Photoshop Quick Tips: Selectively sharpening in Photoshop using High Pass filter and layer masks


posted Monday, April 24, 2017 at 2:45 PM EDT


Robert K. Baggs, a professional commercial photographer and writer for Fstoppers, has recently started a series of “bite-sized Photoshop tutorials.” He has previously written about using Photoshop actions to speed up your workflow, “crushing blacks” to achieve a cinematic look and creating even colors in your images. His latest tutorial is about using the high pass filter in Photoshop to sharpen your images.

Early in his career, Baggs saw images from pros and wondered why his own work wasn’t that sharp. He made a few mistakes in the quest to figure it out, such as excessively using clarity sliders and different sharpening techniques in Photoshop. He quickly learned that sharpening is not well-suited for brute force techniques, but rather requires thought, precision and perhaps even subtlety. For many professional photographers and retouchers, their go-to method is not a clarity slider or some dedicated sharpening slider, but rather Photoshop’s high pass filter as part of a non-destructive Photoshop workflow.

In Baggs’s tutorial, he goes over each step in detail, but a high pass filter sharpening workflow can be boiled down to eight steps.

  1. Create a stamp visible layer (Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E on Windows and Shift + Command + Option + E on Mac).

  2. Duplicate the layer via the Control + J or Command + J shortcut.

  3. Navigate to the menu bar and click Filter > Other > High Pass.

  4. Now the next step may require some trial and error, but Baggs’s most common pixel value is 3.5.

  5. After this, navigate to the blend mode of the layer you’re working on and set it to “Overlay.” (Note: If you want to learn about blend modes, see here).

  6. Delete the layer below your High Pass Filter layer – it’s no longer needed.

  7. Now this is a particular area where general sharpening techniques come up short…they sharpen everything. To be selective with your sharpening, add a layer mask and fill it with black. Paint in the areas you want to be sharpened using a white brush.

  8. Lower the opacity of the layer to suit your preferences, Baggs usually ends up between 50 and 90 percent. You could achieve a similar effect by using different opacity brushes when working on your layer mask, if you’d like.

Head on over to Baggs’s tutorial to see everything laid out in detail and view some great before and after comparisons. This is a fantastic sharpening technique and it will help you achieve better-looking, more precise results than using individual sliders in Lightroom or Photoshop. You can check out a video on the topic below.

(Via Fstoppers)