How to Sharpen an Image in Photoshop

by Feb 12, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Sharpen an Image in Photoshop

There are lots of ways to sharpen an image in Photoshop. You’ll find some of these in the Filter menu, although there are some other less obvious techniques like High Pass Sharpening. In this tutorial, we’re going to look at the Photoshop Filter | Sharpen menu to better understand the more obvious options.

But before you can use these effectively you should first understand how sharpening works. If you’re not sure, take a moment to read this image sharpening tutorial.

The Photoshop Sharpen Menu

You’ll find the Sharpen menu in Photoshop under the Filter menu. This is the first introduction to image sharpening most photoshop users will have. Although the menu has seen some improvements in recent years, the options can still be confusing.

You can see a screenshot of the Photoshop Sharpen menu below, showing the various sharpening options.

Photoshop Sharpen Menu Options

These are:

  • Shake Reduction – deals with the challenge of trying to remove camera shake which causes image blur. This is difficult to do, especially where there is a lot of blurring, and the filter often produces disappointing results. You will find that AI based tools like Topaz Sharpen AI will often produce superior results.
  • Sharpen – applies sharpening to an image but with no control over the settings. It’s best to avoid using this option in favour of the Unsharp Mask and Smart Sharpen tools below.
  • Sharpen Edges – concentrates sharpening onto the edges in an image. As with the Sharpen menu option, you don’t have any control over the settings used. It’s best to avoid this in favour of other options.
  • Sharpen More is the same as Sharpen except the effect is stronger.
  • Smart Sharpen is a powerful image sharpening tool that often produces excellent results. This, together with the Unsharp Mask, is the recommended way of sharpening images in Photoshop.
  • Unsharp Mask is one of the earliest methods of image sharpening but is still very effective. It derives its name from the sharpening technique used in the days of the darkroom. Although it may be “inferior” to Smart Sharpen, you are often hard pressed to see a difference between the two. The Unsharp Mask also has the benefit of being quicker to use and easier to understand.

Let’s now look at which of these options to use and why.

Which Sharpening Option to Use

Let’s start by saying that if you’re not trying to remove camera shake, don’t use the Shake Reduction filter. You will probably find trying to achieve a good result extremely frustrating with many images.

You should also discount using the three menu options Sharpen, Sharpen More and Edge Sharpening. Whilst these are simple to use, they lack the control to do a good job.

To sharpen an image well, you should use either the Smart Sharpen or Unsharp Mask options. Smart Sharpen is the more advanced of the two and offers greater control to refine the results. We therefore cover it in the remainder of this tutorial.

Read this tutorial if you would like to learn how to use the Unsharp Mask filter instead.

Quick Start Guide to the Smart Sharpen Filter

If you are opting to sharpen your photos using the Smart Sharpen filter, the following will provide a quick start guide to help you achieve good results. For a more in-depth guide please see my tutorial to using the Photoshop Smart Sharpen filter.

You can see a screenshot of the Smart Sharpen filter dialog below.

Photoshop Smart Sharpen filter

On the left of the dialog is a preview showing a small area of the image magnified to 100%. You can select the area of the image to view by clicking the image using your mouse. It’s also possible to zoom the preview in and out using the icons below the preview. It’s also possible to see the sharpening effect on the image using the “Preview” tick box at the top of the dialog.

One benefit of using the Smart Sharpen filter over the Unsharp Mask is you can create and save Presets. You can then use these to quickly apply settings that you know work well.

If you’re unsure about the options in the dialog, the Default preset is usually a good starting point for most images.

The Amount adjustment controls the strength of the sharpening effect applied to the image. When you use a higher value, the effect becomes stronger but try to avoid sharpening halos becoming visible.

It’s also possible to control halos with the Radius slider. The default for the Radius is 1 but as you increase this, the halos become easier to see. You should also avoid making the halos too narrow as the sharpening effect is weakened.

The Reduce Noise slider helps prevent the sharpening of any image noise that may be present.

The “Remove” dropdown towards the bottom of the dialog controls the type of sharpening applied and has three options. The default setting is “Lens Blur” which tends to favour sharpening edges and finer detail. This can also help to control the sharpening halos becoming visible and is a good option if you’re sharpening a landscape image. The “Gaussian Blur” sharpening is stronger than Lens Blur and is the same method used in the Photoshop Unsharp Mask filter.

The final option is Motion Blur which tries to remove blur caused by movement. As mentioned earlier, it’s much better to use tools like Topaz Sharpen AI for this.

The Shadows / Highlight options to the bottom of the dialog provide additional control over the sharpening process. These are covered in detail in  my Photoshop Smart Sharpen tutorial.

Summary

In this article, we’ve looked at how to sharpen an image. Photoshop provides a confusing array of options in the Filter menu but most of these can be discounted. Ultimately you should decide between using the Photoshop Unsharp Mask filter and the Smart Sharpen filter. Both provide control of the sharpening process, and both produce excellent results when you understand how sharpening works.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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