Advanced techniques using Photoshop's most advanced features. Blending modes part 3 - emboss sharpening.

Emboss Sharpening

Every digital image needs some level of sharpening before it’s printed, saved to the Web, or output to its ultimate use.

Many sharpening techniques exist, from Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask (USM), “edgesharpening” variations where the USM filter is applied in Lab mode, plug-ins, and countless actions.

As for which is best, there’s probably no right answer and it’s better to try out the tools for yourself. So, here are two more techniques to try.

They are very similar and both rely on two Photoshop filters and on blending modes whose neutral colour is grey. The two filters, Emboss and High Pass, make the image grey, but with distinct edges.

The grey is then eliminated by setting the layer’s blending mode to Hard Light, leaving just a sharpening effect whose strength can be easily fine-tuned.

1. In the Layers palette, duplicate the original image layer by dragging the background layer onto the “Create a new layer” icon, or use Ctrl/Cmd-J.

2. Use View > Actual Pixels or the shortcut Alt/Opt-0 Zoom to view the image at 100 per cent. Move around the image until you can see an important area – the subject’s eyes, for instance.

3. Using the pull-down blending mode menu in the Layers palette or the shortcut Alt/Opt-Shift-H, change the duplicate layer’s blending mode to Hard Light and rename it “Sharpening.” You can do this step later, but doing it now means that you can see the final result in step 4.

4. Now select a) Filter > Stylize >Emboss. The most important setting is Height – this should be between 1 and 5. Or, b) Filter > Other > High Pass. Any radius between 2 and 10 can work well.

5. To check the effect, toggle the layer’s visibility. If it is too strong, adjust the Sharpening layer’s opacity. Other finishing touches might include adding a mask to the Sharpening layer and painting it black where you don’t want any sharpening effect.

Using High Pass

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A radius value of 10 is enough for the High Pass filter.
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