How to Sharpen a Photo in Photoshop

How to Sharpen a Photo in Photoshop

In Photoshop Tutorials by Stefano CaioniLeave a Comment

For photographers and graphic designers who are new to the field, it is common to not have a clear picture of how to sharpen a photo in Photoshop. If you are a veteran photographer who has extensive experience with other similar software tools, you might still not be entirely sure about the photo sharpening process in Photoshop.

How to Sharpen a Photo in Photoshop

This article will explore this topic in detail, and give you a few tips along the way about using this feature.

Related: Photoshop Tips and Tricks for Beginners

What Does Sharpening a Photo Mean

Before we try and dive into how we sharpen images in Photoshop, it is important to get a general overview of what image sharpening entails. You can think of sharpening as a kind of illusion. There are no pixels being added to the image, and the detail is not increased. What is really happening is that the contrast at specific edges in the image is increased, and this gives the illusion of that area looking sharp. Photoshop figures out what the edges are by considering two areas that have a sharp change in brightness levels between adjacent pixels. By increasing the contrast at this edge, the dark region begins to look darker, and the light region begins to look brighter. This tricks your mind into thinking that the image looks sharper.

High Pass Filter Step-by-Step 

Now that we are familiar with what sharpening an image means, let us explore how to do it in Photoshop using the High Pass filter.

Step 1: Convert the background layer into a smart object

We will begin by converting the image layer into a smart object. This will allow us to apply the High Pass filter in a non-destructive manner. You can do this by clicking on the menu icon, which can be found in the Layers panel at the top-right corner. Select ‘Convert to Smart Object’. You will see a smart object icon appear, indicating that the image is now inside a smart object. 

Step 2: Choose the High Pass Filter

We can choose the High Pass filter under the Filter menu. Navigate to it like this: Filter > Other > High Pass. Immediately after selecting high pass, your image will become gray. 

Step 3: Highlighting the Edges by Adjusting the Radius Value

With only a preview window and a radius slider, the High Pass filter is fairly easy to use. First, let us understand how the filter works.

The high pass filter fills your entire image with a neutral gray that is flat. It then proceeds to search for edges (that we discussed earlier), and increases the contrast. The Radius plays a role in determining the width of the edge. It controls the pixel count that extends beyond that edge and should also be treated as a part of the edge. For example, if you took a radius of 5 pixels, this implies that the High Pass filter will highlight and include only 5 pixels around that edge on both sides. Since the aim of sharpening is to boost the edge contrast, it is important to have a narrow highlighting around the edges. You can achieve this by using a small radius value. Generally, you will find the best results with around 2 to 5 pixels.

Step 4: Changing the blend mode of the filter

Now that the edges have been highlighted, all that is left to do is to sharpen the image by switching the blend mode. You can do this by double clicking on the icon for Blending Options, which you will find at the right-hand side of the filter’s name. Once you’ve opened the dialogue box, you can choose any of the blend modes that increase the contrast. These are Soft Light, Hard Light, Overlay and Linear Light.

Related: How to Resize an Image in Photoshop

Alternative Ways to Sharpen a Photo in Photoshop

There are multiple alternatives to sharpening in Photoshop. They all have their own place and can be used where appropriate. These are:

  • Camera RAW Sharpen Slider
  • Unsharp Mask Effect
  • Smart Sharpen Effect

Best Tips

Let us explore a few ways with which we can ensure that our sharpening is the best it can be.

  • Fine tune your sharpening by using a separate layer for it.
  • Apply sharpening to only parts of the image with a layer mask.
  • Let the sharpening affect only the value and not the hue and saturation with a luminosity blending mode.
  • Edit your image appropriately based on its purpose (print, websites, portfolios, etc.).
  • As far as possible, don’t sharpen noisy images.
  • Add sharpening in small steps and not all at once.

Final Thoughts

Sharpening is an important tool in every photo editor’s toolkit. It can drastically improve the quality of your photographs when done right. We hope that this article has helped you understand how to sharpen photos in Photoshop.

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