The Best Way to Sharpen Images in Photoshop

Making sure your images are sharp is a necessity for every photographer. Getting your focus right in camera is of course key but there is always room for improvement in post. Like most things in Photoshop, there are multiple ways to sharpen an image, but my absolute favorite is the High Pass filter. Colin Smith of photoshopCAFE explains exactly how it works and why it's the best way to sharpen your images.

It couldn't be easier to use the High Pass filter. Located in the Filter menu under the Other submenu, once selected it instantly fills your image with 50% gray. Apply it to a duplicated or stamp copied layer of your image.

The High Pass filter works by increasing the contrast along all of the edges in an image, creating the illusion of increased sharpness. As you increase the Radius value in the High Pass filter window, you will notice the edges in your image get crisper. I find that keeping the Radius somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 works best. After you select your Radius and click OK, you need to choose a blend mode to blend the High Pass layer with the rest of your layers. I get the best results using the Overlay blend mode.

As with all adjustment layers in Photoshop, selective masking and opacity adjustments are essential in creating the final look. In landscape images, for example, you can use the High Pass filter to lead the viewer's eyes through the image by selectively sharpening key elements. For portraits, you want to make sure the eyes are sharp.

Anyone have any tips or best practices for sharpening images in Photoshop? Does anyone use other blend modes other than Overlay and if so, which ones and why?

Aneesh Kothari's picture

Aneesh Kothari is a Houston-based travel, landscape, and cityscape photographer. He enjoys reading, traveling with his family, and making lists of things he enjoys. He yearns to be a Civil War buff but has yet to finish the Ken Burns series.

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What is it about this sharpening method that makes it better than other methods?

I can't say it's the best but I always use it and prefer it over every other method.

I use the same method-seems the most natural out of other sharpening methods. But I prefer “soft light” for the blending mode, it’s fairly conservative to my eye

I use the High Pass filter all the time because it sharpens edges and leaves non-edges unsharpened. So a sky can look the way it did, but the clapboard edges of a house have just the right amount of sharpening. (If the Overlay isn't sharp enough I go to Linear Light and then pull back the opacity.) What surprises me most is that Adobe hasn't figured out a way to do it in one click. The video got too arduous to watch, but the way I do it still requires a number of steps in succession and I'd love to have that streamlined since I use the HPF for at least 60% of my sharpening.

If this method is good enough for Elia Locardi, it's good enough for me.

It is somewhat redundant but after sharpening with High pass you can further adjust the edge contrast using Blend if. I believe sharpening is just finding edges and increasing contrast and blend if allows adjusting the dark and light areas of the radius a bit separately.


Since sharpening with the high pass filter also sharpens noise in the image, I like to do a noise reduction pass on the HPF image with Topaz DeNoise or Nik Collection. I will mostly use linear light for the blending mode and then scale the opacity down.