How To Sharpen A Photo Using Photoshop and Lightroom

Blurry or soft photos can be frustrating, but it doesn't take long to enhance them using the sharpening techniques available in the Adobe software suite.

Here you can learn effective techniques for sharpening and enhancing your photographs.

Sharpening Basics: Understanding Your Tools

Let's explore Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, along with a handy plugin that amplifies both apps.

Here are some key terms you may encounter for the first time in this article. 

  • Photoshop's sharpening filters can help improve sharpness and detail, but results may vary depending on the image quality and settings used.
  • A Photoshop plugin like Topaz Sharpen AI extends Photoshop's capabilities by providing advanced sharpening and noise reduction features powered by machine learning.
  • Layers - Imagine these as transparent sheets that enable you to tweak your photo—each layer adjusts independently, leaving others unaffected.
  • Smart Objects in Photoshop act as containers for your layers, granting you the freedom to edit and re-edit anytime.
  • The Feather tool softens edges, blending selected areas with the rest of the photo.

Adobe Photoshop: Sharpening Your Images

The Unsharp Mask Filter

screenshot of the unsharp mask being used

Let's look at the Unsharp Mask, a tool that, ironically, sharpens your images effectively. It boosts edge contrast to make pictures pop. To find it, go through Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask.

In the Unsharp Mask dialogue box, you'll see sliders for Amount, Radius, and Threshold.

Think of the Amount as your power dial—the higher you crank it, the sharper your image becomes. But beware of setting it too high, as it can introduce artificial edges and an unwanted halo effect, making your image look over-processed.

Next up is Radius, which controls the extent of your sharpening. Opt for a smaller radius to refine tiny details, or a larger one to enhance the more significant parts of your picture.

And finally, the Threshold slider kicks in sharpening based on pixel differences. A low setting casts a wide net, while a higher one zeroes in on the most contrasting edges.

When using the Unsharp Mask filter, adjust the Amount, Radius, and Threshold sliders carefully to enhance sharpness while preserving image detail and minimising unwanted noise or artifacts.

Smart Sharpen Filter

Using the Smart sharpen filter

Give your images a crisp, defined look with Photoshop's Smart Sharpen filter, designed to enhance sharpness without adding noise.

Convert your photo into a Smart Object via the Layers palette for easy re-editing.

Then, head to the Filter menu, select Sharpen, and choose Smart Sharpen.

Activate 'Lens Blur' under Remove to target edges effectively.

Adjust the sliders to enhance the sharpness and clarity of your photo.

But maybe you prefer Lightroom?

How to Sharpen a Photo Like a Pro in Lightroom

Ready to give your photos that professional sharpness in Lightroom? Open the Develop module and then the detail panel – this is your control centre for crisp, vivid images!

Lightroom's sharpening tools eclipse the basic Unsharp Mask. Seize control with three useful sliders: amount, radius, and detail. Here's how to wield them.

  • Amount Slider: Crank up the intensity for that crisp look, or dial it back for a subtle sharpness.
  • Radius Slider: Pick the size of the details you want to stand out. Opt for a higher value for larger elements, or go lower for the finer details – the choice is yours!
  • Detail Slider: Focus on the textures and fine lines, ideal for transforming those macro shots or portraits into captivating masterpieces.
  • Use Lightroom's masking slider to selectively sharpen specific areas of your image while leaving other areas untouched, allowing precise control over the sharpening process.
Before sharpening in LightroomBefore sharpening in Lightroom
the sharpening tools in lightroomThe sharpening controls in Lightroom

Use Lightroom's brush tool to sharpen specific areas of your photos.

Sharpen the fine details in specific photo areas, like enhancing the sparkle in an animal's eyes or bringing out the texture of fur or feathers.

Remember, while automatic sharpening saves time, manually tweaking your settings unlocks the best results.

Be cautious of excessive sharpening, as it can introduce unwanted halos, artifacts, or an overly harsh appearance that makes your photo look unnatural or over-processed.

Also, monitor noise, particularly in low-light scenes. Use Lightroom's noise reduction tools to master the delicate dance between sharpness and noise.

Advanced Techniques: Using Plugins for Sharpening

Photoshop offers various third-party plugins for image adjustments, compositing, and special effects, ranging from free to several hundred dollars

A Photoshop plugin like Topaz Sharpen AI extends Photoshop's capabilities by providing advanced sharpening and noise reduction features powered by machine learning

Use it directly from Photoshop's Filter menu or as a standalone app. It's also now part of the comprehensive Photo AI suite.

Sharpen AI provides a high degree of control by allowing users to preview different sharpening levels and selectively apply the sharpening effect using an intuitive masking tool, ensuring precise targeting of the desired areas.

before using Topaz Sharpen AIThe raw file before sending to Sharpen AI for sharpening
After sharpening with Topaz Sharpen AIAfter sharpening in Topaz Labs Sharpen AI plugin

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