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Using Unsharp Mask

From: Photoshop CC for Photographers: Sharpening

Video: Using Unsharp Mask

After you have resized your photograph to its final output destination size,

Using Unsharp Mask

After you have resized your photograph to its final output destination size, next, it's time to begin the process of using a filter to sharpen the photograph. In the previous movie, we resized this image, so that we can create a four by six print. Then next what we need to do is to make a decision on what filter we'll use. Here we have a couple of options, and in this movie, we'll focus in on one option, which is using the Unsharp Mask filter.

Now the first step when it comes to sharpening is to duplicate, or to copy the layer which we want to sharpen. I like to do that because it gives you some flexibility, in case you make a mistake or want to modify the intensity of the sharpening as well. So over here in the layers panel, let's copy the background layer by clicking and dragging this layer all the way down to the new layer icon at the base there of the layers panel. There you can see we now have background copy, double click that layer name and let's rename this one here, I'll call it USM for unsharp mask.

Once you've copied the layer you want to make sure your working on that layer not the other one. So click into the top layer there, then navigate to the filter pulldown menu, and here we'll go to the option where we have some options for sharpen. And in this dialogue over here, you'll notice that we have a handful of different sharpening filters, or methods. The ones that you'll use most commonly are Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen. These others up here don't give you controls to change the intensity or the amount of the sharpening.

These two down here do, so let's begin with Unsharp Mask. Go ahead and navigate to Filter > Sharpen, and then click on the menu item, Unsharp Mask. When you do this, you notice that it will open up a dialogue. Here it's showing us a view of 100%. We can click and pan around in order to view the image. Yet, the trick, of course, is that I can see this small area at 100%, yet my photograph back here, well, it isn't at 100%. If we want to change that, if we want to zoom in, just press Cmd+Plus on a Mac or Ctrl+Plus on Windows.

And what I like to do is to zoom in to 100% so that we have an accurate view not only of this little dialogue, but of these other parts of the photograph as well, all right? Well next let's talk about our controls and sliders. In order to understand how these work what I want to do is make some few exaggerated adjustments which won't look very good, but which will help us understand the controls. Then we'll remove those amounts and we'll redo the sharpening so that it actually looks good.

All right, well let's begin by taking these all down to their default or their lowest values. First we have our Amount slider, then Radius and Threshhold. Now Amount and Radius are two sliders which I'll you'll use together in order to improve the sharpening. For example, if we have a radius of 0.1, if we increase the amount, nothing will happen to the photograph, or very little will happen. On the other hand, if we bring up our radius, you can see that we now have a lot of sharpening and here we can change the overall intensity of the amount or the type of sharpening that's being applied.

So you can think of amount as intensity. You have to keep in mind that amount never operates by itself. It's always creating the amount based off of the radius. Now, what in the world is radius? Well typically, you'll find that you'll use a lower radius on lower resolution files, and what radius does is it controls the extension, or the edge, or the outer part of the sharpened area. Notice how it just sharpening these little edges, and they aren't really glowing.

Yet if we increase the radius, it's extending that reach out into the other parts of the image, so that the photograph just looks, completely strange. So Amount and Radius are two sliders which you'll adjust. And then adjust the other, and then adjust and go back and forth until you get it in the right spot. Now we'll talk about the right spot in a moment, but for now, again, keep in mind, there's a distinct relationship between these two controls. Alright, well what about the Threshold? Well, I like to think of the Threshold slider as the peace maker.

Amount and Radius, well they tend to fight a lot. Threshold comes along and as you increase it says, hey, hey, everything's fine, no big deal, and it sort of backs off. Or scales or drifts away the intensity of the Amount and the Radius. As we bring this up more, you can see the image is appearing closer to the way it originally appeared. Alright. Well now that we've seen how those sliders work, let's go ahead and drop these levels back down, and lets talk about dialing in an appropriate, or a good amount of sharpening for a photograph.

When it comes to this type of sharpening, we want to make sure it looks good, but not overdone. How do we do that? Well, often you may begin with a Radius, maybe somewhere around one, or maybe two. And you try to find a Radius which is in this lower range, and then bring up your amount. As you bring up the amount, you want to look and pay attention to those edges. If you find that the edges are glowing and they're too defined, drop your Radius down, you've gone too far with that. And then sneak this up, I like to bring it up in 10 or 20% increments.

Drop the radius down if needed, this is a lower resolution file. Remember we resized it to a four by six image so our radius is going to be lower, perhaps somewhere around here. Now while this looks pretty good, we're not done yet because we need to bring in the peacemaker, the threshold slider. So let's drag this one to the right. That will soften or, kind of scale back some of the effect. Now that I've done that I need to bring my amount up a little bit more. So it isn't ever about using one slider, rather it's about all of them together.

It's also really important to pay attention to your photograph. Each photograph needs a different amount radius and threshold. And there isn't a formula that you can apply to all photographs for all times. Rather, you need to understand how each of these can help you to improve the picture. Another thing that I tend to do is to click here to see the before and then the after. It may be almost impossible to see the difference, once this video is compressed. So let me show you an exaggerated amount here, we'll bring this way up.

And hopefully, now when I click on this area, you can see there's before, let go, there's the after. Obviously, that's over done so I'll bring this back down to a more reasonable range. And I think I can go a little bit higher, maybe closer to about 100. All right. Well from there we click OK in order to render and apply these filter settings to the layer, which we have right here. So all of our sharpening has been applied to a separate layer. If we turn on the, or if we click on the Eye icon, we can see the before and after.

Let me zoom in really close so you can see this. Even though it's a bit pixelated, I'm hoping you can see now the before and after. And what I'm hoping you can also see is that the amount of sharpening is subtle. We aren't interested in overpowering the photograph. Rather, I want to make it clean. I want to make it snap, and that's what we've done here by using the unsharp mask filter. Last but not least, one of the advantages of working with filters on a separate layer is that if you find that you've gone too far, or if you don't like the sharpening, you can always delete the layer or you can lower its opacity to create a more subtle sharpened look.

So it just gives you that extra bit of flexibility. In a way it's kind of like a safety net. And later we'll also highlight a technique which is important in regards to changing our blending modes as well. Yet for now, we've covered the essentials of starting to work with the unsharp mask filter. Next, lets take a look at how our results here can compare to working with another tool, and that is a filter which is called smart sharpen, so leave this image open, as we'll continue to work with it in the next movie.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Photoshop CC for Photographers: Sharpening
Photoshop CC for Photographers: Sharpening

67 video lessons · 4233 viewers

Chris Orwig

Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 5m 59s
    1. Welcome
      1m 23s
    2. Raw sharpening in Lightroom or Camera Raw?
      3m 56s
    3. Using the exercise files
  2. 44m 15s
    1. Lighroom sharpening workflow first steps
      5m 35s
    2. Understanding how the Lightroom Detail controls work
      5m 36s
    3. Reducing luminance and color noise
      5m 47s
    4. Improving details in a portrait
      9m 13s
    5. Improving details in an outdoor photograph
      7m 12s
    6. Sharpening in order to emphasize small textures
      3m 49s
    7. Improving sky details and edge sharpening
      7m 3s
  3. 53m 3s
    1. Selective sharpening with the Adjustment Brush
      10m 19s
    2. Learning Adjustment Brush shortcuts
      4m 15s
    3. Reviewing Adjustment Brush techniques and shortcuts
      7m 36s
    4. Sharpening eyes in a portrait
      6m 44s
    5. Sharpening large areas with the Radial filter
      6m 50s
    6. Improving details with the Graduated filter
      7m 35s
    7. Creating custom presets
      6m 2s
    8. Sharing and installing presets
      3m 42s
  4. 40m 40s
    1. Camera Raw sharpening workflow: First steps
      3m 28s
    2. Understanding how the Camera Raw Detail controls work
      5m 46s
    3. Reducing luminance and color noise
      4m 40s
    4. Improving details in a portrait
      7m 28s
    5. Improving details in an outdoor photograph
      6m 6s
    6. Sharpening in order to emphasize small textures
      3m 48s
    7. Improving sky details and edge sharpening
      9m 24s
  5. 53m 40s
    1. Selective sharpening with the Adjustment Brush
      7m 16s
    2. Working with the Auto Mask option in the Adjustment Brush
      5m 6s
    3. Learning Adjustment Brush shortcuts
      8m 30s
    4. Reviewing Adjustment Brush techniques and shortcuts
      5m 45s
    5. Sharpening eyes in a portrait
      5m 15s
    6. Sharpening large areas with the Radial filter
      7m 4s
    7. Improving details with the Graduated filter
      4m 34s
    8. Further refinements with the Graduated filter
      4m 30s
    9. Creating custom presets
      5m 40s
  6. 49m 5s
    1. Resizing before you sharpen
      4m 37s
    2. Using Unsharp Mask
      8m 21s
    3. Using Smart Sharpen
      6m 5s
    4. Demonstrating how Smart Sharpen works
      4m 23s
    5. Fine-tuning Smart Sharpen with advanced controls
      5m 39s
    6. Applying blending modes to avoid color problems
      5m 9s
    7. Putting it all together: Workflow part one
      5m 57s
    8. Putting it all together: Workflow part two
      6m 42s
    9. A conversation about sharpening controls
      2m 12s
  7. 49m 34s
    1. Applying Camera Raw sharpening as a filter
      4m 41s
    2. Using smart filtering for increased flexibility
      5m 50s
    3. Smart filtering and masking
      4m 54s
    4. Selective sharpening with a hand-painted mask
      6m 0s
    5. Selective sharpening: Advanced shortcut tips
      6m 31s
    6. Using Quick Select and masking to sharpen selectively
      8m 20s
    7. How to sharpen a layered document
      3m 41s
    8. Fixing a blurry photograph with Shake Reduction
      4m 40s
    9. Shake Reduction: Advanced controls
      4m 57s
  8. 32m 47s
    1. High-pass sharpening essentials
      5m 55s
    2. Smart filter high-pass sharpening
      4m 2s
    3. Smart filter high-pass sharpening continued
      5m 50s
    4. Edge sharpening: Building an alpha channel
      4m 52s
    5. Edge sharpening: Creating the mask
      5m 3s
    6. Using Smart Sharpen in an unlikely way for midtone contrast
      7m 5s
  9. 10m 59s
    1. Recording a sharpening action
      6m 11s
    2. Playing the action for a single file
      2m 18s
    3. Batch sharpening multiple files
      2m 30s
  10. 28m 48s
    1. Sharpening and saving from Camera Raw
      6m 51s
    2. Sharpening and exporting from Camera Raw
      3m 44s
    3. Output sharpening from Lightroom
      5m 26s
    4. Final output sharpening from Photoshop for print
      7m 17s
    5. Photoshop sharpening for web, mobile, and displays
      5m 30s
  11. 31s
    1. Next steps

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