There are countless ways to sharpen an image, but which one is correct? How much sharpening do you need to do? It’s time to clear up the confusion surrounding sharpening once and for all. Using Adobe Photoshop Elements, we’re going to sharpen photos the right way. Once you learn this little trick, you’ll want to sharpen every picture you take. Here’s what you need to know.
We’re going to start with an image that’s challenging to say the least. This image was taken with a soft focus filter, so it’s intentionally too soft. Can we “fix” it with the sharpening tools that come with Photoshop Elements?
The Photoshop tool we’re going to use is called “unsharp mask.” You can find it under the enhance menu on the top bar.
Unsharp mask comes with three sliders you can adjust to change the sharpness of your photos, but we’ll only work with the first two. The last one, “threshold,” actually does the opposite of sharpening. It dampens the sharpening effect, so it’s useless for our purposes.
Photoshop Elements starts at 50% sharpening by default, so it’s already sharpening your image when you open it. You’ll probably want to increase the amount, but be careful. Anything past 100% is a little too extreme. Almost no images will ever need that much sharpening.
So stay between 50% and 100% for the amount value.
The radius value is somewhat different. As you adjust it upwards, Photoshop starts to sharpen more pixels surrounding the ones it “thinks” need sharpening. If you slide that one all the way to the right, the sharpening affects every pixel in your image. Radius is another one that can have some pretty radical effects. Keep it between 1.0 pixel and 2.0 pixels, and you should be safe.
The rest is completely up to you as a photographer. You can tell your image has too much sharpening when the colors start to appear more uniform and less gradated. You can tell it doesn’t have enough sharpening if it still appears a little bit out of focus.
There are some other ways to tell. I like to find a part of the image with a lot of lines. If the lines don’t appear dark enough, your image isn’t sharp enough. In the case of this image, I would look at the lines in the stones lining the fountain. If you can very clearly see boundaries between the stones, the image is sharp enough.
Preview mode will help you out. Keep it on, and you’ll see what the sharpening will look like, both in the preview window and in your image. If you want to see what your image looks like before the sharpening is applied, you can uncheck the preview button. You can also click and drag your cursor over the preview image, and it will revert back to the unsharpened version.
So let’s do that. Here’s our preview before and after sharpening:
The difference is striking. The haze is totally gone. Because the image was taken with a soft-focus filter, I decided to apply a 100% sharpening with a radius of 1.6. I probably could have increased the radius a little more, but this was enough to get rid of the fog that was permeating the image.
There isn’t much more to it than that. As long as you stay within the limits I’ve given you, you’ll get that nice sharp “focused” look without sharpening too much. The rest depends on the image you start with. The less clear the focus, the more you’ll need to sharpen. Granted, it’s a little subjective, but that’s why I’m giving you some limits.
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
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