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Sharpen Like A Pro

Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask

I find that Amount looks good usually between 90 and 150, while I typically use Radius near 1 to 1.2. Choose Gaussian Blur for what you’re "removing" (I’ve never found the other options to work that well), and check More Accurate (Smart Sharpen) or More Refined (Adjust Sharpness). If you have a lot of noise in your photo, this sharpening function will make it more obvious, so you may have to use USM sharpening. There’s no Threshold setting here to deal with noise.


If you’re using Photoshop Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, use the superb sharpening function there. It’s superior to those inside Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. It uses totally different algorithms, plus offers some unique features. You can add this sharpening at any time—the program only will apply it at the optimum time when an image is exported or converted.

If you hold down the Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) key as you adjust any of the sliders, the sharpening appears in black-and-white, which is much easier to see. Amount is intensity of sharpening, Radius is distance, and Detail brings out detail. Lots of formulas work here, too. I find these settings useful: 40-60 for Amount; 1-1.3 for Radius; and 35-50 for Detail.

Masking allows you to block sharpening where it’s not needed. Hold down the Alt or Option key as you move the slider to the right. Wherever the screen turns black, the sharpening is masked or blocked. This can avoid sharpening noise in certain areas. Some photographers use this so that only edges are sharpened.


Nik Software Sharpener Pro offers sharpening similar to that included with Lightroom and Camera Raw, and in an easy-to-use interface that allows you to make choices such as the resolution of your printer and the paper type, plus you can selectively sharpen parts of the image.

Whatever sharpening you use, be careful you don’t overdo it. Too much sharpening makes images look harsh, gives edges strange looks and increases noise. If the photo doesn’t have sharpness from when it was shot, oversharpening isn’t going to make it sharp.

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