This is the best way to sharpen your images in Photoshop

Apr 25, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This is the best way to sharpen your images in Photoshop

Apr 25, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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No matter what gear you use, sharpening is just a fact of life. Even if you’re using a super sharp Sigma Foveon sensor, or a Phase One Achromatic back, all digital images can benefit from a little sharpening assistance.

Photoshop and other applications offer a million different ways to sharpen your images. Some are more effective than others. And a few are quite versatile, while others are a little more rigid. This tutorial from Phlearn shows the method I’ve been using to sharpen 95% of my images for the better part of the last decade. The High Pass Filter.

YouTube video

The process with the High Pass Filter is quite straightforward. My version differs slightly from Aaron’s, but the overall process is the same.

  • Make a new blank layer at the top of your image
  • Choose “Apply Image” from the Image menu
  • Choose Merged layers, with a blending mode of normal

This basically creates a composited final result of the image, including all of the layers below it, into a single layer. You could also do this by just hitting CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E to create a new merged layer on top.

  • Desaturate the new layer
  • Turn the layer into a Smart Object (this way, when you add HP filter, it’s a smart filter)
  • Change the blend mode to Overlay
  • Choose “High Pass” from the “Other” section of the Filters menu
  • Adjust the radius to taste and hit OK

Adjusting the radius to taste is quite subjective. And you’ll notice as you adjust the slider that different parts of the image work best with a different radius of filter. Layer masks will allow you to choose a setting and then only apply it to a specific part of the image. If a different section of the image requires a different radius, you can simply duplicate the layer, adjust the High Pass radius, and make a new mask for that section.

As I say, I’ve been using the High Pass Filter to sharpen my images for about a decade. And while there really is no single “best” sharpening method, this is the one I use for the vast majority. Whether the images are for print or the web, more often than not it gives me the best results.

Where my method differs slightly from that shown in the video, is that instead of making a new blank layer and merging all the layers, I simply choose all of the layers in the image and convert everything into a single smart object. Then I hit CTRL+J to duplicate it and apply the High Pass filter to that duplicate layer.

This way, if I spot something I missed in the edit, I can go into the smart object, make my tweaks, save it out and the original image updates both layers. I don’t have to go through the process of sharpening everything all over again just because I missed a stray hair or didn’t spot a piece of trash laying in a landscape. It makes it easier to quickly resharpen if I need to create multiple sized versions of an image for both web and print.

I also tend to go with Soft Light rather than Overlay blend mode for the High Pass filter layer, as I find the effect is a little more subtle. Overlay can be a little harsh for my liking, occasionally looking “oversharpened” and giving halos, even with a very low radius, especially on smaller web-sized images.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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4 responses to “This is the best way to sharpen your images in Photoshop”

  1. Juan Manuel Nieto Avatar
    Juan Manuel Nieto

    With Surface Blur

  2. Stefan Kohler Avatar
    Stefan Kohler

    My favorite way of sharpening is still Dodge&Burn.

  3. Valentius Laboratorii Avatar
    Valentius Laboratorii

    I don’t get why you would do this instead of using unsharp mask. It’s the same thing, except unsharp mask gives you more control.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Unsharp mask basically calls the High Pass filter and does all this internally. Calling it directly yourself gives more control.