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Enhance microscopic details with Smart Sharpen

Added on Sunday 27th of December 2009 09:21 am EST

Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4


In microscopic photography, extreme close-ups of cells pose a great challenge for educators and researchers. Fortunately, Photoshop’s Smart Sharpen filter gives you maximum control and superb results when enhancing the details of close-up images.

To help you doctor up blurred close-up photos using the Smart Sharpen filter, we’ll:


  • Duplicate an image before we sharpen it to preserve an original copy of the image.
  • Review the Smart Sharpen settings as well as the Advanced options so you can gain control of sharpening your images
  • Show you how to save Smart Sharpen settings so you can apply them to multiple images quickly

Everyone wants good quality images, but it’s especially important in photography destined for publications, classrooms, or medical evaluation. One way to enhance image quality is to use one of Photoshop’s sharpening tools. Unsharp Mask does a great job enhancing and controlling an image’s degree of sharpness but it sometimes falls short by creating unwanted halo artifacts and leaving little tonal variation. So to enhance the detail of photography on the “cellular” level, use Smart Sharpen instead.

Note:The Smart Sharpen filter not only does a remarkable job eliminating the blur on close-ups, but you can also use it to accentuate highlights in selective areas of portraits. Its versatility can bring out the detail in most blurred images, especially photos taken with a digital camera.

Get smart

Adobe introduced the Smart Sharpen filter in CS2, giving it more sharpening control than Photoshop’s traditional Sharpen filters. Smart Sharpen provides several options for blurring and sharpening particular tonal ranges and is ideal for enhancing extreme close-ups or magnified photography, such as medical/scientific photography. Figure A shows the same image with and without sharpening. No other image manipulation has been performed, so you can see that smart sharpening alone can have a significant effect.



Decipher Photoshop’s Sharpen filters 


While the Smart Sharpen filter gives you the most control over sharpening, there are several other Sharpen filters worth checking out in Photoshop. Each filter affects a photo in a different way, and, depending upon the image, affects them with varying results


  • Sharpen.The Sharpen filter is an okay choice for most images, but certainly not the best choice. This filter increases both an image’s crispness and the contrast between pixels.
  • Sharpen Edges.The Sharpen Edges filter detects areas in an image with significant color changes. Then, it sharpens the edges between them while preserving the overall smoothness of detail. This filter is best suited for high-contrast edges.
  • Sharpen More. The Sharpen More filter applies the Sharpen filter to a greater degree than the Sharpen filter, but watch out for “halos” that may form around your images when using it.
  • Unsharp Mask. The Unsharp Mask filter results in greater contrast between the edges of your image than the Sharpen or Sharpen More filter. Prior to CS2, the Unsharp Mask filter gave you the most control over the degree of sharpness in your image.


Preserve the original and sharpen the image


Before you doctor up your image with the Smart Sharpen filter, it’s important to keep an untouched copy of the original. Then you can rest easy while you make edits to a copied layer.


To preserve the original image and apply the Smart Sharpen filter: 

  1. Open an image with blurred detail in Photoshop.
  2. Display the Layers panel by choosing Window > Layers
  3. Duplicate the Background layer by click-and-dragging it onto the Create A New Layer button located at the base of the Layers panel.
  4. Select the Zoom tool and click on the document window until you reach 100%, which will give you the most accurate onscreen image preview.
  5. Choose Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen to display the Smart Sharpen dialog box shown in Figure B.
  6. Click the Preview check box and select Basic.
  7. Adjust the Smart Sharpen settings.