When should I sharpen images? A good rule of thumb is: always! Most images can benefit from a little bit of sharpening (emphasis on a little). Sharpening should be subtle, but it can have a huge impact and will take your images to the next level. Whether you’re using a standalone photo or creating content that combines imagery with text, it’s helpful to know how to use Photoshop to sharpen images as you create content for your brand.
In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to sharpen images in Photoshop quickly and easily. To get started, check out the stock photo of a flowers that we used as an example.
Step 1: Open your image in Photoshop and resize
Image sharpening is particularly handy right before you export a photo for the web, email, or printing. The key is to sharpen after your image has already been resized. For example, if your final image is going to be 800px wide, sharpen the image when it’s already resized to 800px.
For this tutorial, we resized our image to about 30% of its original size. It’s still fairly large, but we wanted it to be a bit bigger to illustrate how to sharpen the image in Photoshop.
To view the resized photo at 100%, just double click on the zoom tool (the magnifying glass icon).
Step 2: Duplicate the layer and convert to a smart object
Select the background layer and hit Ctrl/Command + J on your keyboard (or, right click on the background layer and select “Duplicate Layer.”)
Right click on the new layer and select “Convert to Smart Object.”
Step 3: Apply the “Camera Raw Filter”
With the duplicate layer still selected, go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter.
Select the sharpening tool (the icon with two triangles).
Step 4: Adjust the filter
Make sure that you’re viewing the photo at 100%, then begin making adjustments to the filter.
You want your sharpening to be very subtle but it can sometimes be difficult to see the small adjustments by themselves. To avoid overdoing anything, hold down the Alt/Option key on your keyboard as you move the sliders. This will allow you to see your adjustments more clearly and will help you avoid moving any of the sliders too far. Once all of your adjustments are completed you will notice an overall difference in your photo, but you’ll have avoided making any drastic changes that could lower the quality of the final product.
Here is a quick rundown of the sharpening tools:
Amount: the amount of sharpening you want to apply to the photo. If you move the slider too far to the right you’ll start seeing light “halos” around the edges of objects in the image. This is a sign of oversharpening and should be avoided.
Radius: the number of pixels that make up the edge of objects in the image. The larger the number, the more pixels will be lightened/darkened to created defined edges. It’s typically best to not go above “1” for the radius.
Detail: the amount of detail in the image that your sharpening affects. Dragging the slider too far to the right could increase the noise of the image and sharpen areas that do not need it (like the sky).
Masking: the parts of the image that are not sharpened (i.e. the parts that have a layer mask applied). If you hold down Alt/Option and click and hold the slider, you’ll see that the entire image has turned white. If you drag the slider to the right, areas of the image will become black/grey. The black areas are where the sharpening is not applied. This can be helpful to avoid sharpening areas that could create a lot of noise (like the sky).
Once you’re done making adjustments, click “OK.”
Step 5: Make the final adjustments
You’ll see now that your duplicate layer has a layer mask as well as the filter layer. If you notice areas of your image that you do not want to be sharpened, select the layer mask, click on the paintbrush icon, and paint over those areas in black.
Once you are happy with your sharpening, your image is complete! You now know how to easily sharpen any image in Photoshop, adding a subtle, yet dynamic, finishing touch.