Smarter Sharpening in Photoshop using Adobe Camera Raw



Sharpening in Photoshop has traditionally involved a compromise between applying it to the places in the image that you want to sharpen and avoiding those that you don’t want affected. Both Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw have always had a much better sharpening tool which not only lets you see what you are doing more clearly, but also includes a very smart mask that lets you limit sharpening to detail areas.

In Photoshop Creative Cloud a Camera Raw filter was added. This opens up a world of possibilities for sharpening images better and more easily and at the completion of your Photoshop editing workflow.

So now, in Photoshop CC as you can do in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, you can take advantage of this better sharpening tool. So you can sharpen a photo of a building and apply the effect to the building but not to the sky above it. This is important because blue sky is typically an area of flat color which may contain noise that you certainly don’t want to sharpen and make even more obvious!

In the video below I show you how to sharpen an image from inside Photoshop CC using the new Camera Raw filter.

Before you do this, if your image contains layers, you need to create a flattened version of the image to sharpen it. To do this, select all the layers in the image and choose Filter > Convert for Smart Filters so you are operating on the entire image. Alternately, click the topmost layer of the image and press Shift + Control +Alt +E (Shift + Command + Option + E on the Mac) to make a new layer containing a flattened version of the photo. Lastly, convert that to a Smart Filter and you’re ready to go:

Do you have any other sharpening tips?

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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

  • Rocco

    Just a comment. It would be better to create a smart object instead of a copy and flattening it. You can select all the layers, and press “Create Smart Object”. That way you can apply to that smart object the filter (any filter actually) and apply the camera raw effect to it.

    Now, this looks like the same, but it is not. If you decide to change something on the layers, with your method, you cant, or you will have to do the changes, create an new flattened copy, and apply the effect again. But using a smart object, you can open the object, correct what ever you want, save it, and the camera raw effect will be applied to your modified smart object.

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  • Eric Bartsch

    Tried to watch the video but it was so hard to understand her and listen to her, I couldn’t follow the whole video.

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  • Trev

    hmmmm, sorry I would have to disagree with that premise re Photoshop v’s ACR/LR in the sharpening stakes.

    If you know what you are doing re photoshop, especially if you action it, you can get far greater sharpening using layers/masks, and using the White/Black fringes to give a much better and spot on sharpening without wanging sliders all over the place.

    I’ve been on Photoshop since v2 (that’s Verison 2, NOT CS2) around 20 years and coming from a printing background using scanners, etc. I learnt way back re using masks, sharpening, etc. eg: using the Red Channel Mask inverted to protect skin tones, and so on.

    This may be good for general photographers wanting to spend all day on images but when shooting/editing hundreds of images each weekend for weddings, I have built an action which not only handles Sharpening, but handles Contrast, Shadows, Midtones, Highlights, with varying buttons in the action to quickly boost or tone down, say, the Shadows, etc.

    Now, the things re above method is two-fold: You can only go to 150%, whereas I usually go to 500% Radius up as far as 1.5 (but masks protects parts of images); 2nd is, and this is by far the biggest problem, you have to individually wang the sliders all over the place for each.

    However, I can see for the general people, it would be *a* way to go, just not the best in my opinion.

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