How To: High Pass Sharpen Your Photos

Here's an easier way to add snap to your shots in Photoshop.

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Most pictures are a bit blurrier than they should be. Whether that’s due to your lens, RAW processing, resizing, or other tasks of a digital workflow, your images need to be sharpened before you print or share them. Adobe Photoshop and Elements both offer several options for sharpening. Much of the time, Smart Sharpen in Photoshop (or its cousin in Elements, Adjust Sharpness) is a great choice. But there’s also a dark-horse option, High Pass sharpening. It’s quick and simple to do, it doesn’t overly accentuate image noise, it won’t give you oversharpened, crunchy-looking edges, and it doesn’t sharpen areas of blur. Additionally, using this method gives your image a nice bit of contrast and snap. High Pass sharpening is available in both Photoshop and Elements. I’ll show the technique using Elements, but it works well with either program. Step 1: Begin by making a copy of the Background Layer. Duplicate it by clicking with your right mouse button on the Background Layer and choosing Duplicate Layer. If you're on a Mac with a one-button mouse, hold down the Control key on your keyboard while you click. It's not necessary to rename this new layer—just click OK.
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Step 2: Now completely desaturate your Background Copy Layer. By taking the color out, you can avoid oversharpening (and thus worsening) color noise. To desaturate quickly, hit Ctrl (Command on a Mac) + Shift + U on your keyboard. Note: Photoshop CS3 and CS4 users: If you like, turn your Background Copy layer into a Smart Object before proceeding to Step 3. This will make your High Pass filter into a readjustable Smart filter.
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Step 3: Now it’s time to add the High Pass fl lter. Go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Move the Radius slowly upward until you just barely see your image’s edges in the gray preview. Anything past 5 pixels or so won’t actually sharpen— cranking it up will make your image begin to take on a faux-HDR look. So don’t go too far. When you’re done, click OK. Note: The smaller the original image, the smaller the Radius you’ll need.
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Step 4: To see the effect of your filter, change your Background Copy Layer's Blend Mode. Use the pulldown menu in the top left of your Layers Panel to switch from Normal to Overlay.
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Step 5: Now you should have a nice, sharp image. If it's too sharp, lower the layer's opacity. Or if it's not sharp enough, try a different Blend Mode. The Hard Light mode will take the effect up a notch; Linear Light will most likely send it over the edge. Note: When you’re all finished, flatten your image by going to Layer > Flatten Image. Then Save As using a new filename.
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F.Y.I. Sharpening Tips: Even properly focused photos can benefit from a bit of subtle sharpening. the trick? Wait to sharpen until you've finished editing. you'll need to complete all pixel-based corrections, such as cloning and healing, before you sharpen. however, you can still use non-destructive adjustment layers after the fact. Most importantly, don't sharpen until after you resize. if you shrink your photo to a small size for the Web, only a hint of sharpening is likely to be in order. But if you plan on printing large, you'll need to do a much stronger sharpening job.svenn