Photoshop tutorial: Make photos shine with selective sharpening

Tigz Rice reveals the sophisticated way to make your photos crisper, by sharpening just the areas that need more definition


Razor-sharp photos with not a trace of blurring or movement are something photographers naturally hanker after.

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Unfortunately people are not immobile objects: we breathe, blink and sway, and that can sometimes affect the sharpness of portraits. Even where it doesn’t, indiscriminate use of sharpening to add definition can produce artificial-looking results.

Sometimes it’s better just to emphasise certain details, as Tigz Rice decided with her shot of burlesque performer Missy Fatale. Tigz felt that the photo would look even better if the jewellery were sharper. The steps required are surprisingly simple, as you can discover by trying them out on an image of your own.

Time to Complete

5 minutes



Step 1


Open up your image in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Alt+ J). Name the new layer ‘Sharpen’. We will work in this layer, leaving the original image intact.

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Step 2


Select the Red channel in the Channels panel. We will be using this channel to do the sharpening as it offers the largest degree of contrast between the skin – which we want to leave as is – and features we want to sharpen, in this case the jewellery.

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Step 3


Cmd/Ctrl + Click on this channel to select the parts of the image that contain this channel. This  should bring up ‘marching ants’ over these areas.

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Step 4


Back in the Layers panel, select the ‘Sharpen’ layer and click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom. This mask will affect where the sharpening occurs.

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Step 5


The lighter areas of the Layer Mask are where the sharpening will show – in this case, the model’s skin. We will need to invert the mask to get at the areas we want. To do this, click on the Layer Mask thumbnail and hit Cmd/Ctrl + I. The mask is now picking out the hair, jewellery and background.

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Step 6


It’s time to start on the actual sharpening. Zoom in to the actual pixel size (Cmd/Ctrl + 1) so you can edit most effectively. Select the ‘Sharpen’ layer again and go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask, which will bring up the dialog box above.

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Step 7


How much Unsharp Mask you apply will depend on the size of your own image and the level of detail within it. As a guide, for high-resolution images you should be setting the amount to 300-500%, with a radius of 0.6-1.2. For this image I have used values of 350% and 0.6 respectively.

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Step 8


Although the mask will have controlled the areas where the sharpening occurs, you will probably want to fine-tune the result slightly.

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To do this, create a group folder with its own negative Layer Mask. Now brush in the jewellery and any other parts of the image you think will benefit from sharpening, such as the eyes and lips.

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About the Artist: Tigz Rice


Based in London, Tigz is a freelance photographer and retoucher specialising in burlesque photography. As well as running her own studio, Tigz Rice Studios, where clients include London and Barcelona Burlesque Week and the lingerie collective at London Fashion Week, Tigz also works as a Photoshop and Lightroom tutor for Giant Training.

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