How To 

How To Use Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask Filter To Sharpen A Subject’s Eyes

Despite its name, the Unsharp Mask filter allows you to fine tune a sharpen effect on an image. And by applying a mask, you gain the ability to single out specific portions of an image to apply this filter to. We’re going to use this method to sharpen the eyes of a subject in order to make their portrait pop.

1. Duplicate your base image’s layer.
Since we’ll be working with a mask, we’ll want to keep an original version of our base image so that the rest of our subject remains unchanged. To duplicate the image, simply right click on its layer and select “Duplicate Layer…”. A dialogue box will appear and present you with the option of renaming the new layer. With everything set, click “OK”.

2. Open the Unsharp Mask filter.
A new layer will appear on top of the original. Select this and open the Unsharp Mask by hitting “Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask…”

3. Adjust the Unsharp Mask parameters.
You’re given three sliders: the “Amount” dictates the strength of the sharpen effect, the “Radius” affects the width of the sharpen lines and the “Threshold” sets how different two pixels need to be in order to apply sharpening. While we want the sharpen to remain pretty strong, we don’t want to make this effect too obvious so we’ll keep the latter two settings fairly low. We haven’t singled out the eyes yet, so at this point the filter will apply to the image as a whole. Hit “OK” once everything is ready.

4. Apply a mask to the Unsharp Mask layer.
With the duplicated layer selected, apply a layer mask by clicking the icon of a circle surrounded by a rectangle at the bottom of the Layers panel. A rectangular icon should appear on the duplicated layer. Make sure your color swatch is set to the default black and white, and hit Option+Delete (Alt+Backspace on Windows) to fill the mask to to the foreground color (black in this case).

5. Paint the mask to isolate the subject’s eyes.
Make sure the mask is still selected and open the paintbrush from the toolbar. Reverse the foreground / background of the color swatch by clicking the angular arrows on its upper right corner. With the paintbrush set to white, you can now paint over the eyes to isolate them within the mask. It’s good to double check and confirm that the paintbrush’s blend mode is set to Normal and its Opacity to 100%. You can change the size of the paintbrush by hitting the bracket keys.

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