and start taking pictures of clouds and landscapes, but after they become more skilled at and develop a love for what they’re doing, their confidence rises. They bring humans and animals into the mix. For those of us who enjoy making money, we seek out opportunities to shoot engagement, wedding, studio and family types of shots. And for the animal lovers out there, well, they head towards cute kittens and puppies. I happen to be an animal lover. You don’t even want to see all the pictures of my most adorable cat named Ron.

No matter what type of photography you’re into, there’s one area that’s critical you get right – the post-processing. And one area in post-processing that’s critical is sharpening areas in the photo that need to be sharpened and enhancing areas that need to be enhanced. Rarely does a photo emerge from a camera in perfect order. All the wonderful effects we see everyday in those glamorous wedding pictures were done in Lightroom and Photoshop.

In today’s post, I’ll be working on two specific areas of a demo photo. The photo is of a little girl who is posing for the camera. While the original image is already very good, it does call for some minor improvements with the sharpening of the face and some improvements with the color balance of the eyes. To accomplish what I’d like to do to these areas, I’ll be using a sharpening filter called Smart Sharpen as well as a Color Balance adjustment layer. Also, in both of these cases, I’ll be taking advantage of layer masks, with special tactics applied. By the end of this post, you should be able to take your own photo and sharpen isolated areas of it, while leaving the remaining areas untouched. You should also be able to enhance specific areas of a photo, while leaving the remaining areas untouched. Both tasks are very handy, so let’s get going.

Original Photo​

Since the changes I’ll be making to this photo are so subtle, I’m not going to repost the photo I already placed at the top of this post. Instead, I’ll zoom in and give you a clear idea of what’s wrong with it.


Whether you can see it or not, the girl’s face in this photo isn’t as crisp as I’d like it. Where it can truly shine is in the eyes and eyelashes. I’d like to slightly separate the eyelashes from one another, which will add some needed drama. Also, I’d like to add some color to her eyes. Right now, they’re fairly muted and I believe that with a bit of extra blue, they can come alive.

It’s important to note here that I only want to apply these changes to the areas I just described. I don’t want any application in the rest of the photo. I like the muted blur of the background, so I’ll use layer masks to keep everything separate.

Smart Sharpen​

The sequence of events for both of these photo modifications is like this:

1. Duplicate the layer in question.
2. Apply the filter or adjustment layer to the duplicated layer.
3. Edit it so it affects the entire photo, keeping an eye on the specific area of interest.
4. Add a layer mask or select the adjustment layer mask.
5. Invert the mask in the appropriate Properties panel.
6. Paint away areas of interest so they show through mask.

As you can see, there really are only a few steps to make a photo appear more striking. Below, I’ll walk through the first set of changes that will sharpen the face of the girl in this portrait.

While I’m going to apply some smart sharpening in this post, I’m not going to dive too deeply into the topic. If you’re interested in learning more about the best methods to use when it comes to sharpening a photo in Adobe Photoshop, please take a look at this post:

The 3 Best Ways to Sharpen Photos in Adobe Photoshop

NOTE: To give you more of an up-close view of what I’m doing, I’ll be displaying the zoomed in version of the girl’s face. This way, you’ll be able to actually see the sharpening and the addition of blue to the eyes. Behind the scenes, I’ll also be making the same exact changes to the entire original photo so I have something to output. I just wanted to mention this so you don’t confuse the enlarged face for the whole photo.

To sharpen the entire photo, I’m going to first duplicate and select that duplicate of the layer of the girl’s face and then head up to the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen menu item and select it.


From there, the Smart Sharpen dialog box will appear.


In this case, I’m only concerned with two settings; first is the Amount, which I’ll set to 150% and the second is the Radius, which I’ll set to 4px. Again, I explain what these settings mean in my previous post that covers how to sharpen photos.

After I finish making the changes to the settings, I can click OK to apply them and to close the dialog box.

Apply a Layer Mask​

The next step I’m going to take is to apply a layer mask to the duplicate layer I made the change to.


If you’re curious how to apply a layer mask, please read this post:

What are Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop?

If you take a look at the screenshot above, you’ll notice that the layer mask is completely white, which reveals the sharpening I made across the entire photo. Since I only want the sharpening applied to the face, I’ll need to make a change.

First, I’ll double-click on the mask thumbnail that’s in the Layers panel and then click on the Invert button that’s in the Properties panel that appears.


As you can see in the above screenshot, the mask turned black and the sharpening has been hidden. This is perfect because now all I need to do is use the Brush Tool to paint over the face with white. That will reveal the sharpening for only that area, while keeping it hidden for the rest of the photo.

Now, if I hide the visibility of the bottom two layers and display just the layer that’s been affected by my masking, I can see that only the face is showing. Those little checkerboard boxes represent transparency.


At this point, the sharpening is complete.

Adding Blue via Color Balance to the Eyes​

To enhance the color of the eyes (which are already blue, but not truly showing that), I’m going to follow the exact same steps I followed above. The only difference is that I can skip the first step of duplicating the bottom layer. I’m going to apply this adjustment directly to the sharpened and masked layer.

To kick things off, I’ll head up to the Adjustments layer and click on the Color Balance icon.


As you can see, the new adjustment layer appears in the Layers panel and is accompanied by a layer mask. Also, the Properties panel for this adjustment layer opens. I’ll go ahead and make a few changes by pushing the top and bottom sliders towards the color blue as far as they’ll go. I’ll explain why I’m doing this in just a moment.


By doing this, I gave the entire photo a blue hue. Since this isn’t what I want, I’ll click the Masks icon in the open Properties panel and click the Invert button. Just like last time, this will turn the mask from white to black and will hide the changes I just made by pushing the sliders.

Again, just like I did in the sharpening section above, I’ll grab the Brush Tool, resize it so it’s appropriate to paint the irises in the eyes and change the brush color so it’s white. Then, I’ll brush the irises to reveal the changes I made by pushing those two sliders. Here is the result:


By looking at the above photo, I think we can all agree that the blue of the eyes is pretty crazy. It’s easy corrected with the Opacity slider in the Layers panel though. I’ll make sure the adjustment layer I just worked on is selected and then reduce the Opacity to 50%. That should make the eyes look more natural.


I’d say this is much better.


And that’s it. I sharpened the face of the girl in the portrait to give certain areas more clarity and I woke up the color of her eyes. This is a very common practice when it comes to many different types of photography, so I encourage you to experiment with this type of workflow. You’ll be surprised at how often you turn to it.

As usual, if you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below. I’ll be more than happy to help out in any way possible. Thanks!


If you’ve enjoyed today’s post and found it helpful, please share it with a friend. Thanks!


May 7, 2021
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  • #4

Using Focus Area & Smart Sharpen to Edit a Photo in Adobe Photoshop​

For today’s post, I’m going to work on another quick project. I’ll fall back on two previous posts I wrote a while ago and use the lessons learned in them to take care of a few editing methods I’ll need for this one. Nothing is too difficult here, but a few steps need to be followed carefully.

Basically, the goal I have today is to isolate the bird in the photo below and sharpen it. While there are multiple methods for going about this, I’ll use the most efficient. Knowing that the bird is already in focus, while the background of the photo isn’t, I’ll take advantage of the Focus Area Selection feature inside of Photoshop. Then, once I’ve got the selection taken care of, I’ll move toward the actual sharpening of the bird. For that part, I’ll take advantage of the Smart Sharpen Filter feature. By the end of this post, you’ll hopefully have a clear picture of how you can use isolated ideas to complete a project like the one I’ll show you below.

Original Photo​

For this post, I looked for a photo that had a distinction between the subject and the background. I think I hit the nail on the head with this one. I’m not sure you can get any more distinct. Now, just because both areas of this photo are fairly far apart from one another doesn’t mean I don’t need to take care when creating my selection. I did a few test runs of what I’d like to demonstrate below and I think you’ll be impressed by a few tips I’ll let you in on. This photo worked out perfectly for everything I’d like to include.


Previous Posts​

I’m going to move kind of fast through this post. Don’t let that stop you from learning everything you’d like to learn though. Below, I’ll give you a few links to posts that go into more depth than what I’ll share here. If interested, please go ahead and read through these additional resources.

Selecting a Specific Focus Area in Adobe Photoshop

The 3 Best Ways to Sharpen Photos in Adobe Photoshop

Selecting with Focus Area​

To select the bird in this image, I’ll head up to the Select > Focus Area menu item.


Once I click this menu item, the Focus Area dialog box will appear. Also, right after the dialog opens up, areas that aren’t in focus will begin being removed from the image.


Also, some of the bird may be inadvertently removed. To deal with how much of the out-of-focus area I want to get rid of, I’ll need to push the In-Focus Range slider around. For more on this, please refer to this post. I cover the concept more extensively there.

Next, I’ll use the small brushes to add material back to and remove it from the image. These two brushes are the ones that I outlined in red below. They have the small + and in the icons.


Once I have pretty much all the out of focus background gone, I’ll change the Output drop-down selection to New Layer with Layer Mask and then click the Select and Mask button, which will bring me to an area where I can refine the edge of my selected area. If you’re interested in learning how to refine an edge of a selection in Photoshop, please check out the post I link to below. It’s really good and explains a lot.

Basically, by choosing the New Layer with Layer Mask option, Photoshop will take the selected area and turn it into a mask, which will give me flexibility in the future. By clicking on the Select and Mask button, I’ll have the ability to remove some of the jaggedness from the selection edges and smooth them out so they’re the way I’d like to see them in the final result.

Selecting Objects & Refining Edges in Adobe Photoshop

After I finish refining the edge, I’ll press the OK button to close out the Refine Edge dialog box and to return to the normal workspace.


I’ll end up with this:


Just to let you know, all I did here was select the bird and then mask what was inside the selected area. It’s a very straightforward process that seems complicated because of the additional options I used. If necessary, I could have done all of these steps by hand. Good thing Photoshop comes with these built-in tools.

Also, since the bird is masked, I had to do some slight touching up with the paint brush, using black. By using black, I was able to remove some narrow areas between some feathers that weren’t removed with the Focus Area tool. It’s all good now.

Would you like to learn more about masks and masking inside of Photoshop? If so, I’ve got something for you.

What are Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop?

Sharpening with Smart Sharpen​

Okay, on to the fun stuff. Now that I have the bird isolated from the background, I can go ahead and sharpen it. To do this, I’ll first make sure the actual bird is selected in the Layers panel.


The reason I need to double check this is because it’s easy to overlook. Whatever is selected in the Layers panel is what will be sharpened, so it’s a good idea to be actually focused on the image itself.

Anyway, next, I’ll head up to the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen menu item and click.


Doing this will open the Smart Sharpen dialog box.


For this section, I’ll follow the instructions I gave in this post. Those instructions cover the material in the top part of this dialog box. I’ll ignore the Shadows and Highlights sections because I really don’t need to change anything there.

I’ll go ahead and move the sliders for the sharpening aspects.


Finally, because I don’t see any types of obvious or mistaken blur in this image, I’ll leave the Remove area untouched. If there was some sort of gaussian, motion or lens blur in the image, I could attempt to remove some of it with this control. I’ll just head over to the OK button and click on it.

Once I’m back in the regular workspace, I can click the small eye that controls the layer visibility for the bottom layer.


This will turn the blurry background back on and I’ll be able to see the finished product.


Now, what’s really cool about this process is that I was able to separate the part of the photo that was in focus from the part of the photo that was out of focus. If I wanted to go for an even more extreme effect, I could duplicate the masked layer, invert the mask and blur the background. That would really make the bird pop out of the photo even more. For now though, I’ll leave things alone.

Basically, with this post, I wanted to show you a quick project workflow that would demonstrate how to sharpen just a part of a photo. As I stated above, there are a bunch of ways to do this and I chose just one. Perhaps in the future, I’ll go over other methods as well.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. As always, thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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  • #5

Selectively Sharpening Parts of a Face in Adobe Photoshop​

I’d like to work through a short project today to brush up on my skills. I found a great photo of a model that could use a small amount of sharpening around her eyes. In general, if done correctly, sharpening can really bring out someone’s detail and it can make a photo look fantastic. The trick is to apply only the sharpening you need. In order to do that, a few tricks need to be employed.

In today’s post, I’ll be working with a smart object, a filter and some brushes inside of Adobe Photoshop. This isn’t anything I haven’t yet covered on this blog, so if I pass a topic I’ve previously written around, I’ll link to the appropriate post. My goal is to sharpen only the model’s eyes and the areas around them. To target these areas, I’ll be taking advantage of a mask. Read on to see how I go about tackling this photo.

The Demo Photo​

I thought I’d post the original photo here. To be honest, you won’t be able to see much of the resulting sharpening after it’s done because the photo on this site will be so small. If you think about it, looking at the result isn’t as important as how I got there. As I’ve said before, learning the “concept” is what you want to do. Once that’s done, you can explore and experiment for the rest of your lives with it in your toolbox and you can apply it to your own projects. Be warned though, what I do below is very common. You’ll definitely want to save this post because you’ll likely want to do something similar over and over again.


Related Posts​

You know what? I think I’ll link to any related posts here. When I start writing, I get so caught up in what I’m doing that I’m sure I’ll forget all about the links. So, below are posts that will assist you with learning more about the steps I take during this project.

What are Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop?

The 3 Best Ways to Sharpen Photos in Adobe Photoshop

What are Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop?

Creating a Smart Object​

Since I’d like to have as much control over this photo as I possibly can, I’ll need to make it “smart.” There are two ways I can do this. Since I’m going to be working with a filter, I can head up to the Filter > Convert For Smart Filters menu item and click. That will turn the selected layer into a Smart Object. Since that’s all it’s going to do, I’ll cut out the middle man and simply right-click on the layer itself (not the thumbnail part) and select Convert to Smart Object from the menu that appears. Both of these steps do exactly the same thing, which is to convert the layer to a Smart Object.


After I convert the layer, a small icon will appear in the lower right corner of the layer thumbnail confirming the change.


Sharpening the Photo​

To sharpen this image today, I’ll go up to the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen menu item and click.


Once the Smart Sharpen dialog box appears, I’ll go through the steps of sharpening things the way I’d like to see them.


To learn more about how Smart Sharpen works and how it can benefit you with your editing in Adobe Photoshop, definitely check out these posts. They’re chock full of great tips.

Using Focus Area & Smart Sharpen to Edit a Photo in Adobe Photoshop

How to Sharpen & Enhance a Portrait with Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Working With the Smart Filters Layer​

Next, I’ll click OK and the dialog will close. Now, a new layer item will appear in the Layers panel.


Basically, you’re looking at the beauty of Smart Objects and Smart Filters in Adobe Photoshop. If you’ve read through my post about Smart Objects, you know all about their benefits. They’re great and well worth the extra file size they add. That’s a small price to pay for all the advantages they offer.

If you look at the above screenshot, you’ll notice there are a few new items under the original image layer in the Layers panel. We’ve got a white thumbnail in the Smart Filters layer and below that is the actual Smart Sharpen layer.

Think of it this way; instead of having the sharpening filter applied directly and destructively to the image layer, it’s applied to a layer unto itself. And to get to the image layer so it’s visible, that enhancement has to go through something called a Smart Filter. As you can see, the Smart Filter layer is merely a mask. Now, if you remember back to one of my previous posts on masks in Photoshop, you’ll remember that white reveals and black hides. Since we’ve got a white mask in this current case, all of the sharpening filter is being seen. If I wanted to hide any part of it, I could simply turn the mask black.

Okay, let’s get back to this post for a moment. When I first began, I mentioned that I didn’t want to sharpen everything in the photo. All I wanted to affect was the eyes and the area around them. As it stands, the entire image has been sharpened. That’s not good and I’ll need to fix that.

To deal with this issue, I’ve devised a strategy. I’ll double-click on the white mask so the Properties panel for the feature opens up.


Once the panel is open, I’ll click the Invert button. This will quickly turn the white mask black. So, if the white mask was letting the sharpening filter show through, the black mask is completely blocking it. Once I turn the mask black, nothing is showing and it’s like I haven’t applied a filter at all.

I do want to quickly mention one thing here. I used the Invert button to change mask color because it was fast. I could have just as easily use the Paint Bucket Tool or the Brush Tool to apply black over the white. It’s really a matter of choice. Masks are really easy to work with.

Anyway, now that all of the sharpening is blocked, I can reveal some of it in the areas of the eyes. To do this, I’ll select the Brush Tool and choose the appropriate settings for it. I’d like it to be sized similarly to the size of the color of the eye and to have an edge that’s somewhat soft.


Now, all I need to do is change the color of the brush to white, make sure the mask in the Layers panel is selected and paint where I want the sharpening to show through. I’ll do that now.


If you take a close look at the screenshot above, you can see the white areas inside of the black mask. Those areas are now showing the sharpening that was applied earlier. If I wanted a really large look at what I’ve done, I could hold down the Alt key on my keyboard and then click the mask in the Layers panel once. That will superimpose the mask over the entire image.


Pretty cool.

Here’s a really neat tip for you. If you ever want to see where you’ve altered a mask and select that altered area, all you need to do is to hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard and click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel once. That will automatically and beautifully select the revealed areas of the mask. Look at the next screenshot to see the marching ants.


So that’s Alt and click the thumbnail to superimpose the mask over the image and Ctrl and click to select the revealed areas. Those are great tips.


That’s it! That’s all you need to do to easily apply a filter to only specific areas of an image. What I went over today can be applied to many different types of filters, not only the sharpening ones.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any questions or concerns, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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  • #6

The Multiple Methods of Sharpening an Image in Adobe Photoshop​

When it comes to sharpening in Adobe Photoshop, what actually happens? Well, to put it simply, Photoshop finds edges that exist within an image and it cleans them up. Edges can be defined as any area with a marked change between color or luminance. Depending on how distinct that change is will depend on whether or not the area is considered an edge. What Photoshop does is add depth to edge colors and at times, actually changes the colors of pixels (increases contrast). So, if you have an image that consists of one side being black and the other white, with a soft gray line going down the center, that line is what the focus will be on. Chances are, the line will be narrowed and some of those gray pixels will be changed to either black or white. Don’t forget though, “edges” don’t necessarily need to be what we typically think of as an edge. An edge, in the eyes of Photoshop, can be a curve, a dot or a random shape. Anything that includes that difference in color or luminance that I mentioned above.

While the topic of sharpening seems fairly shallow at first glance, it’s actually really very deep. Entire books have been written about just this one topic, so we shouldn’t underestimate its importance.

Since sharpening images in Adobe Photoshop and Camera Raw is so important and since the topic also so deep, I’ll likely write a whole bunch of posts that discuss it. Today though, I thought I’d start off by discussing just the basics, meaning what sharpening is and what tools we can use to take advantage of the concept.

What Can & Can’t Sharpening Do?​

I’ll make this brief. Sharpening in Photoshop can offer an image a much more clear appearance. What was once slightly soft or fuzzy can be brought back to life. In general, all photos that come out of a camera are somewhat soft by nature. Tightening those soft edges is what this type of tool was created to deal with.

Sharpening can’t cure the blur from blurry photos. I’m not going to tell you that nothing can, because there is a tool at our disposal called Shake Reduction that deals with one type of blur. Every day, very intelligent people are working on solving the issue of blurry photos. Unfortunately, the sharpen tools aren’t what they’re working on to take care of this sort of thing. I just wanted to get this out there. The sharpen filters are there to enhance already good looking photos.

Take a look at this image. The original is on the left and the sharpened version is on the right. Notice how much more the water droplets stand out on the right. If you saw this picture with no sharpening, you’d most likely think it looked really good, which it does. But now that you see it sharpened, you can tell how soft the original was.


What Types of Images Benefit From Sharpening?​

I just mentioned that quality photos benefit the most from the sharpen filters in both Photoshop and Camera Raw and even in Lightroom. As I said, all photos come out of a camera with some inherent softness. While many cameras do offer sharpening features and tools inside of them, it’s best to leave this sort of thing to post-processing. My thoughts on this are that you want your original, untouched image from the camera for safe keeping. If you would like it sharpened, you can do that in one of the applications I just spoke of above. If you don’t, you don’t have to concern yourself with it at all.

Images that are out of focus won’t benefit at all from sharpening filters. The reason for this is that Photoshop has no way of defining a proper edge and even if it could, what would it be sharpening it to? What’s the image supposed to look like? Unfortunately, many photos that are out of focus are a total loss.

What Tools are Available to Sharpen Images?​

There are quite a few options when it comes to sharpening photos. Just in Photoshop alone are a bunch. Let me show you what I’m talking about. I’ll head up to the Filter > Sharpen menu so you can see what we’re dealing with.


Inside of this menu, you can see a few different options. There are Shake Reduction (ignore that), Sharpen, Sharpen Edges, Sharpen More, Smart Sharpen and Unsharp Mask. Out of these filters, Smart Sharpen is the most powerful with the most options. Some of these filters are very old (such as Sharpen, Sharpen Edges and Sharpen More) and I can remember using them many years ago. Today, Smart Sharpen is king and it’s the filter you should be focusing on.

If you’d like to read about Smart Sharpen, you can do so by clicking through the following links.

The 3 Best Ways to Sharpen Photos in Adobe Photoshop

Using Focus Area & Smart Sharpen to Edit a Photo in Adobe Photoshop

Selectively Sharpening Parts of a Face in Adobe Photoshop

Unsharp Mask is very good, but Smart Sharpen is still a better alternative to get used to because there are many more options to take advantage of inside of it. I did talk about Unsharp Mask in this post though, if you’d like to see what it’s about.

Inside of Photoshop, there’s something called the Sharpen Tool that can be accessed via the left vertical toolbar.


I’ll admit that I use this tool from time to time for very small touch ups (it acts like a brush with settings in the options bar), but with the combination of Smart Objects and the Smart Sharpen filter, it’s really unnecessary. Any touch ups can be accomplished by using Smart Sharpen and then simply masking out areas you don’t want touched. Or vice-versa. However you want to do it.

An option that many editors take advantage of is using Camera Raw as a filter. If you’re working on an image inside of Photoshop, you have the option of jumping over to Camera Raw to make changes there. After you’re finished, you can jump back to Photoshop to finish up your image. Camera Raw has sharpening capabilities that many editors like using. I actually enjoy using Camera Raw’s sharpening filters, but I do so only under certain circumstances. By the way, if you want to learn about Camera Raw as a filter, click through to the post below.

Using Camera Raw as a Filter Inside Adobe Photoshop

If I’m working on bulk photos that are already of good quality that I don’t need to do much to besides enhance in Camera Raw’s Basic panel, I’ll generally sharpen the images right in this application. If I have to do substantial editing to an image though, I’ll generally sharpen in Photoshop. Either option is good, but you do have to keep an eye on which application offers non-destructive sharpening. If you work in Camera Raw first and then jump to Photoshop, those changes you just made in Camera Raw are permanent. If you use Camera Raw as a filter though, from Photoshop, those changes are non-destructive. Just be sure to convert your layers to Smart Objects. If you’re using Smart Sharpening inside of Photoshop, you’ll need to convert your layer to a Smart Object first to avoid making permanent changes as well.

How to Sharpen Photos Using Adobe Camera Raw

A Quick Note​

Before I close this post out, I want to mention one important aspect of sharpening in Adobe Photoshop. If you do so using a Smart Object and the Smart Sharpen filter while the image is very large and then you crop the image down or shrink it some other way, the work you did will be altered. The strength of sharpening depends on the image size, so be sure to size your images before sharpening them or you’ll be doing extra work. I forget about this rule all the time and I find myself backtracking quite a bit. I should take my own advice more often.


I hope I gave you a decent introduction to the concept of sharpening images using a few of Adobe’s programs. As I mentioned above, I’ll be talking a lot about this topic in future posts, but sometimes I need to just get some ideas out of my head. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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  • #7

Comparing the Smart Sharpen & Unsharp Mask Filters in Adobe Photoshop​

There are tons of menu items for tools in Adobe Photoshop that were put there years ago and that have been replaced with better options. The reason Adobe keeps the old ones around is because, I’m assuming, many editors have gotten used to and enjoy using those older tools. It takes time to transition to something newer and it takes some getting used to. Not many people out there like change and when it’s thrust upon them by way of a replacement tool, there’s usually some resistance. I think Adobe likes to dangle the newer tools in front of people, just to warm them up to the idea that there’s something different and better available.

In Photoshop, there are quite a few sharpening tools. Most of these tools don’t get used all that much, but one really stands out. By the way, the current sharpening tools available are Shake Reduction, Sharpen, Sharpen Edges, Sharpen More, Smart Sharpen and Unsharp Mask. These tools can be found under the Filter > Sharpen menu item. And by the way again, the tool that really stand out is Smart Sharpen.


Menu items without three dots after the text are applied immediately without any options attached to them and the items with the three dots open up a dialog box that allows for different variables to be input for customization. As you can probably imagine, simply clicking “Sharpen” isn’t the best option for the most accurate results. I mean, there’s nothing to do other than that. How can you adjust the level of sharpening?

In today’s post, I’d like to discuss the two most popular options for sharpening an image that are currently available in Adobe Photoshop. These two options are Unsharp Mask and Smart Sharpen. While these two tools sound completely different, they’re actually very similar in many respects.

Today’s Demo Image​

Since it would be silly to discuss the sharpening of photographs without having a photo to sharpen, I decided to go with a picture of a beautiful flower. There’s some good detail in this image, but really, I’ll be focusing much more on the available options for each tool, rather then the potential effects they can have on a photo.


A Summary​

To make a long story short, Smart Sharpen is better than Unsharp Mask. All of the features available in Unsharp Mask are available in Smart Sharpen and believe it or not, Unsharp Mask was initially created to deal with scanned images rather than digital photos. Since the developers of the Unsharp Mask tool didn’t have today’s style of photography in mind when they created it, they made a new tool that better handled what almost every photographer on the planet creates today – digital photographs.

You’ll notice that Smart Sharpen offers different types of sharpening. One of these types is called Gaussian Blur. When using this mode, Smart Sharpen is an exact duplicate of Unsharp Mask. The beautiful thing is that the Smart Sharpen tool also offers to reduce Lens Blur and Motion Blur, which is much more fitting for today’s environment. It also offers some advanced options, which I’ll discuss below.

Finally, as I’ve said a million times, it’s important to convert any layer you’re sharpening into a Smart Object. I won’t mention that below, but just be aware that this is what is supposed to happen.

Unsharp Mask​

I’d like to kick things off by taking a quick look at the Unsharp Mask Tool. To access this tool, I’ll visit the Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask menu item up top.


When I click that menu item, the Unsharp Mask dialog box appears, which contains three different and relatively straightforward options.


As you can see from the above screenshot, these three options are Amount, Radius and Threshold. Before I get into what each one of these options does, I think some background on sharpening in general is in order.

Here’s a question for you. Can you sharpen an image that’s a completely solid color? The answer is no, because there are no edges to sharpen. When Photoshop or any other digital image editing program sharpens an image, all it does is merely add contrast to any edge it detects in that image. If you’re not aware of what “adding contrast” is, it’s simply making brights brighter and darks darker. So, if you’d like to add some sharpening to an image with some edges in it, all Photoshop does is look for those edges and create definition in those areas. If you think about it, if Photoshop removed contrast in the area of the edges, the image would look more blurred or less defined. But since it’s adding contrast, the image appears more sharp. It’s not actually more sharp, it just appears more sharp. Within each of the sharpening dialog boxes, we’re given the option of customizing how much definition and contrast is added to the edges and where it’s applied.

Now, let’s talk about those options.

Amount: This slider can be considered somewhat like the volume control on a stereo. It turns up or down the amount of contrast that’s added or removed from any edge that’s being affected. It makes the darks darker and the lights lighter in an effort to add sharpness.

Radius: This setting is image resolution dependent and is usually kept between the values of 1 and 2. It tells Photoshop how far to reach when it’s applying the Amount of sharpening. It basically either tightens or loosens up the contrast along an edge in a photo. Adding a higher value for this setting will tell Photoshop to look beyond the normal one or two pixels and to add contrast to more and more pixels further away from the edge. With lower resolution images, you can keep this value lower and with higher resolution images, you can push this value higher.

Threshold: This setting controls how Photoshop looks at an edge or what it considers an edge. A lower threshold says that everything should be sharpened, even slight variations in solid colors or areas. A higher threshold value says that those solid areas should be ignored and that Photoshop should only consider those areas that truly have edges in them. Essentially, we have the ability to raise the threshold of what should be sharpened.

Smart Sharpen​

As you can see, the Unsharp Mask tool is relatively simple. It does what it does and it does it well. The issue is, sometimes editors have different requirements and different needs. Luckily, there’s a tool to handle just about any need an editor has.

To launch the Smart Sharpen palette, I’ll head up to the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen menu item and click.


When I do that, the Smart Sharpen palette opens right up.


As you can see from the above screenshot, there are quite a few more options in this palette. At first glance, you can see that there’s a drop-down box that offers a few different types of sharpening. Or, I should rather say, sharpening for different types of blurs in images. At the time of this post, the three sharpening options include Gaussian Blur, Lens Blur and Motion Blur. I do a pretty decent job of describing these types of blurs in the following post.

The 3 Best Ways to Sharpen Photos in Adobe Photoshop

The part you’ll be looking for is down towards the bottom.

Another thing you’ll notice in this palette is that the Threshold slider doesn’t exist under the Radius slider anymore. In this tool, the Threshold slider has been replaced by much more versatile and accurate Shadows and Highlights sections. Inside of these sections are Fade Amount, Tonal Width and Radius sliders. I’ll explain what these sliders do below.


Fade Amount: This slider sets the amount of sharpening that happens in either the shadows or highlights of an image. This is a much more fine tuned control than the Amount slider in the above section, but it can be compared to that.

Tonal Width: This setting controls what’s actually a shadow or a highlight. All shadows aren’t considered simply a shadow and the same is true for the highlights. You have to tell Photoshop what you’d like adjusted. Moving these sliders to the left or to the right decreased or increases these settings. This setting controls the range of tones for the shadows and the highlights in an image.

Radius: This setting controls how much area around a pixel of either a highlight or a shadow that should be considered when determining what should be included when the adjustment is made. Moving the sliders to the left and the right will shrink or enlarge that area, respectively.

Finally, there’s a Reduce Noise slider in this palette that can help tremendously when it comes to sharpening an image. When sharpening, noise can rear its ugly head because of all the pixel adjustments taking place. You’ll need to experiment with this slider to see the effects it can have on an image, but really, I’m not sure you should be sharpening to such an extent that you’d need to remove any of the noise that may be created by over sharpening.


I hope I gave you a clear comparison between the Unsharp Mask filter and the Smart Sharpen Filter in Adobe Photoshop. As you can see, the Smart Sharpen option has many more features, but if you’re into quickly getting a job done, perhaps the Unsharp Mask would fit your needs. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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  • #8

Sharpening with Filters & Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop​

When working in Adobe Photoshop, you’ll likely notice that there isn’t always “a button for that,” meaning, there isn’t always going to be a ready and obvious tool that does exactly what you’d like it to do to solve whatever issue it is you’re up against. Sometimes, you’ll need to get creative with your solutions. Because of this, it’s important to form a solid understanding of what each and every tool does, so when the time comes, you’ll be able to patch two or more together to achieve your mission. Now, this isn’t as bad as it sounds. Tools in Photoshop are grouped logically and after using them for a while, you get the hang of what each does.

In today’s post, I’m going to pretend there are no sharpening filters to be found in Adobe Photoshop. I’m going to come up with a work-around to sharpen the image I’m working on. Since there isn’t an obvious tool at my disposal, I’ll need to think about what other filters do and then work in such a way as to apply one and then customize it to sharpen the image. You’re going to love this post because it’s going to get you to think about working in Photoshop a bit differently than you have before.

Today’s Demo Image​

I needed to locate an image that had lots of detail, so any sharpening I did would show clearly. I thought about birds and feathers and decided on a beautiful eagle. Take a look at this.


You can’t beat that when it comes to detail.

The High Pass Filter​

Before I begin, I think I need to touch on two different areas of Photoshop. The first is the High Pass filter and the second is the Overlay blend mode, which I’ll discuss down below.

If you aren’t aware of what the High Pass filter does or what it looks like after it’s applied, you’re in for a treat. When this filter is applied to an image, it makes the image look very dull and gray. The reason the image looks so uninteresting after it’s applied it because it removes much of the content of that image.

Basically, this filter removes low frequency information from a signal. In the case of images in Photoshop, this low frequency information comes in the form of smooth areas with little distinction among themselves and other areas around them. The filter does detect and keep areas of specific pixel brightness and color, such as those areas that can be found among edges. The way it detects these edges is to look at sudden differences between brightness and color change. In its true essence, The High Pass filter is a form of a sharpening filter. It detects edges and removes everything from the image besides those edges. Well, it actually kind of removes all the other areas. It turns them gray as you’ll see in my example below. It also brightens the brighter parts of an edge and darkens the darker parts, giving things a “sharper” look.

The Overlay Blend Mode​

I’ve talked about blend modes on this website before, but usually in conjunction with one another. Today, I’ll be focusing on one blend mode in particular. That is the Overlay mode. The Overlay blend mode is actually a combination of two other blend modes; Multiply and Screen. These other modes remove white and black respectively, so if you combine these two, you get a mode that removes neutrals, or grays. The Overlay blend mode removes blacks from colors that are lighter than 50% gray and it removes whites from colors that are darker than 50% gray. Essentially, it removes grays, which become transparent. As you may already guessed, a blend mode that removes grays can come in very handy when working with a filter that turns much of an image gray. Everything but sharpened edges.

Sharpening the Image​

As you most likely know by now, the very first task that needs taking care of before applying any type of filter is to turn the layer in question into a Smart Object. So that’s what I’ll do right now. I’ll right-click on the layer of the eagle and choose Convert to Smart Object from the menu that appears. From there, I can head up to the Filter > Other > High Pass menu item in the top menu area and click.


After I click that menu item, the High Pass dialog box will appear, that includes only one adjustable setting. It asks how many pixels from an edge you’d like affected by the filter. If you have small images, a smaller number radius would be in order. If your image is larger, such as the one that I’m using is, the radius should be a greater number. In my case, I’ll use a radius of 25.


From the preview, I can see the effect of the filter on the image, both in the dialog and the image itself that sits behind the dialog. When I’m finished with this, I can click the OK button to return to the image in the workspace.


I know what you’re saying right now. You’re saying that the edges look great and that we need to somehow get rid of all that gray. I’d agree with you and tell you to look towards a blending mode to remove the gray.

Do you remember that post I wrote where I talked about what an actual Smart Filter is? In the post, I discussed the separate parts of this type of a filter “shell” is and what those parts are capable of.

The reason I bring this previous post up is because I’m going to need to pull out one of those tidbits of knowledge in it to apply a blending mode to the filter itself. The way to do this is to double-click on the Blend Mode button that sits to the right of the filter in the Layers panel.


When I click on that button, the Blending Options dialog will appear, from which I can choose the Overlay option.


After I choose that, I’ll click the OK button and take a look at my results. I’ll enlarge the image so you can see the sharpening of the edges more close up.


Things really are sharper and everything is completely adjustable because I first changed the layer to a Smart Object.

I hope I clearly explained how to sharpen an image using the High Pass filter and the Overlay blend mode in Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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  • #9

Sharpening a Photo with Blur Filters & Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop​

I’ve said this a thousand time before. There’s more than one way to get there from here in Adobe Photoshop. Some methods for accomplishing your goals are very straightforward while others are somewhat convoluted. As Adobe continues to build and refine their applications, they learn what the most common tasks are. They streamline them. They make tools to complete them quickly. A task that used to take ten steps to complete now takes only two. Sometimes though, it’s fun to use the old ways or ways that take us down the windy road. Sometimes, there are unintended consequences that we can learn from. If you want to become very proficient with Adobe Photoshop, you’ll need to learn the not so simple ways.

In today’s post, I’d like to show you the long way around to sharpening an image in Photoshop. The method I’d like to demonstrate will use a blending mode, a Smart Object, and inversion, a blur filter and then more blending modes. While it’s very simple to use the new Smart Sharpen filter, it’s also an eye opener to use this longer and more flexible method. As you’ll see during the process I’ll explain below, you can make an image look all sorts of different ways while attempting to sharpen it.

Today’s Demo Photo​

Because this is a sharpening post, I thought I should work with a very detailed photo that will show off the process. Take a look at this one. I don’t think I could have chosen anything better. I’ve decided to display the before and after shot below. This is just a small preview of what’s to come.


Beginning the Process​

For this sharpening task, I’m simply going to give you the instructions for how to go about it. If you would like to dig into the “whys” of how this works, you can do that at any time. If you’re interested, I encourage you to look into what each blending mode does. That should set you off running.

Okay, the first thing I’m going to do is to open the image in Adobe Photoshop. Once it’s opened up, I’ll select the layer in the Layers panel and duplicate it twice (select each layer and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+J), so there are three layers in all. Then, I’ll put the two top layers in a group (select them and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+G). And finally, I’ll apply the Overlay blending mode to the group itself. Let’s see what that looks like. Here are the layers.


Here was the original image:


And here’s what the image looks like now. As you can see, it’s much more saturated. Don’t get too used to that.


It’s remarkable what blending modes can do though, isn’t it? People who create Actions use blending modes all the time.

Invert & Vivid Light​

Next in the process is the inversion I was talking about and then another blending mode application. I’ll go ahead and click on the very top layer in the group to select it and then use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+I to invert it. Then, I’ll apply the Vivid Light blending mode to that layer as well. Doing this will bring the image back to its original look, so I’m not going to bother showing it to you here. I will, however, show you the Layers panel, just to give you a glimpse of what’s going on.


Smart Object & Surface Blur​

We’re getting there. I know what you’re thinking right about now. You’re wondering how all of these steps fit together. Think of them as a math problem. You need to understand what each step does in order to see all of them actually do something. I’ve covered all of this in previous posts. If you really are curious about what’s going on, please use the search bar above to dig in a bit deeper. You may also just follow the instructions if you don’t want to do any of that. That’s what I would personally do.

Anyway, I’ll go ahead and right-click on the inverted layer now and then select the Convert to Smart Object option from the menu that appears. Once that’s done, I’ll head up to the Filter > Blur > Surface Blur menu item and click.


Then, once the Surface Blur dialog box appears, I’ll set the Radius value to 100 pixels and the Threshold value to 30 levels. This is what works for the photo I’m using.


I’ll click on the OK button and then watch as the image’s colors slightly change and as the image becomes sharper. If you’re following along with your own photograph, I think you’ll agree that the before and after shots feel sort of like putting on a pair of glasses. Things just become more clear.

The Final Blending Mode​

For the final step, I’m going to double-click on the Smart Filter Blending Options icon in the Layers panel and change the blending mode for the filter from Normal to Luminosity. I’m doing this to compensate for the slight color change that occurred during the previous steps. In the photo I’m using, the reds became slightly over saturated.


When I’m finished with that, I’ll click the OK button and the task is completed. Here is the final image.


While it may not be readily apparent that this image is indeed sharper looking, I can confirm it is. As I turn on and off the visibility of the grouped layers, the clarity becomes much more easily seen.

Going a Step Farther​

If you really want to jazz things up, you could duplicate the background layer once more, like I just did. I then moved that layer to the top position in the group and applied the Vivid Light blending more to it.


When I do this, the sharpening effect stays intact, but the image appears much more robust. I could even cycle through the remaining blending modes to see which one I like best. Since Vivid Light looked good in this case, I kept it. Take a look.


For the before and after shot I displayed above, I didn’t even use a blending mode. That just goes to show how much of an effect hierarchical blend modes can have on images in groups. Now let’s take a look at the before and after shot. Well, actually this is after and before, from left to right.


Now, if I wanted to put this all together for easy accessibility and reuse, I could always create a Photoshop Action for that. I’ll be writing a lot more about Actions in the future. They are incredible little pieces of wonder. You’re going to love them.

For now though, just be aware that making these types of adjustments in Photoshop often requires many different steps and that these steps often build off of one another. Layer styles, blending modes and filters work together to create remarkable results. To dive into this area deeper, you’ll need to focus on how each of these parts create the whole.

I hope I clearly explained how to sharpen a photograph in Adobe Photoshop by taking advantage of blend modes and filters. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Also, as always, you may ask any questions you’d like, of me or others, in the discussion forum. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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How to Use Focus Area to Sharpen a Portrait in Adobe Photoshop​

Sharpening photos is an important part of editing. It’s actually one of the most basic and most necessary tasks out there because beyond adding contrast, color, clarity and all the other more straightforward types of edits, achieving the right amount of sharpness has the potential to make an image look a heck of a lot better than it did originally. Problems can arise when sharpening though and those problems need to be overcome. What if you’re dealing with a portrait or something similar where the subject of your photo is in focus while the rest of the image ins’t? Should you sharpen everything, even the blurry background? Probably not.

In today’s post, I’d like to work through a project in Adobe Photoshop where I’ll first convert the demo image layer to a Smart Object and then use the Camera Raw Filter to tend to any sharpening that needs to be completed. This sharpening will be applied to the entire image, which ins’t exactly what I want. From there, I’ll take advantage of the Focus Area feature in Photoshop to make a selection based on what’s in focus and what’s not. This is a great tool and it’s as powerful as all get-out. After that, I’ll play with the Smart Filter mask for a bit to make sure the sharpening is only applied to the areas in which I want it applied. Overall, this is a simple process that many photographers can make use of on a daily basis. It’s great for wedding photography as well as many different styles of portrait photography and other types of images where the subject is in focus, yet the background is full of bokeh.

Demo Photo​

For this post, I wanted an image that fit my needs. I looked for a portrait of a person that was in focus and that had the background blurred (shallow depth of field). I think I found that. This one is perfect. Take a look.


Converting Layer to a Smart Object​

Because I’ll be using a Smart Filter later on, I’ll need to convert the image layer to a Smart Object now. I’ve already got the file opened up in Photoshop, so I’ll right-click on the image layer in the Layers panel and choose the Convert to Smart Object option.

Using Camera Raw as a Filter​

The next step will be to actually sharpen the entire image. I’ll head up to the Filter > Camera Raw Filter menu item and click.

When I do that, Adobe Camera Raw will open up, where I can do my sharpening. I’ll enter the Detail tab and push a few sliders around. I’ve already written many posts on how to sharpen photos using Camera Raw, so I won’t rehash any of that information here. My goal with this step is to make the subject of the photo more clear. The subject is the man, so I won’t concern myself with what the sharpening does to the background at all. When I’m done, I’ll click on the OK button.

Making a Selection with Focus Area​

Now that I have the entire photo sharpened, I need to figure out a way to remove that sharpening from the blurry background. It’s not needed there. Remember, I only wanted to add detail to the person in the photo, not the whole thing. There are a few ways to go about removing the edits I made to the background of the image. I could always mask out the background with the Brush Tool or I could even make a selection with the Quick Selection Tool and use a mask after that. In this case though, since there’s a distinct difference between the in-focus subject and the out-of-focus background, I’ll take full advantage of the Focus Area feature. This feature will select anything that’s in focus in the photo, so it will save a lot of time. I wouldn’t want to spend all day trying to select every nook and cranny of the in focus area with the Quick Selection Tool or the Brush Tool.

I’ll first make sure the layer in question is active and then I’ll click on the Select > Focus Area menu item. Once the Focus Area dialog box appears, I’ll see any area of the photo that’s not in focus, disappear. In this case, it’s the background and a few other small areas that turned white.


On the left side of this dialog box are two small buttons. One indicates a brush with a plus sign and the other a brush with a minus sign. If there’s anything that should be included in this selection, I could click the plus sign button and then brush over that area. The opposite is true for the other button. That’s for areas that shouldn’t be included. The cool thing is that I don’t really need to be all too careful with what I brush. Photoshop picks up on the area and makes an educated guess at what’s sharp and what’s not. I’ll go ahead and clean up this selection now by brushing a bit and then I’ll click the OK button to exit the dialog and to return to the regular workspace in Photoshop with the new selection. One thing I’ll make sure of is that the Output To drop-down option is set to Selection. Also, if I needed to see what’s selected and what’s not more clearly, I could always change the View. In the screenshot below, I’m using the red overlay option.


This is what the selection looks like with marching ants and everything. Can you imagine how long this would have taken by hand? In my case today, I did a quick selection, but it’s still much better than what I could have done by hand in the same time.


Inverting the Selection​

As it stands, I’ve got the entire photo sharpened and the in-focus area selected. That’s pretty much it. My goal is still to have the sharpening only apply to the in-focus area. If I look at the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel, I can see that it’s all white. That white is allowing all of the sharpening to be visible. If I inverted the mask so it was all black, all of the sharpening would be hidden. What I’d like to happen is have all of the currently selected area white and the area that’s not selected black. That’s the ideal scenario. Here’s how I’ll go about accomplishing that.

I’ll head up to the Select > Inverse menu item and click. Doing that will invert the selected area of the image. Then, I’ll click on one of the available selection tools, such as the Rectangular Marquee Tool and I’ll right-click in the selected area of the image. I’ll choose the Fill option from the menu that appears. Then, when the Fill dialog box pops up, I’ll choose the Black option from the Contents drop-down.


Take a look at what this does to the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel.


This mask is only applied to the filter that’s been used to make the sharpening edit. So if you remember that white reveals and black conceals when it comes to masking in Photoshop, you’ll see that I’ve got exactly what I was after. Mission accomplished.

I love using the method I outlined above because it’s so flexible. If I wanted to apply more changes in Camera Raw, I could always double-click on that filter layer in the Layers panel of Photoshop to open Camera Raw back up. I could also modify the mask if I wanted to at any time. It’s really the best way to go about things.

To finish up, I’ll click the on the Select > Deselect menu item to remove the marching ants and then I’ll enjoy the fruits of my labor.

If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section down below. I know it seems like there are a lot of moving parts, but honestly, once you go through the process once or twice, you’ll find that there’s not much involved at all. Also, please check out the Photoshop forum to ask questions and offer answers to those who may need your help. Thanks for reading!