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Photoshop Guide to

Sharpening - II

Photoshop tutorials for beginners - how to selectively sharpen digital photos


So having got to grips with the basics in Photoshop Guide to Sharpening , let's look at some other ways to sharpen digital photos to give them a real lift.

Just about all images will benefit from some carefully applied sharpening. But overdoing it is a big no-no and will ruin your pictures by making them look artificial and creating noise (or halos). Sometimes less is more, and selecting certain parts of an image to apply heavy sharpening to, without affecting the rest, is a handy Photoshop trick.


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Selective sharpening for large areas


Let's say you have a landscape photo with plenty of detail that needs sharpening, but a clear sky that lacks any edges to sharpen at all (and will likely only be affected by sharpening with the appearance of noise/halos).

  1. Open the image in the editing workspace, apply any adjustments you wish to, then create a duplicate layer for sharpening.
  1. Select Unsharp Mask and set the amount, radius and threshold to suit the parts of the image that you want to remain sharpened. Hit 'OK'.
  1. Select the eraser tool and feather the edge by pressing 'Shift + [ '. Make sure your duplicate, sharpened layer is highlighted in the layers palette, and begin carefully erasing the sky until you are left with just the sharpened areas and the sky as it was originally. Flatten the image. Done!


How to use Adobe Photoshop to sharpen small areas


So that was extremely simple. But what do you do when you want to apply some heavy sharpening to a really precise little area like the head of a flower or someone's eyes in a portrait shot?

Here are 3 options:


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The Lasso Tool


  1. In the editing workspace, apply the normal, 'global' sharpening adjustments to your image, and then create a duplicate layer on which to apply more specific sharpening.

  2. Select the lasso tool from the left hand menu (it belongs with the polygonal lasso tool and the magnetic lasso tool). The lasso tool is one of the handiest Photoshop tools - it allows you to make a manual selection, carefully drawing around the precise area you wish to focus on.

  3. On the duplicate layer, draw around the area that needs to be really sharp - say someone's eyes - until the marching ants appear.

  4. Go to 'Select' > 'Refine Edge' and feather the edge of the selection a tiny bit, about 10 or 20 pixels.

  5. Select Unsharp Mask and apply moderate to maximum sharpening (see Photoshop Tools - Sharpening I).

  6. Go 'Select' > 'Deselect' and preview your newly sharpened image. If you're happy with it, flatten the image.


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Painting In The Sharpening


  1. In the editing workspace use the Unsharp Mask Feature to apply the normal global sharpening to your image.

  2. Create a duplicate layer on which to apply further sharpening

  3. Reapply the same global sharpening changes that you have just used on this new duplicate layer, making it doubly sharpened and almost certainly full of distracting, unsightly halos and noise.

  4. Go 'Layer' > 'New' > 'Layer' to create a new, blank layer (with the checkerboard design). Drag this blank layer between your background layer and the duplicate layer, so it sits in the middle.

  5. Select the duplicate layer, which should be the top layer, and hold the 'Alt' key whilst left clicking on the line between this and the blank layer below. This will group the two layers together, making the over-sharpened top layer disappear.

  6. Select the brush tool and feather the edge slightly by pressing 'Shift + [ '. Make sure black is your foreground colour and select the middle, blank layer in the layers palette.

  7. Carefully paint over the parts of your image that you want to be really sharp, bringing through the heavily sharpened duplicate layer in just those little, precise areas. Flatten the image - Done!


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The Sharpen Tool


  1. Having applied global sharpening changes using Unsharp Mask, select the sharpen tool from the left hand menu in the editing workspace (it belongs with the blur and smudge tools). This is one of the Photoshop tools that is really handy for quick fixes.

  2. Select the strength from the toolbar just below the top menus.

  3. Zoom into the part of your image that requires specific, heavy sharpening, and, with a feathered edge, simply paint over the relevant area to increase the sharpness. Job done!


Need to review the basics on using the Photoshop unsharp mask feature. Check out Photoshop Guide to Sharpening I here.

Here's a Photoshop guide to selective colouring.


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