Photoshop: High Pass Softening - Digital Photography School
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Photoshop: High Pass Softening

high_pass_softening_before_after.jpg

You may already know that it is possible to sharpen an image using the High Pass Filter. But did you know it’s possible to use the filter to soften an image?

To see this at work, start with an image open on the screen.

high_pass_softening_step1.jpg

Duplicate the image background layer or if you have an image that has adjustments in it, create a flattened version of the image on a new layer at the top of the layer stack. To do this target the topmost layer and choose Layer > New > Layer.

Target this new layer and press Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E (Command + Option + Shift + E on the Mac) to create a flattened version of the image on this new layer.

high_pass_softening_step2.jpg

You will apply the High Pass Filter to this layer.

To do this, you can convert the layer to a Smart Object by choosing Filter > Convert for Smart Filters.

If you’re working on a version of Photoshop earlier than CS4, you can still use this process without converting the layer to a Smart Object.

Choose Filter > Other > High Pass and set the High Pass filter Radius to a value that shows gray and white lines on the image. Stop short of the image showing too much color. The larger the radius value, the more the softening effect although too large a Radius will be counter-productive. Click Ok to apply the filter to the image.

high_pass_softening_step3.jpg

In the Layers palette, set the Blend Mode of the top layer to Soft Light.

To soften the image, select the High Pass filter layer and choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Invert. You’ll need to create a Clipping Group between the Adjustment Layer and the High Pass Filter layer by selecting the Adjustment Layer and choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask.

high_pass_softening_step4.jpg

Create a black filled mask on the High Pass Filter layer by Alt + Clicking on the Add a Layer Mask button at the foot of the Layer palette (Option + Click on the Mac).

Set the Foreground color to white and paint on the mask with a soft round brush in the areas that you want to soften the image such as the skin tones here. This image shows the masked area – you won’t see this as you work.

high_pass_softening_step5.jpg

If you created a Smart Object the High Pass Filter can be adjusted by double clicking on the filter in the Layers palette and adjust the Radius value.

You can use a different blending mode on the masked layer such as Overlay if that gives results you like better and you can also change the opacity of the layer to reduce the intensity of the effect.

Read more from our Post Production category.

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • http://blog.robbiepallasch.com Robbie Pallasch

    Neat technique. Thank you.

  • http://www.wayfaringwanderer.com Wayfaring Wanderer

    That’s a nice subtle adjustment, and looks a lot more natural than some softening effects I’ve seen put on portraits.

    Thanks for sharing your technique, I’ll have to give it a go!

    ~WW
    http://www.wayfaringwanderer.com

  • http://www.kirpi.it/ kirpi

    Really useful, thanks!
    I’m thinking (and smiling) to the old times, when a simple light Softar filter was all we had available :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/allisonjanephoto Allison Jane

    This is a very informative tutorial, thank you for sharing!

  • JJ

    I’m sorry, but this is too much. You make a young girl look like a mannequin, with no detail in her skin. God forbid she have pores!

  • http://spazzmarticus.deviantart.com/ SpazzMarticus

    I have to agree with jj. To simply unsharp the skin is destruktive.
    The technique of using the filter the other way round is important, but don’t ruin skin.

  • Rob781

    I don’t think the picture is really important here. Its the lesson that matters and how you
    choose to use it.
    So thanks for sharing Helen.
    Rob

  • Diane

    Ok jj and SpazzMarticus – I am getting so tired of you critiques on these tutorials. If you don’t like the technique then don’t use it. Some people find this info great – so keep it to yourself both of you. And really who cares what you think – we all take the FREE info given here and use it to the best of our abilities. So quiet down in the peanut gallery!

  • Vic Morphy

    Great, clear article.

  • http://www.theartfulcrafter.com/ Eileen

    My workspace looks exactly like those above. Can anyone guess why I still have the weird coloring in the inverted layer – except mine isn’t red and pink, it’s aqua and purple? Thanks for any help.

  • Carping Niggler

    Doesn’t work.

  • http://www.michellearmour.com Sobriquet

    Another great one Helen, thanks, I am not 100% sure I fully understand high pass, I will have to pley with it a bit more, I think the effect is subtle and gives a lovely look to her skin.

  • cjfn

    Thanks Helen, and welcome back. I’ve missed your Photoshop articles. Gotta try this one out but I think I’ll try it on a more mature model who will appreciate the lack of pores not to mention the softer wrinkles. Apparently, some don’t realize that women are willing to spend billions each year on pore covering cosmetics. Photoshop can do a better job for nothing.

    Cliff

  • http://www.theartfulcrafter.com/ Eileen

    I think there might be a step missing. Has anyone figured this out?

  • http://www.projectwoman.com Helen Bradley

    @Eileen – have you clipped the invert layer to the layer below- I think probably not as, if I undo that step I get funky colours in the image.

    This is the step I think you have omitted:

    You’ll need to create a Clipping Group between the Adjustment Layer and the High Pass Filter layer by selecting the Adjustment Layer and choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask.

  • BluntForceTrauma

    Great technique. Simple. Effective. I used it (making tweaks, of course, for the particulars of my image) on a project for a paying client and I like it.

Some older comments

  • Helen Bradley

    October 2, 2010 08:20 am

    @Eileen - have you clipped the invert layer to the layer below- I think probably not as, if I undo that step I get funky colours in the image.

    This is the step I think you have omitted:

    You’ll need to create a Clipping Group between the Adjustment Layer and the High Pass Filter layer by selecting the Adjustment Layer and choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask.

  • Eileen

    October 2, 2010 07:32 am

    I think there might be a step missing. Has anyone figured this out?

  • cjfn

    October 2, 2010 04:03 am

    Thanks Helen, and welcome back. I've missed your Photoshop articles. Gotta try this one out but I think I'll try it on a more mature model who will appreciate the lack of pores not to mention the softer wrinkles. Apparently, some don't realize that women are willing to spend billions each year on pore covering cosmetics. Photoshop can do a better job for nothing.

    Cliff

  • Sobriquet

    October 1, 2010 10:46 am

    Another great one Helen, thanks, I am not 100% sure I fully understand high pass, I will have to pley with it a bit more, I think the effect is subtle and gives a lovely look to her skin.

  • Carping Niggler

    October 1, 2010 09:07 am

    Doesn't work.

  • Eileen

    October 1, 2010 05:25 am

    My workspace looks exactly like those above. Can anyone guess why I still have the weird coloring in the inverted layer - except mine isn't red and pink, it's aqua and purple? Thanks for any help.

  • Vic Morphy

    September 30, 2010 09:52 am

    Great, clear article.

  • Diane

    September 27, 2010 11:59 pm

    Ok jj and SpazzMarticus - I am getting so tired of you critiques on these tutorials. If you don't like the technique then don't use it. Some people find this info great - so keep it to yourself both of you. And really who cares what you think - we all take the FREE info given here and use it to the best of our abilities. So quiet down in the peanut gallery!

  • Rob781

    September 27, 2010 06:32 pm

    I don't think the picture is really important here. Its the lesson that matters and how you
    choose to use it.
    So thanks for sharing Helen.
    Rob

  • SpazzMarticus

    September 26, 2010 10:15 pm

    I have to agree with jj. To simply unsharp the skin is destruktive.
    The technique of using the filter the other way round is important, but don't ruin skin.

  • JJ

    September 25, 2010 04:59 am

    I'm sorry, but this is too much. You make a young girl look like a mannequin, with no detail in her skin. God forbid she have pores!

  • Allison Jane

    September 25, 2010 02:14 am

    This is a very informative tutorial, thank you for sharing!

  • kirpi

    September 25, 2010 01:22 am

    Really useful, thanks!
    I'm thinking (and smiling) to the old times, when a simple light Softar filter was all we had available :-)

  • Wayfaring Wanderer

    September 25, 2010 01:03 am

    That's a nice subtle adjustment, and looks a lot more natural than some softening effects I've seen put on portraits.

    Thanks for sharing your technique, I'll have to give it a go!

    ~WW
    http://www.wayfaringwanderer.com

  • Robbie Pallasch

    September 25, 2010 12:59 am

    Neat technique. Thank you.

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