Photoshop Editing Hints: Sharpen Your Digital Image with Unsharp Mask

Make Dramatic Effects on Your Digital Photographs

While the name might imply something totally the opposite, the unsharp mask filter that¡¯s found in most photo editing software is an extremely valuable tool when it comes to touching up your photographs. By becoming familiar with the controls in the unsharp mask, and understanding the effect that each control has, you¡¯ll be that much closer to turning an ¡®okay¡¯ picture into a complete masterpiece.

The first step is to find the unsharp mask filter in your photo editor. If you¡¯re using Adobe Photoshop, you¡¯ll find the filter located under Filter ¡ú Sharpen ¡ú Unsharp Mask. When the unsharp mask dialogue box appears you¡¯ll immediately see the options that are available in determining the amount of sharpening that you want to do.

Before you start to adjust your sliders, it¡¯s a good idea to make sure that your preview box is checked so that you can see the effects that your changes are making on your photograph.

The amount slider adjusts the level of sharpening from 1% to 500%. A higher value in the amount box will give you a more pronounced sharpening effect, while a lower value will make those changes far more subtle. Adjust the slider with the preview box turned on to see the changes that it makes to your image.

The next option you¡¯ll have for adjusting your unsharp mask is the radius slider. When you apply the unsharp mask filter to your photographs the filter applies a light and dark halo within the image where there are color changes. By adjusting the radius level you can determine how large or small you want those halos to be as measured in pixels. It¡¯s generally a good idea to keep those levels no greater than 2.0 ¨C 2.5 pixels, however, each image is different and depending on the effect you¡¯re seeking a higher level might work better for you. With the preview active, you¡¯ll be able to see these changes as you¡¯re adjusting the slider.

The last box that is located in your unsharp mask filter is the adjustment for the threshold. The threshold value allows you to tell the filter how much difference there must be between pixels in an image before it will apply the bordered edge and halo effect. A higher threshold value will limit the effect to areas with high contrast, while a lower threshold value will often result in the stronger definition. By adjusting the threshold levels, you¡¯ll be able to immediately see the effects that it is having on your image.

The first example shows the photo before the unsharp mask filter was applied. In the second photo, you¡¯ll see the difference that the unsharp mask filter made in bringing out stronger definition in the lilac petals and the butterfly. The unsharp mask levels that were used for the second photograph were 120% for the amount, a pixel radius of 2, and a threshold level set at 10. Again, each photograph is different, so play with these levels until you get the result that you¡¯re looking for.

By adjusting each individual slider within the unsharp mask window you¡¯ll be able to create some really dramatic effects to your digital photographs. By knowing and understanding this quick photo editing tip, you¡¯ll have amazing photographs that will look as if they have been taken by a pro.