How to Crank Up the Focus with the Sharpen Tool in Photoshop CS6 - dummies

How to Crank Up the Focus with the Sharpen Tool in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

In Photoshop Creative Suite 6, the Sharpen tool increases the contrast and enhances the focus. You need to use this tool with a bit more care than the Blur tool. Where 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.

If you blur an area a little too much, you may not even notice. But even a small area that has been oversharpened can change the entire appearance of an image — and not flatteringly.

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 might want to sharpen an area to make it stand out more distinctly against a slightly blurred background.

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Vasko Image #1930704]
Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Vasko Image #1930704

Follow these simple steps to use the Sharpen tool:

  1. Select the Sharpen tool from the Tools panel.

  2. Make the following changes in the Options bar:

    • Select the brush of your choice from the Brushes panel.

    • Select a blending mode from the Mode pop-up menu.

    • Select the strength of the sharpening effect with the Strength slider or text box.

      Using a fairly low value (say, 25 percent 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.

    • Use the information on all your layers for Photoshop’s contrast-increasing algorithms by selecting the Use All Layers option.

    • Choose Protect Detail to enhance the details in the image and minimize artifacts. If you leave this option unselected, your sharpening is more pronounced.

    • If you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet, click the last icon. This overrides any settings you made in the Brush panel or Brush Preset picker.

  3. Paint over the areas you want to sharpen.

  4. 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 adjust the Levels or Curves controls, too. 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 paint the sharpening effect, you’re usually better off using a filter.

If you really want to apply the effect with brushstrokes, you can always apply the Unsharp Mask filter to a whole layer, take a snapshot, undo the filter operation, and then use the snapshot as a source to paint from, using the History panel. Finally, for maximum flexibility, try using Smart Filters, which enable you to endlessly edit your filter.