Focusing with the Sharpen Tool in Elements - dummies

Focusing with the Sharpen Tool in Elements

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

In theory, the Sharpen tool in Photoshop Elements is nothing more than the Blur tool in reverse — instead of decreasing contrast among pixels, the Sharpen tool increases the contrast. In practice, however, use this tool with a bit more care than the Blur tool.

Whereas blurred areas tend to fade from a viewer’s notice (at least, in terms of how his or her eyes perceive them), sharpened areas of an image jump out at people. Even a small area that’s been oversharpened can quickly lead to overly grainy and noisy images.

You can often successfully sharpen small areas with the Sharpen tool. Sometimes, the eyes in a portrait can benefit from a little sharpening. Or you may want to sharpen an area to make it stand out more distinctly against a slightly blurred background.

[Credit: © Image #1194779]
Credit: © Image #1194779

Follow these simple steps to use the Sharpen tool:

  1. In the Photo Editor, in Expert mode, open an image and select the Sharpen tool from the Tools panel.


  2. In the Tool Options, select a brush from the Brushes Presets drop-down panel.

    Use a small brush for applying small areas of sharpening.

  3. In the Tool Options, select a blending mode from the Mode drop-down menu.

  4. In the Tool Options, select the strength of the sharpening effect with the Strength slider or text box.

    Using a fairly low value (say, 25% or less) is a good idea because you can build up sharpness slowly, being careful not to overdo it.

    You know you’ve gone too far with the sharpness when the pixels start to look noisy and grainy.

  5. If your image has multiple layers, select the Sample All Layers option to make Elements use pixels from all visible layers when it produces the effect.

  6. Select the Protect Detail option to enhance the details in the image and minimize artifacts.

    If you leave this option deselected, your sharpening is more pronounced.

  7. Paint over the areas you want to sharpen.

  8. When you finish, choose File→Save to store your image.

Sharpening increases contrast, so be careful when using the Sharpen tool if you plan to also adjust the Levels or Curves controls. Any change that increases contrast in the whole image also boosts the contrast of an area you’ve sharpened.

The Unsharp Mask and Smart Sharpen filters offer more options and better overall control, so unless you really need to use the sharpening effect, you’re usually better off using a filter.