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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Photoshop

How to Sharpen an Image in Photoshop

by
Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

What can you do if your photo is blurry? Don't worry—you can fix it in Photoshop!

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to sharpen a blurry image in Photoshop in a couple of simple steps. All these steps can be saved as an action, so that you can achieve the same effect faster in the future!

What You'll Learn in This Photoshop Sharpening Tutorial

  • How to sharpen an image in Photoshop
  • How to make an image clearer in Photoshop
  • How to reduce noise in the sharpened image
  • How to create a Photoshop sharpen action

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

What You Will Need

You can use any blurry photo for this tutorial. Here's the one I used:

Before I'll show you how to sharpen a blurry image in Photoshop, you have to know one thing: sharpening is about enhancing the details, not about creating them out of nothing. So if your whole photo is as blurry as the back of the head and neck in this image, then this method will not work. However, if it's slightly out of focus, like the face here, then it will be perfect for you!

stock photo examplestock photo examplestock photo example
Even if you know how to add sharpness in Photoshop, not every photo can be fixed

Step 1

Now I'm going to show you how to sharpen a photo in Photoshop. Open your image. Open the Actions panel and create a new action.

create a new actioncreate a new actioncreate a new action

Step 2

Duplicate the background layer by pressing Control-J, and hide the new layer—this copy will allow us to quickly compare the versions.

duplicate the background layerduplicate the background layerduplicate the background layer

Step 3

Go back to the background layer and duplicate it again. Right-click it and select Convert to Smart Object. By doing this, you'll be able to adjust the filters after adding them. Name this layer Basic Sharpening.

convert to smart objectconvert to smart objectconvert to smart object

Step 4

Go to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. This filter adds a sharpening effect by increasing the contrast of the edges. Drag the sliders until the edges start glowing, and then decrease the effect slightly to find that perfect spot.

Because sharpening accentuates the noise as well, use the Reduce Noise slider to make this effect less noticeable.

add smart sharpeningadd smart sharpeningadd smart sharpening
This is a very powerful filter, but it's not the only way to sharpen edges in Photoshop
smart sharpen effectsmart sharpen effectsmart sharpen effect

Step 5

You can pause the action now and compare your current result to the original. It's already visibly sharpened, but we can make it even better! Continue recording and Duplicate the Basic Sharpening layer. Right-click and select Clear Smart Filters. Name this layer Detail Sharpening.

copy and clear smart filterscopy and clear smart filterscopy and clear smart filters

Step 6

Change the Blend Mode of this layer to Overlay. The colors will appear burned out, but this is temporary.

change blend mode to overlaychange blend mode to overlaychange blend mode to overlay

Step 7

Go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Adjust the Radius to see only subtly white lines—no other colors.

add subtle high pass filteradd subtle high pass filteradd subtle high pass filter
high pass effecthigh pass effecthigh pass effect

Step 8

If you compare the results now, the difference is quite striking! But we can do one more thing. Duplicate this layer again and increase the High Pass, overdoing the effect a little. Name this layer Inner Sharpening.

add stronger high pass filteradd stronger high pass filteradd stronger high pass filter
second high pass effectsecond high pass effectsecond high pass effect

Step 9

Duplicate this layer again and increase the High Pass even more—focus on the areas out of focus and try to sharpen them this way. Name this layer Outer Sharpening, change its Blend Mode to Soft Light, and lower the Opacity to about 50%.

add very string high pass filteradd very string high pass filteradd very string high pass filter
chnage blend mode to soft lightchnage blend mode to soft lightchnage blend mode to soft light
third high pass effectthird high pass effectthird high pass effect

Step 10

Add a Layer Mask to both of these layers and fill it with black using the Paint Bucket Tool (G). This will make these layers invisible.

add a layer maskadd a layer maskadd a layer mask
fill layer mask with whitefill layer mask with whitefill layer mask with white

Step 11

Stop recording. This is the end of the automatic stage, and the rest needs to be done manually. First, select the layer mask of the Inner Sharpening layer and take the Soft Round Brush. Paint with white over the areas that you want to sharpen even more, by revealing parts of the invisible sharpened layer.

stop recordingstop recordingstop recording
paint on the maskpaint on the maskpaint on the mask

Step 12

Do the same with the Outer Sharpening layer, this time painting over the area out of focus to make it less blurry.

paint on the second maskpaint on the second maskpaint on the second mask
sharpened imagesharpened imagesharpened image

Step 13

Now, feel free to adjust the sliders of the previously applied filters to make the effect stronger or subtler. You can also change the Opacity to quickly make the effect weaker, or duplicate a layer to make it stronger. There's no single perfect method for how to add sharpness in Photoshop—you can experiment to create the effect you personally prefer.

make final adjustmentsmake final adjustmentsmake final adjustments
Feel free to adjust the values to achieve the effect you like

Step 14

Test your end result on various levels of zoom—if you need your image to look good in its highest resolution, you can do one more thing. Select the top layer and press Control-Shift-Alt-E to create a merged layer. Then go to Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise. Experiment with these settings—try to achieve the balance between blurring out the noise and losing the details.

reduce noisereduce noisereduce noise
reduce noise comparisonreduce noise comparisonreduce noise comparison

Step 15

Hold the Alt key and drag the layer mask from the Inner Sharpening layer to the current layer, and then invert it with Control-I—this will exclude the most important details from this effect.

copy the layer maskcopy the layer maskcopy the layer mask

Good Job!

Now you know how to sharpen a photo in Photoshop!

sharpen blurry image photoshop finalsharpen blurry image photoshop finalsharpen blurry image photoshop final

Photoshop Sharpen Actions

This basic sharpening isn't the only way to make a photo look better! Here are a couple of Photoshop actions that enhance the look of the photos to create unique results.

Sharpen Premium HDR Photoshop Actions (ATN)

Sharpen Premium HDR Photoshop ActionsSharpen Premium HDR Photoshop ActionsSharpen Premium HDR Photoshop Actions

If you want to quickly add a dramatic effect to your photos, this simple action will do it for you! It will not only sharpen the edges, but also increase the contrast between the shadows and highlights.

HDR Super Detailed Image Photoshop Action (ATN)

HDR Super Detailed Image Photoshop ActionHDR Super Detailed Image Photoshop ActionHDR Super Detailed Image Photoshop Action

This is another action that effectively uses HDR for sharpening. Make your cool photos even cooler by applying this stunning effect to them!

Cartoonica Painting Action (ATN)

Cartoonica Painting ActionCartoonica Painting ActionCartoonica Painting Action

Sometimes sharpening isn't enough—sometimes you want to make the photo look more interesting by making it less realistic. And this action will turn your photos into smudge paintings, with nice crisp edges and blended shades.

Realistic Painting Pro Actions (ATN)

Realistic Painting Pro ActionsRealistic Painting Pro ActionsRealistic Painting Pro Actions

This is another action that turns photos into something resembling an illustration. This action, however, keeps the details and adds its own twist to them, creating nice stylized "paintings".

Skin Retouching Actions (ATN)

Skin Retouching ActionsSkin Retouching ActionsSkin Retouching Actions

This is a must-have in the toolbox of every photographer! It's a set of 34 actions, created for the purpose of making the skin look better in a variety of ways—you can mattify, airbrush, and heal the skin professionally even if you're just a beginner!

More Photoshop Action Tutorials

Here you can find more Photoshop action tutorials:

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