Looking Sharp - Adobe Photoshop

Ah, if only they had asked you to blur it, losing detail would be easy. But doesn’t sharpening mean bringing in more detail? Not really—it is the perception of detail brought about by crisper differentiation within the image. Take a look at Figure 1.You can download this image from the book’s companion web site.

This is similar to some work I did on the tornado sequence for X-Men 2

Check out the image at 100 percent on a Mac by double-clicking the zoom icon in the toolbox or pressing Command+Option+0; press Alt+Ctrl+0 if on a PC. (Those are zeroes in the key combinations.) Going to View > Actual Pixels in the menu bar also results in the same thing. The window’s title bar should indicate that the image is at 100 percent.

You want to see it there so you can see the true results of your sharpening. Figure 2 nshows the image at 100 percent.

Double-clicking the zoom icon resizes your image to 100 percent

You can sharpen an image in so many ways: Switch to Lab mode and sharpen the lightness channel, selectively sharpen one or more RGB channel, apply the Unsharp mask to the image, among others. I go over two methods I like because they work for a wider range of sharpening with fewer artifacts

Method 1: Using the Unsharp Mask Filter

This is a good, solid, simple method to sharpen an image and works under most circumstances. I usually start with the Unsharp Mask filter to see how far it can go and to determine whether I need additional sharpening techniques. Although it may seem counterintuitive to use something called the Unsharp Mask filter to sharpen an image, this term has its roots in the photographer’s dark room, when a blurred version of the image was used to sharpen a photograph.

  1. Select the entire image by choosing Select > All or Command+A (Win: Ctrl+A). If you are not using the image provided and have multiple layers, make sure you have the layer you want to sharpen selected.
  2. Copy the image to the clipboard by pressing Command+C (Win: Ctrl+C) or choosing Edit > Copy.
  3. Go to the Channels palette shown in Figure 3. Create a new channel by clicking the Create New Channel button at the bottom of the palette.
  4. Creating a new channel

  5. Paste your image by pressing Command+V (Win: Ctrl+V). It automatically becomes grayscale, which you see in Figure 4.
  6. Although you copied a color image, it becomes grayscale when you paste it into a new channel layer.

  7. Choose Filter > Stylize > Find Edges. Your new channel now looks like Figure 5, which is a crude drawing.
  8. Find Edges shows where there is the most contrast. The dark lines are where there’s already high contrast

  9. Choose Image > Adjustments > Levels or press Command+L (Win: Ctrl+L) to bring up the Levels dialog box.
  10. Drag the Input Levels sliders that are at both ends toward the middle to clean up the lines. Click OK.
  11. Remember that the white areas are the selected areas later.

  12. While pressing Command (Win: Ctrl), click the channel to load it as a selection.
  13. Look at the color image by clicking over to the composite RGB channel and switching back over to the Layers palette, which is shown in Figure below.

    Use the channel as a selection to sharpen the color image.

  14. Choose Filter > Sharpen> Unsharp Mask to bring up the Unsharp Mask dialog box.
  15. Play with the three sliders to get a setting that works to your satisfaction.
  16. Make sure that the Preview checkbox is selected, so you can see the real-time feedback.If you click the Preview checkbox in the dialog box, you can toggle between the before and after. See Figure below.
  17. Watch for the introduction of noise (if Threshold setting is too low) and use the real-time feedback as you adjust values.

    • Amount determines the amount of contrast added to edge, or boundary, pixels.
    • Radius determines how many pixels from the edge will be affected by the sharpening.
    • Threshold sets a minimum difference value to how different pixels must be in order to be considered an edge. The bigger the value, the more different the values must be in order to be considered a different color.
  18. When you have a setting you like, press OK. Press Command+D(Win: Ctrl+D) to deselect all. Here you are, in Figure below, a bit sharper.

The Before and After using the Unsharp Mask filter for sharpening

But wait—the client wants to work with you on getting just the right level, so try it a different way.

Method 2:

The High Pass MethodThis method allows for easy tweaking and a more extreme sharpening without affecting the color too much.

  1. Open Fields01.psd, which is available at the book’s web site.
  2. Duplicate the Background layer onto a new layer by pressing Command+J (Win: Ctrl+J).
  3. Rename the layer from Layer 1 to High Pass.
  4. Run the High Pass filter by choosing Filter > Other > High Pass
  5. The dialog box gives you a Radius slider that you can play with. Enter 4.
  6. Generally, small values work best in most cases. The maximum entry is 250. Your image looks gray with some colored edges.

    The High Pass filter removes low-frequency data in an image, resulting in an edge detail effect. This filter can also be used to create line art.

  7. When you have settings that you like, press OK to accept the settings.
  8. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels or press Command+L(Win: Ctrl+L) to bring up the Levels dialog box.
  9. Bring in the outer Input Levels sliders in the Levels dialog box to the outer edges of the histogram to bring up the contrast and click OK.
  10. You use this layer on top of the original image by changing the layer mode


  11. See which layer mode is better: Overlay, Hard Light, Linear Light, or Vivid Light.
  12. The layer blend modes are located at the top of the Layers palette. Make sure you have your layer selected, and choose a mode from the drop-down menu.

  13. Keeping your zoom at 100 percent so you can see the details, rotate through the different layer blending modes to find the one that works best.
  14. Compare the differences between these modes, each of which is shown in Figures

    This is the original painting.

    This is the High Pass layer that you created above the original at 100 percent normal blending mode.

    This is with the High Pass layer at 100 percent overlay. This gives good sharpening, but it is still a bit crunchy.

    This is with the High Pass layer at 100 percent Hard Light. This is too noisy and the sky is a bit too crisp and crunchy.

    This is with the High Pass layer at 100 percent Vivid Light. Way too crunchy, but this is one that a lot of beginners choose because it is so noticeably different from the original.

    Speaking of too much noise, this looks like a bad print job from the 70s. Setting the High Pass layer to 100 percent Linear Light is out of the question.

    • High Pass.
    • High Pass at 100 percent Overlay
    • High Pass at 100 percent Hard Light
    • High Pass at 100 percent Vivid Light
    • High Pass at 100 percent Linear Light.

It looks like Overlay is the best layer blend mode for the original photo, which is shown in Figure. I have reduced the High Pass Layer Opacity to 70 percent in Figure to get rid of the halos (look closely at the mountain and cloud edges in Figure) and to reduce the popping whites of the buildings on the ground. For production, I would go further and reduce the noise and mute the bright baseball diamond-like dirt.

Compare this original to Figures below of this figure. Notice the subtle differences that make a big impact and all without reducing the overall sharpening effect

100 percent overlay.

70 percent overlay

The original is leftmost and the tutorial should result in what you see rightmost.

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