Flexible Method for Sharpening Images

When you are sharpening an image, the sharpening filters apply the illusion of sharpening globally unless limited by a selection. The effect is also destructive in as much as it has to be applied to a layer and cannot be modified (you can undo it as long as the history states are still present in the History palette, but you cannot modify it after the Fade command following the sharpen state has been superseded by the use of another command). You can employ two other methods to limit the effect, and they both provide much more control and flexibility than applying the filter through a selection.

The first method involves applying one of the sharpening filters, setting the sharpen history state as the source in the Histories palette, and then using the History Brush tool to paint from the future. The method is quite well known and used widely. To employ it, take the following steps:

1. Create a new layer above the image layer (you don't have to, but it gives more options for controlling the sharpening) and give it a memorable name, such as Sharpen. To create a new layer, click the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers palette or press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+N (Windows), ^+Opt+Shift+N (Mac OS).

2. Select the image layer and apply any one of the sharpening filters from the Filters ^ Sharpen submenu (see the sections "Using Unsharp Mask" and "Using Smart Sharpen," earlier in the chapter).

3. From the History palette menu, choose New Snapshot and select Merged Layers from the pop-up menu, or hold down Alt (Windows), Opt (Mac OS) and then click the Create New Snapshot button in the History palette.

4. Step back in history by selecting the previous state in the History palette or pressing Ctrl+Alt+Z (Windows), ^+Opt+Z (Mac OS). The Sharpen layer should become active because of the move.

5. In the History palette, click in the column to the left of the snapshot you created in step 2. When you click, a History Brush icon should appear in the column. This will set it as the source for the History Brush tool.

6. Select the History Brush tool and a suitable soft brush tip. Turn off the brush tool's dynamics by choosing Clear Brush Controls from the Brushes palette submenu.

7. Paint the areas where you would like the sharpness to be applied. For example, if it's a portrait, paint the eyes, lips, nose, ears, and so forth and avoid the forehead, cheeks, neck, and so forth. Make sure that you are painting on the Sharpen layer at all times, the one you created in the first step, and not the image layer.

Finally, set the opacity of the Sharpen layer to taste. The preceding steps may seem convoluted at first but with practice can easily become second nature.

The second method employs a duplicate layer and a layer mask. To employ it, take the following steps:

1. Duplicate the layer that you want to sharpen. If your content is spread over several layers, stamp them into a new layer. The quickest way to do that is by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E (Windows), ^+Opt+Shift+E (Mac OS).

2. Apply any one of the sharpening filters from the Filters ^ Sharpen submenu (see the sections "Using Unsharp Mask" and "Using Smart Sharpen," earlier in the chapter).

3. Apply a Hide All layer mask by holding down Alt (Windows), Opt (Mac OS) and clicking the Add Layer Mask button in the Layers palette.

4. Select a soft brush and make sure that its dynamics are turned off by choosing Clear Brush Controls from the Brushes palette menu.

5. Make sure that the foreground and background colors are set to white and black, respectively.

6. Paint out/in the area(s) you want to hide/show: to hide, paint with black; to reveal, paint with white. You can ride the X key to switch between the foreground and background colors (Figure 11-24).

6. Paint out/in the area(s) you want to hide/show: to hide, paint with black; to reveal, paint with white. You can ride the X key to switch between the foreground and background colors (Figure 11-24).

Figure 11-24: Left—The image layer duplicated and sharpened. The hair and background appear oversharpened. Right—A layer mask added to the sharpened layer and the hair and background masked so that the original shows through from the layer below.

By using the preceding methods, you will also gain access to layer opacity and the layer blend modes. Furthermore, advanced layer Blend If options (Layer ^ Layer Style ^ Blending Options) can be used to control the halos created by the filter and, of course, you still have your original layers to fall back onto should you need to repurpose the file.

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