Sharpening photos

Thread starter #1


Senior Member
Call me Dr. Anal but when you see photos posted that make you think you need a better camera, the odds are they were properly sharpened before they were posted. Since DRB got me going on doing more post processing, I've been playing around with Photoshop in much of my spare time. Tonight I played around with various sharpening techniques and figured I might as well post some of the results.

From what I've read, it seems there is no magic sharpening bullet that is best for all photos. It is, however, a good idea to convert your image to 16-bit before doing any post processing because it allows the editor to work with about 65,000 colors rather than only 256. Regardless of what you choose to do afterwards, you'll see an immediate benefit if you do your editing in 16-bit mode.

Some approaches to sharpening appear better suited to images with large solid colored areas while others are better for images with well defined edges. I have not read/experimented enough to say much more than that. None take more than a few seconds to apply so its easy to create variations and compare results. Odds are, 90% of the time, basic sharpening will work just fine but when you think you have an exceptional shot, maybe you'll benefit from checking out the alternatives.

The sequence below is intended to illustrate a few of the variations and give anyone who cares a heads up that you might find experimenting worth your while and relatively easy. With PS (not sure about PSE), if you find that you like one approach, you can record the steps as an action and assign it to a keyboard shortcut. It would be wrong to render opinions on which one is best because each has adjustments that can be used to dampen or enhance its effect.

The photos below may all look the same at first glance but there are subtle differences. If you copy them to a folder and then flip back and forth between them its easier to see the difference.

The shots below are all from a the same raw image which was cropped and then sharpened. All the raw sharpening tools were set to zero before opening the file.

The first image is with no sharpening.

The second image is sharpened using what is called a High Pass Filter Sharpening. It increases the contrast at edges rather than using the Unsharp Mask. You create a second layer of the photo, set the blend mode as overlay then goto filters>other>high pass and fiddle with the high pass filter's one and only adjustment until you think you have it this case I settled on 7.8. According to the pundits, this one is good because it sharpens edges more so than the smoother interiors that are sometimes 'overdone' using the Unsharp Mask alone....and it doesn't 'bruise the pixels' (whatever that means). I read about this one in the issue of Shutterbug that arrived in my mailbox today. This process possible in PSE 5.0.

The third image is sharpened using "Lab Color" sharpening. I read about it in Scott Kelby's Photoshop CS book. According to Scott,
it's favored because it avoids the 'halos' associated with over-sharpening using the std Unsharp Mask. Its a little more involved so here's a link to the steps. Unless I'm missing something, PSE doesn't let you switch to Lab Color mode. If so, then this one is out for PSE.

The fourth image is just plain old Unsharp Mask, which is possible in PSE. In this case, I set it at 200%, Radius = 1 and Threshold = 3



Senior Member
Good overview - RF. Yep, sharpening once you have an image to the size you want definitely improves the way it looks & one type of sharpening isn't "best" for all images.

I "learned" another sharpening technique for web posting a month or so ago. Basically, you resize the image to 1000 to 1300 pixels on the longest size (longer for more detailed images). Then you run regular "SHARPEN" on it 2 to 4 times until it looks over sharpened. Then you resize it to 640 pixels on the longest side & end up with a sharp image. I have used it a few times & seem to like it. I used it on the "beggin' for peanuts" squirrel.


Shutter Mushin' Mod
thanks for the tips ron!!! i try to make sharpening my last step before i add my frames or outlines. sometimes i dont want the whole image sharpened so i select the "subject" with the magnetic lasso then sharpen only it. i did that on my beggin' for a 22 thread. i just sharpened the squirrel on the stump. sometimes that has a neat effect too!!!
Dr. A, You have certainly done your homework. After closely examining your experiment, I vote for USM #4. I have also in the past played around with sharpening and came to the same conclusion. At present I am a 90% USM user. I usually start with the settings of 85,1,4 and then tweak the 1 to .75, .50, .25 depending on the photo. I have also noticed that these settings work great for Canon photos, but effect a photo from Nikon quite differently. The other 10% of my sharpening is done with the smart sharpen tool in CS3. I am in the beginning stages of mastering it's capabilities. It has a few more variables to choose from in the advanced mode. Great job with the experiment and thanks for sharing it.

Which one did you like the most?


Senior Member
Thanks for the short course on sharpening in PS Ron....I only have Elements for now, but once I get some spare time I am going to have to expirement with your instructions....My sharpening skills leave a lot to be desired (as do the rest of my photo skills!!!!:rofl:) Thanks for posting....:flag:


Senior Member
Good info Ron. I have been using USM less and less here lately, and have been playing around more with the advanced settings in Smart Sharpen in CS2. I find to like the results with Smart Sharpen a little better.


Retired Woody's Mod 7/01-12/09
Neat info ron

I find sharpening to be a useful tool and one that it is easy (for me) to abuse:biggrin2: I use, in PSE 5, the adj sharpness more than USM and it works for me .... most of the time if I don't get to carried away....

I will check out the
High Pass Filter Sharpening

I didn't realize it was an option in PSE 5 .... which brings up a problem ..... Y'alls continued references to this "CS" is starting to interfere with my lens purchase plans :hair: ..... specially if y'all cause me to have spend my lens money to get it:( :D


Man I have got to find some time to play. Lately it seems I have enough trouble just finding time to get photos and now you all are giving up the secrets of post processing. Time to start a scrap book of threads that I've got to go back and review when I get time to play.
Great information all. Thanks Ron for starting the discussions.

How bout if when we get a thread like this, a link gets put into the sticky thread on photo techniques? That'll make an easy way for folks to get back to it without making the sticky thread huge.



Retired Woody's Mod 7/01-12/09
Good idea Hoss

except we know that putting anything in the "sticky" area is kinda like "hiding" it;)

It would make it a lot eaiser for me to look for something when I remember it:)


Senior Member
Thanks for the tip ronfritz...I will definately be putting it to use soon!