Sharpening is a mystery to many, some do it well and others don't. There are quite a few methods to sharpen an image including the use of a High Pass Filter, Unsharp Mask, Smart Sharpen and Camera Shake Removal in Adobe Photoshop CC. However, it’s similar to hearing nails on a chalkboard when I see an image that is over sharpened. I'm no saint, I'm certainly guilty of cranking Unsharp Mask, I just never found the right solution. Until now.
Sometime last year I stumbled upon this sharpening technique from CalvinHollywood. Granted, the tutorial is a bit much, but I took away knowledge that pushed my post production further onto a professional league. Over time, I learned to simplify the technique and find a good balance that worked for my imagery. Since then, I've presented this method at workshops and seminars and I'm constantly asked to explain the technique in detail. It’s not the easiest execution to understand, but it certainly works...
- Merge the layers into one layer. Select the top layer and hold Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E or Command-Option-Shift-E. This will merge all of the layers into one new layer and insert it at the top of the layers stack. It also doesn't affect the layers below so you can still reference those if need be later.
- Copy layer. Press Ctrl-J or Command-J. This will copy the selected layer.
- Create a group. Click the small folder icon at the bottom of the layers pallet, this will create a Group Folder. Then, drag the two layers into the folder. Rename the folder to “Sharpen” or something thereof in case you need to reference this image later.
- Change the blending modes. Select the “Sharpen” folder, then drop down the blending mode menu and select “Overlay.” Then, select the top layer in the group and drop down the blending mode menu, select “Vivid Light.”
- Invert the layer. Select the top layer in the group and invert the layer by tapping Ctrl-I or Command-I. The image will return to its original look before you changed the blending modes.
- Sharpen with Surface Blur. With the top layer in the group highlighted select Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. Keep it subtle and the numbers small, Radius: 10 Threshold: 8
Occasionally, I’ll add a touch of Unsharp Mask along with this technique for some added punch. Honestly, I can’t tell you how it works or the design behind “Sharpening With Blur.” I can only share what I know and this is the best method I’ve found to bringing back that detail and texture.