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VIDEO: Advanced Sharpening and Noise Reduction in Photoshop

This VIDEO will show you how to get the most dynamic and sharpest images in your printed marketing material. This is a two-step Photoshop sharpening technique that will show you how to create the sharpest images without creating noise in smooth midtone areas of your photographs.

This is one of my favorite Photoshop sharpening tips in reproducing beautiful photography on press. All images are not as sharp as they can be when converted from raw files. These days there is a lot of post image processing that needs to be done with digital images. One of the key things that is overlooked is how sharp the image is. We now work with incredibly sharp LCD displays and images seem to jump off the screen. Unfortunately, when an image goes through the RIP (raster image processor) process in prepress, the image is naturally softened in the screening process.

Remember, your photography is only as good as the printer you choose!

Let me know what you think. Please leave your comments below…

[learn_more caption=”Transcript of Video” state=”open”] Hi. This is Rick Rys from

Today, we’re going to talk about one of the greatest Photoshop sharpening techniques to take your photographs from a good photograph to a great photograph.

[0:13] Notice the transition there. This will demonstrate how to take a great photo and make it into a true high definition color print when it’s printed on press.

[0:25] All right, let’s get started here.

[0:27] As you can see, I am working in the LAB color space right now. You can work in RGB and get the same results. I prefer using LAB. Just keep in mind you want to convert to CMYK at the very last moment so always work in RGB or LAB.

[0:43] First things started, we’re going to do a Select All and we’re going to copy and create a new Alpha channel here and paste our document or image into our new Alpha channel.

[1:03] We select that and we’re going to Filter, Stylize and click the Find Edges. Now what Find Edges will do is look at all the sharp contrasting points in the image and basically highlight those and create a line drawing for you.

[1:21] From here, we’re going to go on to our curves, which is our Command M and we’re going to alter this channel.

[1:30] First thing you want to do… In a nutshell, what’s happening here… We’re going to sharpen the darkened areas. The white areas will not be sharpened so we’re going to maintain our smooth, crystal clear, creamy midtones and not create any noise in there from excessive sharpening.

[1:49] First thing, you’d want to grab our shadow end of our curve and bring this over all the way up to 50%. At the same time, you’d want to take our highlight end of our curve and bring this up to about 20% or so.

[2:09] You can see right now we’ve created a much higher contrast now in this line drawing. And again just to make another adjustment here, we want to make our black areas a little wider as possible so we’re going to add some more density to that black and kick it up. You can see they’re almost intersecting each other.

[2:29] At this point, we’re going to click OK and we’re going to go into Filter and create a Gaussian Blur on this image. The blur will spread the black areas to create a subtle transition between these smooth areas and the sharpened areas.

[2:50] So, select Gaussian Blur and use anything… I prefer to use two and a half pixels. That seems to work fast for me. So, select 2.5 pixels and click OK.

[3:04] Now back to curves again. You could see we softened up the image.

[3:07] Now we go back to curves and harden up that edge a little more. So we’re going to bring our shadow end of our curve all the way up to 50% again. You could see how much darker we made that so we’ll get more sharpening in the areas. There is no information in our white areas here so those areas will not be affected by the Photoshop sharpening filter. Click OK.

[3:32] At this point, we’re going back to our full color image and go to Select and Load Selection. Notice we’re going to select our Alpha channel that we’ve created and click OK. Now that selection is brought to place. We’re simply going to hide the selection just to save on our eyeballs there.

[3:57] And now we’re going to do our sharpening. The selection is going to just isolate the areas that we want to sharpen. Go to Filter, Sharpen and I’m a huge fan of Unsharp Mask. It goes back to the old days of running the old color drum scanner. At this point, I’m going to play around with the amount.

[4:21] Now the amount is how much the adjoining pixels are affected. I like to go real high on this number, anywhere between 150 and 200. For this tutorial, I’m going to select 200 and it’s a high number but keep in mind we’re only affecting those images in the selection itself.

[4:41] You’d want to keep the radius anywhere between half a pixel to one to one and a half. If you go any thicker, you’ll create a severe halo effect around your images. If you’re looking for an artistic point of view, you may want to do that but I would not ever recommend doing that. So we’re going to stick to one pixel.

[5:06] Our threshold determines which pixels are sharpened and which are not. A higher threshold value means that there’s a huge contrast difference between pixels that are affected. Since we have our selection, it’s a moot point so it really doesn’t matter. So I’m going to stick with a threshold of zero.

[5:26] You can see as I move through the image and click on and off, you’ll notice that there is a great deal of sharpening happening in the contrasting areas but look at the midtone areas. They’re perfectly clean and not affected at all. Just an incredible cool little tool to utilize to create dynamic looking photographs. So click OK and we are done.

[5:53] At this point, we’ll go ahead and save our image and just to show you up close, we’ll zoom in here and you can see the difference between the two. Turn on… And turn it back off again… And turn it back on. Just an awesome looking sharpening job.

[6:15] OK, thanks for tuning in. Look back for more tutorials in the future. Take care. [/learn_more]




93 replies on “VIDEO: Advanced Sharpening and Noise Reduction in Photoshop”

Hey Rick, Still playing with your tutorial. One question, When I load the alpha channel selection and go to sharpen do I need to inverse the selection? I don’t see that you have done that, but when I go to unsharp mask I end up sharpening everything but the edges and looks bad. Maybe I am missing something? Also any link for your PS Action?

Love the tutorial and your presentation! Thank you!

Oh my God! My teacher taught me this but It didnt click until now! I am so subscribing. Can you make a video about spot proofing and gamut warning and how to lower that. I’m just trying to perfect my printing.

not necessarily. the only time i use sharpening on portraits is to enhance the eyes. this is achieved by increasing the ‘threshold’ setting and using a value above 10 pixels. this will sharpen pixels that differ by more than a brightness value of 10. this will ensure smooth areas, aka skin, will not be effected and remain smooth. however, using this technique in the video will mask the high contrast areas and leave skin unaffected.
i hope this helps you…

i will post a video on how to do soft proofing in Photoshop. keep in mind that you will need the correct print profile for this to work effectively.
ProPhoto RGB is an even bigger RGB color gamut than Adobe RGB. most monitors, let alone output devices, cannot render this gamut. many pros will archive images in ProPhoto RGB in hopes that advances in the future will permit the use of this color space.

I will love to see, of this version of noise reduction imaging to Pixelmator. I only use Pixelmator, cause I don’t have a good budget to buy Photoshop CS5, but anyway. I really like how useful this tutorial is, it’s very interesting and very effective than the simple use of noise reduction filter or tool.
I like to see something like this done in Pixelmator, how you do it
Really awesome video tutorial!

thanks for the nice comments! unfortunately, i do not have that software and use Photoshop exclusively. most image editing software uses a very similar interface and functions are very similar. keep researching and testing your software and maybe you will find a suitable work-around. thanks again

Hi, thanks for the tut. It seems to work only for B&W pictures. Color phoptos require copying one individual channel only ~(either red or blue or green), not the whole RGB. Unless I’m missing something. Also, this doesn’t work for blurry photos. Only for those that are already sharp and require better sharpening for thew purpose of printing.

You can’t bring into focus a photo that is out of focus. Sharpening only increases the ‘acutance’ of an image. (See Wikipedia)
This technique will work on colour images. First convert to Lab (Image > Mode > Lab color), then look under your Channels palette for the Lightness. Now you have a grayscale layer to use as a mask (Find edges, etc.)
Alternatively, just using RGB, copy your image to a new layer then desaturate it (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate) to begin creating your mask.

Hi! Why is it that a black background appears, instead of white as shown in your tutorial 00:53, every time I create new channel? I tried to invert this by command+i. Is this ok? Also, the contrast doesn’t increase when I bring the shadow end of the curve to 50%. Why is it so? Did I miss something? Thanks.

I was using this technique for a portrait and I had to adjust the curves treatment to what you showed, in order to reveal enough black edges around eyes. Modification.

@Incognito6543 Using the Alpha channel to sharpen your picture works whether in colour or b&w. Method = Same. Tweaks = Different. Once you’ve done the Find Edges bit, adjust the curves so that the most contrasty parts of your picture (with people this is usually the eyes) are black. Then use Unsharp Mask.

Hello, I did the same, yet it is still sharpening the sky!
I made the sky in the show edges effect completely white, but it is still sharpening it.
what am I doing wrong?

you may have to ‘invert’ your selection based on your alpha channel settings. i have produced a separate video on how to do this, however I can not embed the link here. go to my channel and view ‘Alpha Channel Background Color Options … ‘ and this should help you out….

I love this tutorial you explained everything perfectly and its something I never really knew! Usually I do my sharpening in lightroom because of the detail and masking sliders but I’m definitely going to have to give this a shot! Thanks!

Excellent..Straight forward and to the point! Not a big user of Photoshop..I usually stick to lightroom..this was a great help..much better than using LR on its own.

I think I understand your question, but not sure completely. At 0:47 in the video, you are simply pasting a grayscale version of the image into the new alpha channel. This may be a bit deceiving being that my source image is in black and white to begin with. This will work with RGB images, however the new channel you create will be a grayscale of your original RGB image. Does this clarify your issue?

re-watch the video and click on the red box at 3:43 for an explanation of your issue and how to fix the problem you are having….

you need to adjust your ‘Alpha Channel Options’ in Photoshop

OK in the video you copied all the channels right? so that you can paste it in the new ALpha channel 1. but the photoshop doesnt let me paste any on the alphachannel 1 so this might be due to my settings?

You need to make a copy of the ‘composite’ channel (RGB, LAB, CMYK) in the channels window. This will create a grayscale, 8-bit, version of your image and this is what you paste into the new alpha channel. This image will appear in black and white. Alpha channels only support 8-bit, grayscale, images and this is the channel you will manipulate to build your sharpening mask.
Does this help you?

at the end of all this my image is coming out with pink/reddish coloring in most of the photo. working on a color image. working in LAB color. following directions to a tee. after i select whole image and than paste into my alpha channel (which is in “selected areas” as specified, this is the point ive traced it back to in which the image takes on this color tone change and i was wondering if you would have any imput on this, which of course would be greatly appriciated.

Id love to see a video abnout how to seperate noise from details which are of similar size range ie the same level of detail. If you do this, as I often dont check youtube, please could I ask you if you could email me and tell me i would really be so happy to learn more possibilities about it if you know different ways. my email is bless your fine and illuminating work!

Hey Rick, thanks for this great tutorial, unfortunately i cant use it for all my pictures. Using gaussian blur and levels is pretty good to make selections, but what sometimes happens to me is that hard edges(high contrast) become too thick, so there are halos after applying the unsharpen mask filter. Where as other detailed areas like rocks that aren’t that contrasty are just got the right amount of sharpenning. Is there a good and quick way to thin out edges with high contrast?

best regards,

I understand; it’s not the end-all solution for every image. Did you play around with the Radius setting? Most drawbacks occur with too large of a radius causing ‘halo’ effect…

I’m quite new at doing these things but I got the point. My only problem is that I have no idea of how to change RGB to LAB. I believe this is an old school thingy but yeah. Still succeeding in RGB 🙂 Thanks a lot!

I really want this to work but my alpha channel turns red and my edges are all red when I get to the sharpening step.

i think if you filled a book with tutorials as good as this I would pay top dollar for it. can I download this video I am having trouble streaming it?

change your ‘channel options’ to ‘selected areas’ and this will fix your problem. visit my channel to view a VIDEO of this process and you will be all set…let me know if you have other questions

thanks for the great video but just a query.

– a mask excludes black and includes whites yes? If you are wanting to sharpen the edges and not sharpen the noise in the smooth areas than surely you should invert the find-edges mask created from the alpha channel? Your mask as it stands will sharpen the smooth areas and exclude the edges?

Great question! It all depends on what you have set for your ‘Channel Options’ for the Alpha Channel. Yes, a mask would be black with white areas to expose through; this is one of the Channel Options. I use Selected Areas which does not require you to invert the selection. Look for link for VIDEO explaining this process inside Video Description below video above….

Yes, my website is listed in the description. That would be the easiest, and least spammy way, to contact. The ‘Contact’ page is in the top nav bar…

Hey There. Depending on the image, there is only so much you can do to correct a photo. I suggest using this tutorial and experimenting with the ‘Radius’ setting at 4:04 of this video…

Let me know how that works…

Rick, This IS the BEST sharpening technique Ive come across!
Ive been using in for some months now. In fact I rarely use anything else. I have also created an action for it that I use on images where I cant be bothered to go through the whole process. It works really well and if the effect is too much, you can always back off the opacity.
Thanks for the tutorial !

Thanks SC! I appreciate your comments. Great idea to make a script…Did you try the Hi-Def Color Action Script? Please +1 on the website; it would greatly help me!

I haven’t tried the Hi-Def script, but I will!
Can I just ask, have you any idea why when I open my curves dialog, the blacks are on the bottom left unlike yours that are on the outside and top. My curves line still runs from bottom left to top right ???
Most confusing !!!

If you still need ideas for more excellent tutorials, a good explanation of image re-size and canvas re-size, with a view to print preparation would be good. Also the affect re-sizing has on sharpness.
Just an idea !

At the bottom of the Curves window, toggle the Curves Display Options arrow and you will see Show Amount of:. I set mine to Pigment/Ink therefore the highlights are on the lower-left. Just my preference…

That’s a good idea…I wish a sharpening script would go along with the image and then applied when image is placed and then exported when the PDF was made. Yeah, when you place an image inside InDesign at 15%, the sharpening effect is completely lost…

Thanks SC

I have a question far as using something like Avatars from secondlife….will this techinque work for any thing?or just black and white photos…

This technique will work for all bitmap images, color and black & white in Photoshop. Would this make a good Action Script for download?

Unfortunately, I have no experience with Photoshop Elements. Not sure if Elements uses similar filters, but it’s possible. The key filter is Find Edges. If that filter is visible, then you can ‘fake’ the curves by using levels.

I hope this helps…

Thats exactly what im gunna use this for, so curious to see what i can make out of it!
And Rick…. veeery great tutorial so glad i found it!!! *bows* What a difference! 🙂

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