In this tutorial, you’ll learn not only one—but two—ways to sharpen photos in Photoshop to keep the texture and the details clear!
Table of contents
3 Types of Sharpening
The sharpening you apply to an image to bring back the detail lost through the lens, the process of capturing the image to a sensor, and converting it to a digital format (the demosaicing process).
To offset this loss of detail, when you open a RAW file on Lightroom or Photoshop, the Sharpening amount is set to 25 by default.
When you open a JPEG file, the amount is set to 0 because the device that captured the image adds the sharpening when it outputs it as a JPEG.
The sharpening that you selectively apply to an image based on an artistic look that results in a subtle, unrealistic effect.
The sharpening that you apply to an image when you export it out of Photoshop. The exporting, scaling down, and printing process softens the details of an image, therefore, sharpening it can improve the output.
The Smart Sharpen Filter in Photoshop
In this tutorial, you will learn to enhance Capture Sharpening. You can work with the same image used in this tutorial by clicking here.
If you’re working with a RAW photo, you can skip this part and go directly to the Camera Raw part of the tutorial.
Duplicate the image layer by pressing Ctrl J (Windows) or Command J (macOS).
Then, from the Layers panel, right-click on the layer and select Convert to Smart Object.
A Smart Object is a container that holds one or more layers. It allows you to apply editable adjustments, distortions, filters, and transformations.
Set the view to 100% when you’re sharpening your image. Any other view could be misleading.
Choose Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen.
If you use an older version of Photoshop, you can select Unsharp Mask as the Smart Sharpen is a newer version.
On the Smart Sharpen window, the Amount slider controls the intensity of the sharpening effect.
The Radius slider applies contrast to edges in the image with lightness on one side and darkness on the other.
If you set the slider to its maximum value, you will see it in full view that it’s not retrieving details but enhancing the edge by adding contrast.
The Reduce Noise slider reduces the noise created by the sharpening effect while keeping important edges unaffected.
On the Remove drop-down menu, you have the algorithm that is used to sharpen the image.
- Lens Blur protects the edges and details in an image and helps you apply contrast without creating edge halos.
- Gaussian Blur is an algorithm used in the Unsharp Mask.
- Motion Blur is an algorithm that reduces the effect of blur due to camera or subject movement. You can offset the blur by adjusting the angle.
You also have the Shadows and Highlights advanced options that allow you to remove the shadows and highlights’ sharpening effect.
Start fine-tuning the sharpening effect by adjusting the Amount, Radius, and Reduce Noise sliders. Then, press OK to apply the effect.
On the Layers panel, you’ll see how the Smart Sharpen applies as a Layer Mask; therefore, you can reduce the sharpening effect by using the Brush tool and setting the Foreground color to black (#000000) and paint on areas you want to reduce the effect.
Sharpening with the Camera Raw Filter
Duplicate the layer for the Camera Raw by pressing Ctrl J (Windows) or Command J (macOS).
Right-click on the layer and select Convert to Smart Object.
Choose Filter > Camera Raw Filter.
On the Camera Raw window, click on the Detail tab to open it and see the sliders available. You can also click the arrows beside each slider to expand the options.
If you adjust the Sharpening slider by clicking-and-dragging, you cannot visibly see it taking effect on the image unless you set it at a 100% view.
You can also hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you adjust the Sharpening slider, and it will turn the image into greyscale to allow you to see the sharpening effect taking place clearly.
The Radius slider adds thickness to the edge where the contrast is applied. To get the best visual representation of this slider, hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you adjust the slider and see the edges.
The Detail slider controls the amount of sharpening applied to the details in the photo. The low values sharpen only larger edges, while a high value sharpens the fine details but may create noisy results.
The Masking slider acts similarly to a Layer Mask in Photoshop where the principle, “white reveals, black conceals” applies.
If you hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you adjust the slider, the least value shows the entire image in white, which means the sharpening effect is applied to the whole image.
The more you increase the Masking slider, Photoshop starts finding the edges to your photo, and the black areas indicate that the sharpening effect does not apply there—only in the white areas.
Selective Sharpening with Camera Raw
Select the Brush tool and paint over areas you want to adjust.
Please scroll down and adjust the Sharpness slider by increasing it.
Then, press OK to apply the changes.
Since you apply the Camera Raw Filter into a Smart Object, you can always come back to it and edit necessary adjustments whenever you want by double-clicking on the Camera Raw Filter label to return to the workspace.
And that’s how you can sharpen photos in Phtoshop to enhance the details in your image!
To follow along the tutorial, download this image from Adobe Stock.