Tutorial - Sharpening With High Pass Filter

March 07, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I don't know what I'm doing. There... I said it! I am struggling with this next step. 
I've been working on improving my images... and sharpening is least understood for me.
In Lightroom, I've played with Clarity, some. I get the judicious use of the Clarity Slider. Not TOO much or things get weird looking. 
I've been dabbling in that mystery that is Unsharp Mask. And I get what it is in theory. Theory I'm good with. It's practice that hurts me. (In oh.. so many ways!)

So, I've been trying sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to apply Unsharp Mask. I can get a good image. It helps. But it isn't quite what I want. And until I read a bit more, I never knew why. Now, I do. Unsharp Mask works on my whole image. That is, the filter applies across too broad a spectrum within my image. I didn't really have enough control over how I applied it. With shots that have greater depth of field, I ended up with too much noise and color contrast when I applied the filters to the image. It was taking away the smooth silky parts, or any purposeful bokeh. That meant going into layers and masking out areas I didn't want sharpened, revealing only parts I did. So, I stumbled upon another sharpening technique in Photoshop 

High Pass Filter
This new filter to give a bit of Sharp to my images is the High Pass Filter. (New to me!)
I can control where within the image it applies. And for High Pass the where is: Edges.
I can highlight and apply the High Pass Filter to edges. Places where I want there to be specific definition. And I control the definition.

So here's the step-by-step I learned:

• Shoot Awesome photos in camera, that need no correction.
• If (for me, when) your images need processing, Open the RAW image in Lightroom, and Adjust White Balance, set Black and White points, apply minimal Clarity.
• Export to Photoshop.
• Apply any Cropping, and other Photoshop work first. Sharpening should be last in your workflow.
• Create a New Layer that's a Flattened Layer of all your visible layers. On a Mac, Command + Option +Shift + E
• Go to Filters > High Pass
• Adjust the amount of High Pass. Select an area like an eye, or fine detail, for preview. Watch the 
image for Preview as you adjust. Go easy at first. Sometimes, you may need to do over and over, to get it right.
• Adjust the High Pass Filter Layer blending mode to Overlay
• Adjust the amount of Opacity for the layer until the image looks right.
• Save this as an image version. That way, you can always go back and make adjustments to your original exported JPEG.

Sharpening, Made Easier
So, sure, you have a few options: Unsharp Mask, Clarity, and the High Pass Filter
No one method works best for every image. No method works best for every photographer. Try each one out. Try them on the same image. Try different images. Most importantly, always be open to trying new methods. You never know, you might find the new works for you.

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