Digital Toolbox: How to Sharpen

How to use Photoshop CS2's Smart Sharpen to kiss blur goodbye.

Sharpening is one of the most misused functions of Adobe Photoshop. Sharpen too little and your picture's fuzzy; sharpen too much and your photo will look "digital" in the worst way. But Photoshop CS2's new Smart Sharpen tool can help you avoid these missteps and get great, crisp photos every time.

A "Sharp" Image

Even your most perfectly focused photos probably have a little blur in them. Whether that's due to your lens or image processing, a little sharpening can add a lot of pop. You may be surprised what a difference it can make.

Noisy pictures need sharpening, too. It's better to use a noise reducer to minimize grain before you start, but if you can't, or if some noise remains, Smart Sharpen's Advanced options will help you to avoid exacerbating the noise by sharpening it.

Note: If this were an image with a lot of noise in a bright area, such as a sky, you could click on the Highlights tab and follow the same steps to fade the sharpening there.

Q: What are your best tips for using Smart Sharpen?

A: Smart Sharpen makes sharpening easy, but you do need to look out for a few things:

1) Preparing for Print. If your image will print on paper, sharpen with both your image and your preview zoomed out to 50%-a closer approximation of the viewing distance of your printed photo.

2) For display on a Monitor. Make the image the actual size you want on screen, and sharpen at 100%. What you see is what you'll get.

3) Save it for Last. Never sharpen until you're done tweaking. And save your sharpened version as a new file-if you want to print another size, you'll have to sharpen at the new size, and you should never resharpen.

4) More is Less. The misleadingly named More Accurate option is great for near-perfect, high-resolution, uncompressed images, but it will likely oversharpen your JPEGs. And it takes a long time.

5) Keep Preview Unchecked. Check your sharpening in the Smart Sharpen preview window, not in the image. It will speed up the sharpening process, and you'll be able to quickly compare before and after.

6) Use Lens Blur. The default fuzziness to remove is Gaussian Blur, but get rid of that and you might as well be using the old-fashioned Unsharp Mask tool. For better results, choose Lens Blur and leave it there.

7) Little Radius, Big Amount. Keep the Radius slider low, and you won't get that ugly over-sharpened look. That means no more than 1.2 or so for most images, and never more than 3.