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For more information, please see full course syllabus of Adobe Photoshop CS6
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Sharpening Methods

  • You use sharpening to "crisp" up the pixels and sharpen up soft images ( to a point - if it is WAY out of focus you still are in trouble ).
  • My favorite sharpening method - High Pass Filter. Allows you to sharpen edges and details without adding noise or grain to uniform areas! The BOMB!

Sharpening Methods

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:07
  • Sharpening Terms 1:58
    • Amount
    • Radius
    • Threshold
  • Sharpening Methods 4:29
    • Sharpen
    • Sharpen More
    • Sharpened Edges
    • Smart Sharpen
    • Unsharp Mask
    • High Pass Sharpening

Transcription: Sharpening Methods

Hi everyone, Michael Brown back again.0000

Welcome back to's Adobe Photoshop CS6 course.0003

In this lesson, we're going to discuss sharpening--very important factor that you need to do to all of your images.0008

Now if you remember, when the image comes directly from the camera it's either a raw file or a jpeg, if it's raw it has no sharpening whatsoever, if it's a jpeg, even without any custom settings, the computer in the camera will automatically apply a little sharpening, so it's up to you to look at the image very closely to see if the pixels are sharp enough.0016

Now, as we go through this lesson I'll show you sharp versus non-sharp.0041

One of the things you want to make sure of--a lot of people say that you should work on your image first, and do you sharpening at the end before you output or save--I disagree with that, because the original pixels on a raw file or even the jpegs that don't have a lot of sharpening are soft on the edges, and if you're working on soft edged pixels, it tends to smear things, so my philosophy is that you apply some sharpening to get it clean, but don't over-sharpen it, and I'll define that as we go through this lesson, and then work on your image when the pixels are clean so that they don't muddy up, and in the end, if you do need a little bit more, then you can always add some.0045

So, let's get started on this lesson.0094

In Photoshop, there are five different ways to sharpen an image--they're all under the filter menu under sharpen--there is, one, two, three, four and five.0097

There's a sixth method that I use that involves another filter called the High Pass Filter, and I like this one better than everything else, so let's get started.0108

You're going to run into the amount, radius and threshold sliders in some of the sharpening filter.0121

What this is...the amount--the computer is really taking and looking at side by side pixels, bright pixel and a dark pixel, when you're sharpening effectively the computer makes the brighter pixel brighter and the darker pixel darker, and therefore increase the contrast, and if those pixels...are along an edge, the edge gets more distinct, which sharpens your image.0130

If they are not along an edge, however, what you end up is getting electronic noise, so there's a big trade-off between sharpening an edge and getting too much noise in an image, so we'll go over that as we roll along.0164

The higher the amount the more contrast, but also depending more noise.0179

Radius is the area that is affected by the amount slider, and that is the area that goes beyond a bright and dark pixel.0186

More radius, more area.0199

If it's at a lesser radius, a lesser area--in other words if you had just an edge, you could add more radius and it wouldn't hurt anything.0201

If you have the entire image, even if you have a sky, if you increase the radius, it will begin to affect lesser contrast pixels, and you will begin to get noise--that's what causes the noise.0209

Threshold calculates the amount of difference in contrast between neighboring pixels, similar to the radius in some respects, so the larger the threshold, the less areas that will be affected.0224

This is kind of the opposite of radius--they do similar things.0242

What I tend to do, is the threshold, I can't quite figure it out completely, so I keep the threshold low, so I know that's going to apply in contrasting areas only, and I'll work the radius to move it away to see how far out that you can affect the area without killing it with too much noise.0246

You could play with these back and forth, let me demonstrate...alright, here's an image...this is a landscape, and let's zoom it right on up here, and what you see--it's a raw image right out of the camera, if you can see that the greenery is a little bit soft, the detail on the mountains is indistinct, and so we're going to apply some sharpening.0266

Let's start off by going under the filter menu down to sharpen, to the sharpen filter, and I'll zoom it can see in the mountain we see more detail, I'll take it away, it's very soft--bring it in you begin to see a little detail down in the greenery--take it out, notice how soft and indistinct we begin to see it, but what happens here is up in the sky I add it's easier to see--it's very hard to see because it's not putting in a lot.0294

There's nothing, and now there is--there's a little bit of noise I can begin to see--it's hard to see, but I'll show you a better way to look at it, so it doesn't do a heck of a lot.0332

Filter, sharpen, sharpen more does the same exact thing--it works on every pixel, just adds more, and now you can see lots of detail in the mountain, beginning to see a little color fringing, a lot of what appears to be detail down in the greenery, but what you've got up--watch the sky--I'll take it away...put it back it, see the noise, take it away, back in.0342

It adds a lot of noise because these two: sharpen and sharpen more, both work on every pixel, so me personally...I don't like these two (let me check those off) sharpen and sharpen more, it does a little, and sharpen more does more...but both of them are I tend not to use either one of those two.0371

Let's go back here, and now we'll try filter, sharpen edges, and you don't see very much at all, but I'm going to apply it a second time, and a third time, and see what happens as you begin to apply it more, you can begin to see that it's sharpening around the edge areas--not much detail in either the mountain or the dam but see what's happening with the colored pixels?0413

The pixels are beginning to get way over-sharp and that's what I was talking about, how it degrades the pixels.0440

Let me pull that back...that's twice applied, you can begin to see that it's colored the time, not too much and not too much effect either, so the sharpen edge doesn't work real well there, but if we go over here to an image that has distinct edges--let's just go ahead and look at the eye on our friend here...this is a raw file, we're going to go and apply the sharpen, we're going to apply all three--there's sharpen, not a can begin to see some, but you can also see right here--watch what happens, you're starting to see noise already because it does every pixel.0447

We'll do sharpen more, lots of noise.0489

Clean edges, lots of noise.0492

Let's go to sharpen you can begin to see that edge has been taken away, and bring it back--you can see that the edge...look at the soft edge right down in here, see how it's getting sharper?0494

It did not destroy--I'm going to apply it a second time, and you begin to see harsh pixels so you can only do it once, there's a little bit of effect, and no effect at all, on the noise--it does a little bit on the edges but if you put in too much, it starts to hurt the pixels.0508

So...if we deal with sharpen edges...sharpen edges is so, so to OK, depending upong the edges, so now let's go back and take a look (make sure this has no sharpening whatsoever at smart sharpen...get it right here) filter, sharpen, smart sharpen.0525

Now we've got--and by the way, you can work smart sharpen, you can do this also defining only in the shadows, or the highlights separately, so that you can go into detail if you want, but we'll just work with this one right now.0560

I'm going to bring it back to zero--there's your radius now, we have no sharpening at all in this image, and if we bring the amount up with no radius, obviously nothing is happening, so I'm going to move the radius up to about one pixel, and start to add an amount.0581

You can begin to see a little sharpening, a little bit more...notice the detail that's starting to come into the mountain somewhat--I'll up the radius a little bit you can begin to see detail but what you're starting to see is this 'haloing' effect around the edges, and also we're starting to get noise.0599

Now I'm going to apply it, and I'm going to remove it, apply it--lots of detail, not too much noise--certainly better than the other ones, but we have a little bit of 'haloing' in here, so you can use it (let's try it one more time) smart sharpen, and I'll pull it back on the radius just a little bit--there you go!0622

We got minimize there--it got some detail--not a lot of's not bad, not bad at all, but you had to play with it a little bit so smart sharpen is pretty good!0644

Certainly better than the other three.0664

Now we're going to deal with un-sharp mask.0669

We'll open this up...filter, sharpen, un-sharp mask--this is my second favorite actually.0672

Now, we'll drop the radius to one, and we'll play with the amount.0682

We can go way up and you're starting to see a lot of noise, but we have a huge amount in there--drop it back to about 88, something like that, and we'll pull the radius down to zero--there's nothing--we start to bring up the radius, and if you'll notice, we have a pretty good amount of sharpening here, very little 'haloing' and not a lot of noise.0688

Now there is some noise (let me take it out) and back in--a little bit less than the smart sharpen, I think they're fairly equivalent, the 'haloing' is down just a little bit, we'll double it up, and obviously that was too much, but un-sharp mask is pretty good--I used that for years and years and years.0715

Un-sharp mask I would say is good, that's my opinion.0738

Keep the radius low, around one, and play with the amount, so of these five I would personally rate the un-sharp mask as number one, and the smart sharpen is number two--some other people might reverse that, sharpen edges is number three, and no rating on the other two.0745

Let's now take a look at my all-time favorite, which is the High Pass Sharpening, so let's go back over here, make sure that this thing is just open...let's get that back up there and find that same spot, there we go.0767

Now, the way you deal with High Pass duplicate your original layer twice--once...a second time...go to your blend mode, go down to overlay--you can also adjust this--soft light is the least amount, hard light is the most, overlay is in the middle.0787

The image gets very contrasted--what it's doing is all pixels that are brighter than neutral gray (50% gray) are made brighter, and those lesser are made darker, so it is increasing the contrast, and in doing so (if I just undo that) you can see it actually is pulling a little detail just by that, but we're going to add another feature.0812

Filter, other, High Pass...the High Pass filter only looks for edges--you see in the box for the High Pass filter, if the radius is zero, it only finds neutral gray and it does nothing if you have any normal--we'll do that at the end--other, High Pass.0836

You see only neutral gray with a radius of zero...if it's all the way up you see full color, just like the overlay mode, it doesn't even show with the normal mode, but if we back off between two and six pixels and you look in here--what you're looking for is edges, you don't want to see color because you're beginning to see the 'haloing'--see it in there and see it over here, so you back it out to maybe three, two-ish, somewhere in there--you play with it until you get it where you want it (we'll drop down in this case to about 1.9, not bad).0863

But what I want to show you--watch this, look, there is no noise in the sky at all, because it only works on edges--anything else that's neutral gray is absolutely unaffected with the High Pass filter.0901

So we've sharpened this up, I'll turn it off, and turn it on.0919

We've got decent detail and zero noise in the sky.0924

Now if you need more, duplicate that layer...and you've now doubled the amount of sharpening and you can see we've got some 'haloing' so we can take the layer opacity and drop it down to wherever that doesn't look so bad, and there you go, almost zero noise, and significantly good quality sharpening.0929

Let me show you that also on Mr. Bob over here on Bob's Big Boy...we'll duplicate the layer...duplicate the layer a second time, apply the overlay mode, snap that contrast--go to filter, other, High Pass, and we'll just look for edges--when you start to see color, you've gone too far--see the 'haloing'?0954

It's not actually hurting us too bad but you can see it down in that eye in the white there so we'll back it off to about 1.5, and notice that in his skin, there is almost (I'm going to go to 2) even with a little 'haloing' showing we see no noise whatsoever (let's back it OK...zoom him up one time, turn it off, turn it on) we've got good sharpening, no noise whatsoever--I'll duplicate it again to double the amount, and you can start to see a little 'haloing' so we'll pull that back to about 50%--very little noise, and we've got a really good, crisp edge.0979

So if we go back to the list of sharpening, High Pass sharpening in my mind is a three check mark...let's even give it a four check mark, my favorite.1029

So, there you have all five sharpening methods that are under the sharpen filters, plus the High Pass sharpening which uses the blend mode of overlay, soft light or hard light, in conjunction with the High Pass filter.1043

Remember, don't over-sharpen your images--if anything go a little less than enough, get some sharpening, and you can say "well maybe I could use a little bit more".1064

Don't over-do it, you can always add a little more at the end.1075

That sums up the sharpening features in Adobe Photoshop CS6.1079