Sharpening Photos with the Photoshop High Pass Filter

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Adobe Photoshop has such an expansive toolset that there is nearly always more than one way to get a task or technique done. In this post we’ll quickly show you how to sharpen an image nondestructively using the high pass filter, rather than relying on the default sharpening tools.

This tip is from our Adobe Photoshop CC For Photographers Tutorial Video course by Andy Anderson, now available on DVD, as a download, or streaming through our unlimited Learning Library plan.

Using Layers

After opening the image you’d like to sharpen, duplicate your base layer by using the shortcut CMD+J (Mac) or CTRL+J (Windows). You’ll know your copy has been made when it shows up in your Layers panel as shown below.

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We’ll be using the new duplicate layer (Layer 1) to apply the sharpening effect without modifying the underlying original image (Background).

Accessing the High Pass Filter

From the Filter menu you can find High Pass under the Other submenu.

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Once you’ve opened the High Pass filter, you’ll be presented with a Radius option, measured in pixels, to determine the level of sharpening you will be applying, accompanied by a preview screen. For our purposes, it is best to start with a lower value, such as 8 pixels, leaving the option to increase later on.

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Click OK when you’ve chosen a value. At this point, you will only see the gray duplicate layer with the High Pass effect applied.

To effectively merge the two layers together and achieve our sharpened result, we must apply a Blending Mode from the dropdown above your layers list. From the dropdown, select Overlay as shown below.

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Now your custom sharpness filter will be applied, and you can make adjustments as you’d like. To make the image sharper, duplicate Layer 1 to effectively double the strength of the effect. To reduce the amount of sharpness, use the Layers panel Opacity setting on your duplicate layers.

To compare the level of sharpness to your original image, simply click the small ‘eye’ icon next to your High Pass layer to make it invisible. In the end, the effect will be subtle, but it can often correct unwanted blurriness and add clarity just where you want it.

BEFORE

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AFTER

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