Photoshop Tips: Selectively sharpen like a pro

By Caroline Schmidt. Posted

There are so many ways to sharpen a photograph but we all have our favourite and this is mine. When I was introduced to the High Pass sharpening technique a few years ago it was a ‘light-bulb’ moment and, as many versions of Photoshop have evolved since then, the effect has only got better and better. For images with maximum depth-of-field, all-over sharpening is usually necessary but for portraits, close-ups and other styles that have a mixture of wanted blur and sharp focus you want to be selective on where you apply it.

If you prefer to edit in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, I suggest keeping sharpening to a minimum and to mask off the areas you to remain soft. Then, once in Photoshop (or Affinity Photo if that’s your taste), you can add a little High Pass filter into the mix to really draw out the details. If you apply it as a Smart Filter, too, it’s non-destructive and re-editable – so you’ve nothing to lose in giving it a try.

1. Create your layers
Once you’ve applied all other necessary edits to your image, create a new image layer to sharpen. Do this by selecting all your layers and pressing shift, alt, cmd and E to merge to a new layer. Duplicate this new layer twice, naming the top one ‘sharpen’.

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2. Convert to Smart Objects
Click on the top layer and go to Filter>Convert to Smart Filter to change it to a Smart Object. You’ll find a little icon appear on the layer in the Layers palette, later you can double-click on this icon to re-edit the filter settings you apply at any time.

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3. Apply High Pass Filter
Activate the ‘Sharpen’ filter and go to Filter>Other>High Pass. Your image will turn grey but as you move the slider you’ll see the edges of your image that are becoming sharpened. Set the slider to approximately 9px and click OK.

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4. Refine your sharpening
Change the Layer’s Blend Mode to Soft Light or Overlay, depending on the strength you want. Add a Layer Mask and press cmd I to invert the mask to black; use the Brush Tool with white paint to reveal areas you want sharper. Reduce the layer’s Opacity too if too crisp.

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Top Tip

Applying High Pass filter is just the beginning, once you’ve edited your Layer Mask double-click on your Smart Object and re-edit your sharpening in real-time to find the perfect balance.

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