Photoshop Blog

September 19, 2011 /Lightroom /Photoshop /

Sharpen It!: Another Hidden Gem Revealed

Thanks to our Facebook fans for the over 3,000 Likes on every post we’ve made so far about “Hidden Gems” in Photoshop CS5! As promised, our expert and newly inducted Photoshop Hall of Fame recipient, Bryan O’Neil Hughes has more helpful hints for you, as a part of the “Hidden Gems” video series.

Bryan calls these videos – “snack size feature-ettes” – that can be consumed during a lunch break or used as a quick reference while working on a Photoshop project. Hidden Gems are those lesser known features in Photoshop, unique uses for existing features or new updates made since launch.

In addition to his Photoshop product management duties, Bryan himself is a photographer and author. Many of the images he uses in these videos are from his own personal travels. For instance, after his safari in Africa, he used the Sharpen tool in Photoshop CS5 to make certain aspects of an animal’s hair and features pop out. He also acknowledges that in cases where the (shallow) focus was on the animal’s nose, rather than eyes, he would aggressively use the new Sharpen to tool to “buy back” focus.

Why is selective sharpening in Photoshop CS5 so compelling?

Bryan: The enhanced brush-based, pressure-sensitive sharpening tool is ideal for selective sharpening. In addition to a level of control unavailable with a global operation, the fidelity (namely a lack of artifacts) is higher than any other method offered.

A user can quickly, easily and powerfully sharpen or recover focus in isolated areas – and in varied amounts; no need to duplicate layers, globally sharpen and erase. For photographers coming from Lightroom or Camera Raw, this sort of granular, specific control is exactly the sort of thing that Photoshop excels at.

What went into the development of selective sharpening to make it what it is today?

Bryan: This technology is the best that we could find and was actually sourced from outside Adobe. The legacy sharpening tool is much maligned for the artifacts it produces, but beginning in CS3 (Brightness & Contrast) and continuing in CS4 (Dodge, Burn and Sponge), we’ve isolated areas to improve results. Now the tool complements the needs of photographers and those looking to make detailed edits to images without compromising quality.

The Sharpen tool just works… in-fact better than any other sharpening method out there!

If you haven’t already checked out the latest Hidden Gems videos, you can find them on our Photoshop YouTube channel.

Lightroom, Photoshop

Join the discussion

  • By Robert Goldberg - 10:40 AM on September 19, 2011  

    The new sharpening tool with “protect detail” was worth the upgrade price all by itself. Thanks, Adobe.

  • By David Henry - 10:40 AM on September 19, 2011  

    I just sharpen the whole image, then revert what has become too sharp or noisy with the History Brush. The important thing is to define a new snapshot before doing all this.

    • By Bryan O'Neil Hughes - 3:33 PM on September 19, 2011  

      great tip – I’ll try that!

  • By Cowboydoug - 10:57 AM on September 19, 2011  

    I want to give a shout out to Adobe for their great training videos… For years I have been a so so PS user… just getting by with the very basics. After I started taking advantage of Adobe TV … well Now I am now Fly’n I tell ya…
    I just can’t get enough of this funky stuff…

    P.S. If you have an iPad be sure to check out Adobe NAV… I use it with PS …it’s awesome for selecting tools and viewing images… You will have to see it to dig it… coupled with my Wacom I can don’t need all the buttons my tablet has.

  • By Cowboydoug - 10:59 AM on September 19, 2011  

    I have got to turn off my corrective thingy in my typing… Gee… looks like Stevie Wonder typed my last post…. sorry for all the typeO’s

  • By Pat - 11:47 AM on September 19, 2011  

    Why not just create a new layer, sharpen the one in the BG and then paint in the sharpening via layer mask… Instead of sharpening the FG as mentioned in the video…

    • By Bryan O'Neil Hughes - 1:57 PM on September 19, 2011  

      Pat, that would be a better and less destructive method (duping layers)…but in that this tool is superior to other global solutions, I chose to show it in context as a localized method. I wanted to present it in a way that was approachable. – bryan

    • By Jack - 2:41 PM on September 19, 2011  

      Because the other way is better, Pat. Why question techniques that work just to try and show how smart you are?

    • By chomsky - 2:39 AM on September 20, 2011  

      Good point Pat – everyone has their own way of working – our studio has been doing it your way for 15 years; is easy, reversible and works well.
      The History brush back to a sharpened snapshot is another very good way IMHO.
      However, the new sharpen tool looks even easier for small areas that need sharpening. Effectively it seems to create a layer mask on a sharpened layer ‘on the fly’ and reveals sharpened layer by brush.
      Another case of well tried and tested methods being replaced by a new ‘one step’ tool?

  • By Au - 11:55 AM on September 19, 2011  

    Forever changes what I thought about sharpening with Photoshop. Nice improvement, Adobe.

  • By Derek - 2:24 PM on September 19, 2011  

    The problem with the sharpen tool is I can’t control the radius and I have no idea what the radius of the thing is. Seems like the tool is still pretty obsolete, since I can already apply unsharp mask or smart sharpen (to control the remove method) selectively just by hitting CTRL+J and adding a layer mask. Half a second worth of work gives me much greater sharpening control.

    • By Bryan O'Neil Hughes - 3:31 PM on September 19, 2011  

      True, there is a finer level of control in those global operations where tolerance and highlight/shadows are concerned; for strong sharpening, localized sharpening and the minimum amount of artifacts – this is a superior solution. one important tip is to use a very low amount and build it up slowly with brush strokes (ideally from a tablet – not shown in the video 😉

  • By Jack - 2:39 PM on September 19, 2011  

    Do you even use the tool, Bryan? It leaves all kinds of artifacts. FAIL.

    • By Bryan O'Neil Hughes - 3:28 PM on September 19, 2011  

      Jack, clearly something isn’t working on your end…if you’re after a solution, you can reach me at

      • By Jack - 2:55 PM on September 22, 2011  

        I sent you an example.

  • By Higenflagen - 7:29 PM on September 19, 2011  

    Um, forgive me, for I am but a lowly n00b studying for the ACA, but is there a way to use this tool non-destructively?

  • By cat - 1:30 AM on September 20, 2011  

    sharpen brush works like a dream – thanx!!

  • By jim thorneburg - 8:50 AM on September 21, 2011  

    where do I find this hidden gym in CS5?

  • By Tatiana - 1:28 PM on October 7, 2011  

    Can u tell me please where exacly I can find this sharpen brush??? Thanks lot.

    • By Bradley - 9:41 PM on January 1, 2012  

      Yeah I wish I knew this as well. Because the video shows him using the tool in a zoomed view which leaves unable to see where the tool comes from in PS. I’ll just continue searching for now.

  • By esl jobs - 10:48 PM on October 8, 2011  

    Awesome read. I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. He actually bought me lunch because I found it for him! So let me rephrase: thank you for lunch!

  • By esl jobs china - 3:03 AM on October 9, 2011  

    excellent Post.. I enjoy some of content in the post.. please keep it up.. i want same like this from you…

  • By Lisa - 2:41 PM on February 9, 2012  

    This would be a great tool, however I can’t find it anywhere and forums like this aren’t helping :)

  • By Lisa - 3:07 PM on February 9, 2012  

    FOUND IT! Under the Blur tool….go figure!