How to Sharpen an Image in Photoshop

There are a variety of different ways to sharpen images on Photoshop. One of the easiest methods is the high pass filter, which you can use to quickly accentuate a photo's edges.

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Here's how to sharpen an image in Photoshop using High Pass:

  1. After loading your image file, double-click on the magnifying glass tool so that the image fills the screen. Next, you'll need to duplicate the current layer by pressing CTRL+J. 

  2. Select the top layer, and then go to Filter > Other > High Pass to apply a high pass filter. A new box will appear with filter settings, including the Radius pixel count. We recommend somewhere around 2 pixels, but try a few different numbers until you're happy with how it looks. Ideally, the high-passed image will have clearly defined edges, without any haloing. 

  3. With the high-pass layer still selected, change the blending mode to "Hard Light". You'll find the drop-down menu for the blending mode in the Layers palette, just above the list of layers. 

  4. However, when using a high pass filter to sharpen images, you might end up with some unwanted noise. To ensure that your highlights stay smooth, turn off the high-pass layer (click on the "eye" icon) and then select the bottom layer. Next, go to the Select menu and choose "Color Range". 

  5. Now we're going to use the Color Range to determine where the highlights are, so we can isolate them from the rest of the image. Play around with the "Fuzziness" and "Range" sliders until there's enough highlights for your liking. If you have too little highlights, the transition between dark and light sections of your image will be too sharp, so choose settings that allow for more subtle grays. This will create a more natural blending effect. When you're happy with the Color Range settings, click OK.

  6. You should now see shimmering lines around your image highlights, but we want to "invert" our selection so that we're adjusting the dark areas instead. To do this, press Shift+Command+I. 

  7. Next, click the Mask icon to enable it on the current layer. By holding down Alt (or Option), we can actually see the mask, which is a great way to determine if the high pass filter is a bit extreme. If you'd like to dial down the sharpness, you can go back to the high-passed layer settings and lower the Radius pixel count. 

  8. Lastly, the high pass method will probably sharpen the image's background, which can affect the natural depth of field. To solve this, select the high pass layer with the mask enabled, and then use a soft black brush to darken the entire background, as well as any other blurred areas of the image. 

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