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Apply the Unsharp Mask filter with a brush for better control

Added on Saturday 16th of May 2009 12:47 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3/CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

As useful as the Sharpen filters are, sometimes too much of a good thing is just that—too much. Not every image calls for clean, crisp edges, and sometimes only part of an image needs sharpening. We’ll show how you can sharpen selectively.

To sharpen our image selectively, we’ll:

Apply the Unsharp Mask filter to our image.

Take a snapshot of our image to create a history state.

Use the History Brush tool and the source data from our snapshot to selectively reapply the Unsharp Mask filter to our image.

Regardless of how you intend to use an image, there are several steps you can take to prepare it for quality output. The process begins with tonal correction and ends with sharpening. You should always perform sharpening last because everything you do to an image beforehand tends to soften its appearance.

In Photoshop, you can sharpen your images with the Sharpen tool and the various Sharpen filters. In theory, sharpening increases contrast by comparing contingent shades of gray and making the brighter shades brighter and the darker shades darker. But here’s the dilemma: The Sharpen tool is meant to create greater contrast in very fine areas, such as the diamond in an image of a ring, while the Sharpen filters affect the entire image. There’s no middle ground. So what do you do when you’re faced with an image like the one shown in Figure A, for example, where you want the snowboarder to be sharp and the background to remain soft? There’s a solution, and we’ll show it to you in this article.


On our toes

We already established that we shouldn’t use the Sharpen tool because the area we want to sharpen in our image is too large—over-sharpening would surely result. And we don’t want to sharpen the entire image and lose the soft features in the background. Ironically, our solution requires us to first apply the Unsharp Mask filter to our entire image. However, what we do after that gives us precision control over that sharpening. Let’s begin!

Apply the Unsharp Mask filter

The first thing you’ll do is open an image and apply the Unsharp Mask filter. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article, extract the file snowboard.jpg, launch Photoshop and open the file shown in Figure A. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.)

To apply the Unsharp Mask filter:

1. Choose Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask to display the Unsharp Mask dialog box.

2. Click the plus or minus sign to adjust the magnification so the image is the right size to fit in the preview window.<...


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