Sharpening Using the High Pass Filter

There are lots of ways to add sharpening to your photo in Photoshop, but I tend to use the High Pass Filter quite often.  This method of sharpening doesn’t bring out the noise (grain) that may be present in the image the way some other methods of sharpening do.  The High Pass Filter method sharpens mainly the edges in the image.

Here is the image we will be applying sharpening to:

Before sharpening


In your layers palette, duplicate the background layer by highlighting the background layer and doing one of the following:

– Press Ctrl/Cmd + J

– OR – Drag the background layer to the “Create a new layer” icon

Then set the blending mode to either Overlay or Soft Light.  Overlay will give a stronger sharpening effect, Soft Light will be a bit subtler (I typically use Soft Light, but for this tutorial I’ve used Overlay so you can see the effect in your browser!)

Your layer’s palette should now look like this:

Overlay blending mode


Your image probably looks dark and/or contrast-y now, but don’t worry!  Zoom into your image at 100% so you can watch the sharpening be applied.  With the top layer highlighted, go to the Filter menu –> Other –> High Pass.

High Pass menu item


In the High Pass dialog, move the slider until you can see a good outline.  Check your zoomed-in image as well so you can see the effect being applied.  You’ll have to play around with this for a bit.  For my photos, a value of 2.9 works well most of the time so I usually start there.  Hit OK when you’re done.

High Pass dialog


Voila!  Here is the final effect on our photo – I’ve used a close up of the eyes so you can see the difference!



If you find the effect is too strong, you can obviously adjust the opacity of the Sharpen layer or use masking where appropriate.  You can also play around with the blending modes (specifically Overlay and Soft Light) as well.  Happy Sharpening!

As always, any feedback is greatly appreciated!

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10 Responses to Sharpening Using the High Pass Filter

  1. Aimee says:

    I never knew…thanks for this tip.

  2. Lisa says:

    I just wanted to tell you that your blog is really helpful. I hope you continue to post.

    I’m new to PSE9 and have found that online tutorials are more helpful than the PSE books I have.

    Even this High Pass Filter tutorial was written for PS, it still was really helpful to me – thank you!

  3. magda says:

    great blog and posts! I am going to use your tutorials.
    They are soooooo helpful. Thanks!

  4. Thank you. I just found your site and am reading everything! I Love it. Thank you again!

    Twila Murasaki

  5. Sarah says:

    Hi there! If you have other layers with edits, do you do the high pass last and do you merge the layers before doing high pass? Thanks!

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