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Photoshop Top 40
Illustration by John Hersey

5. The Sharpen Filters


From:

Photoshop Top 40

with Deke McClelland

Video: 5. The Sharpen Filters

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! Here's #5! We are in the Top 5, from now on each and every feature is do or die, those elements of Photoshop without which Photoshop would not be Photoshop. Starting with these, the Sharpen filters. Now the very fact that Photoshop can take an image and make it sharper is borderline magic, every detail crisply executed as exacting as it can be right there on screen, only it gets much better than that as I am about to show you.

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Photoshop Top 40
7h 13m Intermediate Dec 21, 2009

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

There's nothing people love more than lists, and Photoshop Top 40 offers a great one, highlighting the best features in Photoshop. Deke McClelland counts down to #1 with a new video each week, detailing one great feature after another in this popular digital imaging application. The videos cover tools, commands, and concepts, emphasizing what's really important in Photoshop.

This is an ongoing course that will be updated monthly.

For the newest updates please go to our blog entry for Deke's Photoshop Top 40.

Topics include:
  • Assembling multiple pieces of artwork with layer comps
  • Creating a black-and-white image from a color photograph
  • Merging multiple channels to create an alpha channel with calculations
  • Selecting images with the Pen tool
  • Masking images using the Brush tool
Subjects:
Design Photography
Software:
Photoshop
Author:
Deke McClelland

5. The Sharpen Filters

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! Here's #5! We are in the Top 5, from now on each and every feature is do or die, those elements of Photoshop without which Photoshop would not be Photoshop. Starting with these, the Sharpen filters. Now the very fact that Photoshop can take an image and make it sharper is borderline magic, every detail crisply executed as exacting as it can be right there on screen, only it gets much better than that as I am about to show you.

Feature #5, the fifth least expendable feature in all of Photoshop is the Sharpen filters and by that I mean Unsharp Mask, Smart Sharpen and High Pass. I am going to show you how all three of them work inside of this image as captured by Jason Stitt. Now note that sharpening inside of Photoshop is not about enhancing focus, so you can't take a poorly focused photograph and turn it into a sharply focused photograph. Focus happens inside your camera. You want the focus to be as impeccable as possible or at least exactly the way you meant it to be in the first place.

After all her face is in focus, her eyes in particular are in focus, especially this left eye, her right eye. Her hair in the background over on the right side of the image is slightly out of focus. That's all a good thing. We are not going to change that. What we are going to do is sharpen the detail, meaning that we are going to make the image pop off the page or pop on screen. We are going to make that detail look its very best. Now for the sake of demonstrational purposes here, I am going to imagine that we are going to print with this particular image. The first step, at least this is the way I work, is to go ahead and convert the image to a feature #18 Smart Object.

That way you can apply your Sharpening Filter as a Smart Filter, which means that it's editable. You can change your mind later. You can change the settings. You can change the blend modes and so on. So I am going to go over here to Layers palette menu, click on that little icon and choose Convert to Smart Object to change this girl into a Smart Object here, and I will go ahead and change the name of this layer to Smart Girl. What the heck? Then let's run through the filters in the order I told you. Unsharp Mask and then it's more powerful enhancement really.

Smart Sharpen and then High Pass, which is basically the minimalist sharpening filter. So we'll go out to the Filter menu, choose Sharpen, and choose Unsharp Mask. Notice that right there, ignore the first three Sharpen Filters. By the way they are of no use to you whatsoever. I do mean that, because you cannot modify how they are applied. They are really for screen work, they are very old school. They were designed for small images back when we didn't really have big images available to us like we do now. Anyway, go to Unsharp Mask.

That's a good place to get your bearing where sharpening is concerned. That brings up the Unsharp Mask filter right there, click on some detail that you want to target, such as the eye. When you are sharpening a portrait shot, you want to really look at the eyes. Just as when you are focusing or taking the picture in the first place, you are after those eyes in a portrait shot. All right! So we have got three values inside of Unsharp Mask. We have got Amount, which is the amount of sharpening you want to apply. If you want more sharpening, a higher amount. If you want less sharpening, a lesser amount. I am going to take this value up to 200% for this image, which is a little high by the way.

Typically if you are just sharpening for print, you want to keep it between 100 and 150. However, I want to make sure we can see the results here in the video. So I am going to take it up to 200%. Radius is the thickness of the halos. What happens when you are sharpening an image is you are drawing light halos around the light side of any edge. And an edge inside of a digital image is an area of rapid luminance transition. So for example, we have an edge between the eye and her eyelashes because we are going from very light to very dark, very quickly.

There is going to be a bright halo on the light side, and a dark halo on the dark side, and if you raise that Radius value, you really can see it. I will take it up to 10 and you can see what I mean by those halos. We are seeing halos all over the place inside the image. Notice this yellow halo along this edge of her skin right there, along her brow. And that is typical of what the Radius value is doing. However you don't want to see that halo. So you want to take that Radius value down as small as it can be and still be perceived. So if you are looking at the image on screen, you can get away with very small Radius value such as 0.5 pixels.

That's great for web work, for example, if you are going to be viewing the image on screen, the final image. However, if I were to print this image, it gets reduced in size. It's 300 pixels per inch image. Let's say it's going to appear much smaller on the page. That means my 0.5 pixel radius is going to get completely lost. You are not even going to see the effect of the sharpening at all unless you go ahead and raise that Radius value. I am going to take it to 3 pixels. Now, that's not going to look great on screen, but it's going to look great when the image gets reduced for print. So just bear that in mind.

200%, I might take it more like 100-150 as I said. A Radius of 3 pixels, perfect for print work as it turns out. So 2-3 pixels is just great. Threshold, you typically leave set to 0 levels. I am not going to go into a ton of detail about that one, but I am going to tell you that you generally speaking want to leave it alone unless you want to avoid some noise inside the image, then you might want to take it up to 2 or 3 levels. That's about it. But it causes abrupt transitions inside the image. So I leave it set to 0, click OK to accept that setting.

Now because this is in editable Smart Filter here, I can modify the settings. I am going to go ahead and get rid of this Filter Mask by the way, just to clean up some garbage here because we are not going to use that. I am next going to double-click on the Settings icon to bring up the Blending Options dialog box, and here is what you want to do. Here is the next step. Go ahead and click on her eye once again so you can keep track of what's going on. I want you to see if you take a close look at this eye here, you can see that there is a little bit of a blue edge right there on the left side of her brown iris, and a little bit of green showing up as well.

What is happening is that when you sharpen an image, you are sharpening it independently in each color channel. So you are doing a Sharpen Pass in the Red channel, then the Green channel, then the Blue channel. And all those sharpened images, all those sharpened channels get layered on top of each other and things have a tendency to get out of whack, a little bit. So you are exaggerating any differences between the channels that already exist and you are bringing out color noise essentially or color artifacting. If you want to get rid of that, then you want to change your blend mode to Luminosity.

It's a great idea. It's a subtle change. You are going to have to really keep your eye out here in the video. You are going to watch this blue edge go away, some of the green is going to go away as well. So choose Luminosity and notice that calms down those color artifacts around that iris right there. It's a subtle modification, but it's worth doing on a regular basis when you are applying this filter. All right, now I am going to say OK. That's enough for Unsharp Mask. Let's turn it off. Let's go ahead and apply a different filter. This time we will go to the Filter menu and choose Sharpen and choose Smart Sharpen.

Now what I am going to tell you is Smart Sharpen is better than Unsharp Mask. It does just about everything Unsharp Mask does except for that Threshold option that I don't like in the first place, and it does more. So I don't tend to use Unsharp Mask ever anymore these days. I tend to use Smart Sharpen instead or High Pass and I will tell you which to use when. For a portrait shot I would use High Pass actually and I will tell you why in just a moment. For a high frequency shot, which would be a background shot or skyline or something where the luminance is changing rapidly all over the image, then you would want to go with Smart Sharp.

Smart Sharpen is also going to do a better job with the little details such as this woman's hair. However, the trade-off is that it brings out pores and that kind of stuff in the skin. All right! So I am going to choose Smart Sharpen, so we can see how it works. Now notice we have an Amount value. Let's set it to 200% again. We also have a Radius value. I am going to set it to 3 pixels. These work just the same way they do inside of Unsharp Mask. In fact if you have Remove set to Gaussian Blur, it is the exact same command as Unsharp Mask. However, you can change the Remove settings.

So Gaussian Blur, by the way, is a great setting if you are trying to compensate for scanner focus. In other words, you scanned an image and it got slightly out of focus during the scanning process, then you can compensate with Gaussian Blur. Also, by the way if you reduce the size of the image, if you down-sampled it, and change the number of pixels in the image, then you may find Gaussian Blur of course feature #14 to be of use to you. However, if you are just sharpening a digital photograph like this one, Lens Blur is the better bet, Motion Blur incidentally is just designed to account for camera shake, so if the camera was moving.

However, we don't have that. We have got a nicely focused shot here. So Lens Blur is our best bet. That's going to give us finer detail. You may have seen a slight change on screen right there. I am going to actually take this value higher for just a moment because I want you to see what happens. Let's go ahead and drag her eye down so that we can keep track of it. All right! So it's highly sharpened at this point. This is oversharpening by the way. We are going away too far. But I want you to see what happens when we turn on More Accurate. More Accurate, theoretically should do a better job of tracing the image, right? But that's not really what it does.

What it does, it goes in there and hyper- traces dinky little details inside the image. So where a portrait shot is concerned, it's going way too far. You are bringing out every single crevice and pore and defect in a person's skin, and it looks terrible. At this point, it looks like we have a bunch of caterpillars crawling around inside this image. More Accurate, once again, just for high-frequency shots. By that I mean rapid luminance transitions. Also it's good for like textures, for cloth, that kind of thing. It's going to work out great for her hair.

But again it comes at the expense of her skin and that's not worth it. So portrait shots, you definitely leave it turned off. I am going to go ahead and take this value back down to 200%. These are the settings I want to apply right here, 200%, 3. Actually I might go higher. When you have Remove set to Lens Blur, you can go higher with the Radius value. So I will take that up to 4 pixels this time around, Click OK. Now what you'd want to do is that same thing we did before, double-click on the Settings icon right there. If you are applying the filter, it's a Smart Filter to a Smart Object, click on her eyes so we can see what we are doing, change the mode from Normal to Luminosity.

Watch that blue edge around that iris. It's going to disappear as soon as I choose Luminosity. Now we have the real colors. So we are left with the original colors, we are just sharpening the luminance information, which holds the detail inside the image. Click OK. All right! The final thing that we might want to do. This is great by the way, Smart Sharpen works very nice and I prefer it for my high-frequency shots. But if I am sharpening a portrait, you might find that you end up clipping slight areas of highlight and shadow, because after all you are tracing these white highlights and these black highlights throughout the image.

If you want to avoid some of that clipping, then you want to go with the High Pass filter, and that tends to be the better choice where portraits are concerned. So I am going to turn off Smart Sharpen, and I am going to go up to the Filter menu, and I am going to choose Other and I am going to choose High Pass. Now here is the thing, High Pass does not look like a Sharpen Filter at all. Let me show you what I mean. I will choose the filter and it sends the image to grey. So it doesn't look like it's doing anything good for the image whatsoever. But here's what's happening. Areas in which there are no edges, that is no areas of rapid luminance transition are turning grey, and then areas where there are edges are turning less grey.

What you want to do is just set the Radius value to what you normally would inside the other filters. So for example, with Unsharp Mask we used a Radius of 3 pixels. We'd want to use that same logic inside of this filter. So I'd go ahead and set High Pass to a Radius of 3 pixels in this case, not 4 as I did inside of Smart Sharpen because High Pass uses Gaussian Blur, not Lens Blur the way that Smart Sharpen does. Anyway, I will click OK in order to accept that modification. Now we need to apply a feature #11 blend mode in order to get rid of those grays and blend the actual luminance information into the image.

And here is how that works. If you double-click on the Settings icon right there, brings up the Blending Options dialog box. Let's click on her eye once again so we can see what we are doing, and you change the mode to one of three settings, starting with Overlay. Go ahead and give Overlay a try and see what you think. Now if that's too much sharpening, if we have gone too far with the Sharpening effect, then you can back up the opacity value. If you feel like you haven't gone far enough, then you want to accentuate things by stepping up the Contrast mode. You may recall this from my feature #11 video. You go from Overlay to Hard Light.

That is going to deliver a more pronounced effect. Now it's going to be somewhat subtle, but it is going to be more pronounced. If you want to go even farther than that, then pump it up to Linear Light. Now this is not going to be a subtle effect. This is going to really sharpen that image considerably and then if you feel like you have gone too far, then you can back up the opacity. Now Linear Light combined with 50% opacity, and it's different but it's about equivalent to Overlay combined with 100% opacity. So you would want to build from 50% higher.

So I would take this let's say to 80% opacity. Now the one downside to using High Pass this way is that we keep those color artifacts. So we are going to keep that slight blue edge around the brown iris that we are able to get rid of using the Luminosity blend mode with the other two filters. Problem is you can't combine multiple blend modes with a single filter. So we have got to stick with it, click OK to accept the results. This is a beautifully sharpened portrait shot. It's going to look great in print, thanks to the three Sharpen Filters inside of Photoshop, remember their names.

Unsharp Mask, Smart Sharpen, and High Pass.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Photoshop Top 40.


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Q: Is there a way to batch convert an entire folder of photos from the RBG color mode to the CMYK color mode without having to open and convert each individual image?
A: In the Actions panel in Photoshop, create an action that converts an image from RGB to CMYK. Then link to that action from File > Automate > Batch inside Photoshop.
Next, in the Bridge, select a folder of images. Choose Tools > Photoshop > Batch. Select the action inside the ensuing dialog box.
Or, in Photoshop, select File > Automate > Batch, and select the action and the folder inside the dialog box.
See also: Photoshop CS2 Actions & Automation, Chapter 2 “Action Essentials.”
 
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