Easy, controllable and non-destructive sharpening in Adobe Photoshop

Today it's yet again Quick-tip-day. A quick read where you (perhaps) end up learning something

Sharpening your images my or may not be something you do. Maybe you sharpen you images when you export them out of Lightroom. Maybe you sharpen then inline in Lightroom. Maybe you don't use Lightroom and just once in a while load your image into Photoshop to fix minor things ... because you're that good a photographer.

And maybe you're sick of using either Sharpen or Unsharpen Mask in Photohop because it's an effect applied into the image and not onto the image.

The difference you say?

Yes there is a difference. Into the image means that the effect is burned into the image, and is no more editable after you apply it.
Onto means, that you have full control over the effect, even after you have saved the image, shut down your computer. Waited 6 months. Comes back – on a new computer.

In other words: Onto means Controllable and non-destructive.

On with the tip

It's quite easy

  1. Load up the desired image into Photoshop
  2. Locate your layers panel
  3. Duplicate the layer (the one with you image on). You can do this by pressing CTRL+J (PS) CMD+J (mac)
  4. With that new layer (layers 1) selected, go to Filter -> Other -> High Pass.
  5. From here it's more about how you feel. But I usually go no higher than 3 - which is a lot. But try maybe 2 for the test purpose.
  6. Now you'll see a grey area more or less covering you image, with slight contours of the actual image.
  7. Again ... go to your layers panel and select (if not already) the new. grey, layer.
  8. Set your blend mode to Overlay ... and boom – sharp image.

The good thing about this method is, that you now can use your opacity slider on the layer to lower the effect should you need it.

Some of you may argue, that using smart filters does the same. And to some extend it does. though using smart filters limits your choice to either using Sharpen or Unsharpen Mask.
And believe me ... I've spent my share of Unsharpen Mask. But – and this is 100% personal preference – I think that this High Pass method gives you a much better sharpening. To me the Unsharpen Mask is more rough ... and treated badly gives you too sharp edges, and increases you contrast too much.

Using the High Pass method gives me the opportunity to blend and control my sharpening. Even applying a mask, if I need to hold the sharpening back in certain areas.

But try it out .... if nothing else, try it out.

And remember to save your file as either .tiff or .psd afterwards, so the layers are kept intact. That way you can always come back later and refine your sharpening.

Thank you for reading ... and have a Merry Christmas

Niels Steinmeier

Niels is on Twitter as