Of all the sharp things in life that can hurt you, the sharpness in Photoshop will actually do good things for your photos and this tutorial is all about how to find the best sharpening for your photos. We’re going to cover the Unsharp Mask Sharpening, the Smart Sharpening, Sharpening in Camera RAW, and a High Pass layer to apply a global layer of sharpening. Which is best? Do you have a favorite kind of sharpening for your images? Leave a comment below and let me know!
1. Convert to Smart Object
In order to use Smart Filters, we want to convert our layer to a Smart Object. Right click on the layer in the Layers panel and choose “Convert to Smart Object”.
2. Method One: Unsharp Mask
One of the tried and true methods of sharpening is using Unsharp Mask. Go Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and when the dialog box appears, the first slider “Amount” determines the amount of contrast that will be applied to the edges in your photo. The second slider “Radius” determines how many pixels on either side of an edge Photoshop will be allowed to apply sharpening. Going too large on your radius slider can almost make your image look like it has some crazy halos. The third slider is “Threshold” and this basically allows you to kill off sharpening in areas of the image that don’t have much contrast. Slide it up to “smooth” those areas without contrasting edges and prevent additional noise from appearing. I set my unsharp mask to: 150, 1.5, 15 for those settings that we just discussed.
3. Method Two: Smart Sharpen
Next up, we’ve got Smart Sharpen. Go Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen and we have two sliders exactly like we had in Unsharp Mask with “Amount” and “Radius”, but here we also have the ability to reduce noise. Use this slider to keep tabs on the grain that might be cropping up in your image. I set my Smart Sharpen to: Amount: 175%, Radius: 1.5px, Reduce Noise: 25%
4. Method Two (pt. 2): Smart Sharpen
You may have noticed a little Shadows/Highlights arrow. Click this to pop out a bunch more sliders which will allow you to control exactly how your sharpness appears in the bright and dark areas of your image. “Fade Amount” controls how much of the sharpening you’re tapering off in the shadows or highlights of the image, “Tonal Width” controls exactly how much dark area Photoshop is allowed to affect in the shadows areas. (Same with Highlights, but the bright pixels!) The “Radius” slider determines how smooth of a transition is made from the faded sharpness back to the regular ole’ sharpened pixels.
5. Method Three: Camera RAW Sharpen
If you have converted your layer to a Smart Object, you will have access to the Camera RAW filter even if you don’t have a real RAW image. Go Filter>Camera Raw Filter and choose the “Detail” tab over on the right side of the dialog box. The “Amount” and “Radius” sliders are just like those sliders with the other methods we’ve covered. The “Detail” slider adds hyper sharpness to the edges of objects in our image, but can also add a crunchy looking noise as well that you might want to be careful of. The “Masking” slider is kind of like the “Threshold” slider from the Unsharp Mask, it erases sharpness (and attendant noise/grain) in areas of your image that don’t have contrasty edges and can help clean up areas that look messy after sharpening.
6. Method Four: High Pass Layer
For the global sharpening of high pass duplicate your layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + J and then right click that layer and choose “Rasterize Layer”. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U to convert that layer to black and white and then go Filter>Other>High Pass. I like to set my High Pass to something like 2.0 to just get a little haloing around the edges (this completely depends on the pixel size of your image.) Hit OK and set that layer to the blend mode Overlay of Soft Light. Use the opacity slider to control exactly how much sharpness you wish to keep.