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Sometimes the sharpening you're looking for is more of an enhancement of local contrast rather than an actual sharpening of edge detail. In such cases, I often employed a technique that allows me to enhance the overall appearance of sharpness within the image. In this lesson, I'll show you how it's done. Here I have an image of clouds around sunsets, and I'd like to enhance the overall contrast, but I don't exactly want to enhance contrast per say, but rather I want to achieve the effect of a sharper image in a lot of ways.
And that's exactly the type of effect I'll produce with the effect I'm going to show you. I'll start off by creating a copy of my background image layer. So I'll click on the thumbnail for my background image layer, and drag and drop it on the Create New Layer button, the blank sheet of paper icon, at the bottom of the Layers panel. This creates a background copy layer that I can work with to produce the final effect. I'm going to change the blend mode for this layer to the overlay blend mode. This is one of the contrast blend modes found on the popup at the top left of the layers panel, and it will dramatically increase contrast within the image.
Of course, this is not the effect I'm looking for, it's just one step in the process. Next I'm going to apply a filter to my background copy layer. I'll go ahead and choose filter, other, and then high pass. Now you may not have noticed this filter in the past, especially because it seems to be hiding out in this generic other category of filters, but it's very useful for the effect we're going to employ. In effect it creates an embossed appearance within the image. I'll go ahead and increase the radius value in the high pass dialog, and you can get some sense of that embossed appearance within the preview image. Notice that a lot of areas of the image are turning into grey. I can adjust my overall radius in order to adjust that final effect. Now because I'm using the overlay blend mode, those gray areas will effectively disappear in the final result.
What's happening here is I'm enhancing contrast based on where contrast exists within the actual image. This is a lot like sharpening and that's why I think of this in many respects as a sharpening technique, even though I tend to use it for more creative purposes. I'm enhancing the brightness of the brights, enhancing the darkness of the darks, and doing so along edges within the image so that I'm increasing contrast along those edges, effectively sharpening, but in a very different way from typical sharpening.
I'll go ahead and adjust my radius to produce the best effect, in this case, and generally speaking I find that a radius of somewhere around 10 pixels typically produces the most pleasing result. That looks pretty good, so I'll go ahead and click Okay. I could always reduce my opacity setting for my background copy layer if I wanted to tone down the effect at all. But in this case I actually like the stronger effect, that nice localized contrast, so I'm going to leave the opacity set at one hundred percent. The high pass filter is certainly unique and one you might not otherwise consider using under normal circumstances.
However, when combined with the overlay blend mode, it provides a great solution for reducing the appearance of haze in an image, boosting overall contrast, and in general making the image appear a bit more sharp.
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