High Pass Sharpening

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I have been using the Unsharp mask for all of my sharpening until I came across this technique. Unsharp mask will sharpen everything in the photo by exaggerating the outlines however this can exaggerate even the undesirable things in the photo such as faults and artifacts. High pass filter and layers give you much more control when sharpening your photos.

Take a photo you need to sharpen. Duplicate the background layer by dragging it to the Create a new layer icon, and name the new layer Sharpen. Change the blending mode of the Sharpen layer to Overlay. This will temporarily increase the overall contrast of the image.

Select ‘Filter’ > ‘Other’ > ‘High Pass’. Arrange the filter dialog box so you can see it alongside the image window and make sure the preview option is checked. Zero the radius setting, and then drag the radius slider to the right. Notice in the image window as the image begins to sharpen. Concentrate on one area, such as the face. Use ‘Ctrl’ and ‘+’ key and ‘Ctrl’ and ‘-’ key to zoom in and out, and hold the spacebar down while dragging inside the image window to navigate. Once you’ve found the optimal radius, in this instance 5.8 pixels, click ‘OK’.

Press ‘Ctrl’ and ‘0’ to inspect the entire image. To compare the sharpened and unsharpened versions, toggle the sharpen layer’s visibility off and on by clicking its eye icon. If you find that a part of the photo is over sharpened you can apply the following. For this tutorial lets assume that the hair has been oversharpened. Click on the Add layer mask icon to add a layer mask and click on the layer mask thumbnail to select it. Hide the sharpening by painting over the hair with a soft black brush. Restore any accidentally removed sharpness, by painting over it with a soft white brush.

On the other side of it coin. If you find that a part of the photo needs more sharpening, also for purposes of this tutorial say the shirt needs to be sharpened. You duplicate the sharpen layer by dragging it down to the Create new layer icon. This makes everything too sharp, so click on the layer mask icon to highlight it and paint over everything but the shirt with a soft black brush. If the shirt is still too sharp you can lower the layer opacity. Compare you final version to the unsharpened original by Alt-clicking on the background layer’s eye icon.

As you can see this gives you much more control of what and how much gets sharpened in your photo.