HOW TO RETOUCH Pt. 9: Sharpening – Photoshop Tutorial

Welcome to part 9 of my 12-part retouching in Photoshop tutorial series! Today we’re covering sharpening and how I like to selectively sharpen. By the end of this tutorial, you will see how having the ability to apply a mask to individual smart filters would be SO nice (C’mon, Adobe!) I’ll walk you through how I use Smart Sharpen to sharpen different areas of the image and why I sharpen different areas in different ways. Not the sexiest of feature sets, but ESSENTIAL for giving your image that last bit of zip to really make it look amazing. Sharpening is extremely important!

See All 12 Parts!

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Part 1: Camera RAW Processing

Part 2: How to Liquify & Pushing Pixels

Part 3: How to Retouch the Skin

Part 4: How to Retouch Eyes, Lips, & Eyebrows

Part 5: How to Retouch Hair

Part 6: Dodging and Burning the Photo

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Part 7: How to Get Moody Contrast & Tone

Part 8: How to Color Grade the Photo

Part 9: How to Sharpen the Photo

Part 10: The Benefits of Destructive Editing

Part 11: Create Lens Flare and Digital Lighting

Part 12: Tone Smoothing Grain and Finishing

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1. What is Selective Sharpening?

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One of my favorite methods of sharpening my images is using selective sharpening which will allow me to apply a different level of sharpening to each area of my image. In the instance of this image, we want to apply different sharpening to the background, the clothing, the skin, and the hair. This technique will allow us to do this. Check it out!

2. Setting up Quick Mask Mode

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When in Photoshop, hit the letter “Q” and it will bring you into the Quick Mask mode. Before we really get started creating a few quick selections, double click on the Quick Mask mode icon at the bottom of the tool bar on the side of your Photoshop interface and make sure “Selected Areas” is ticked on so what we paint will be what gets selected. NOTE: Merge all of your current layers to one new layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E to merge all layers to a new layer.

3. Soft Selecting & Sharpening the Background

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Set your foreground color to black and make sure you’re in Quick Mask mode and paint over the background elements in your photo, hit the letter “Q” to load the selection, go Select>Modify>Feather and feather the selection by 150 pixels and hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to pop this selected area up to a new layer. Go Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen and use a sharpening amount around 100 and a high radius of 10 or so. Go back to the merged layer and head to the next step.

4. Soft Selecting & Sharpening the Clothing

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Jump back into Quick Mask mode and paint over the clothing in your photo and then hit “Q” to load that as a selection and go Select>Modify>Feather and feather this selection by about 150 pixels as well. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to pop this up onto its own layer, go Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen and for clothing I usually set the sharpening amount to about 100 and the radius to between 2-3. Go back to the merged layer and head to the next step.

5. Soft Selecting & Sharpening the Skin

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Head back to Quick Mask mode again and paint over the skin areas and then hit “Q” to load them as a selection. Feather this selection by something closer to 75 pixels (because areas of skin are usually smaller areas) and hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to pop this up onto its own layer and skin usually requires a much more fine sharpening. Go Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen and crank the amount up to about 120 and reduce the radius to somewhere between 0.8-1.6 depending on the image/in-camera sharpness. Go back to the merged layer and head to the next step.

6. Soft Selecting & Sharpening the Hair

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Head back into Quick Mask mode and paint over the hair and then hit “Q” to load that area as a selection and then go Select>Modify>Feather and feather this selection by around 75 pixels, again depending on how “big” the hair is. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to pop the hair up onto its own layer and go, Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen and set the amount to something between 90-110 and set the radius to something between 2.5-3.5 depending on how much depth and texture there is in the hair.

7. Overview at 100%

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Last, but not least, it is best to preview and look over your sharpening at 100% while you sharpen. You can get to 100% view by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + 1 and look over all the details and reduce the opacity of layers that need to be reduced. PRO TIP: Convert each layer of the sharpening to a Smart Object before you actually apply the sharpening so you can double click into the sharpening on each individual layer and add more sharpening or adjust the sharpening for each bit of the image as you need to.

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