How to improve focus and sharpness in editing

Focus is one of the most complicated and frustrating challenges for a photographer. In this article we will see how to improve focus and sharpness in editing with Photoshop and Lightroom in a simple way.

In fact, when we ask you about your most common photographic problems to try to improve and adapt our content to your needs, it is usually in the top 5 😉 .

And it is not for less, because a great image can be totally useless if it does not have a good focus or if it does not have it in the place where we wanted to place it.

Luckily, we have better quality tools with which to make these types of adjustments, but do not forget that the image should come out as perfect as possible from the camera.

If so, the editors are capable of giving it that final touch that can elevate your photography.

First let’s see what influences sharpness to try to get that practically perfect image from the camera. But I would like you to save our mega guide on focus before continuing, I think it will be super useful to have it on hand to refer to it whenever you need it and thus get that practically perfect image from the camera.

How to improve the sharpness of an image?

Sharpness is the sum of factors and decisions that we are taking when we take a photograph. Starting with the choice of lens, whether or not we use a filter, if we have it in good condition, what aperture we use, etc.

Here is a summary of some of the points that influence the loss of sharpness of a photograph:

  • Extreme diaphragm openings (poor image quality at extremes of aperture)
  • High ISO (produces noise in the image)
  • Darkness (difficult to focus, blurred images and noise)
  • low contrast (hard to focus)
  • Movement (blurred or blurry images)
  • Lens quality (fixed lenses have fewer construction elements and therefore higher image quality (in general) )
  • dirty lenses
  • Focus and reframe (produces parallax error or lack of focus)
  • Filters (affect the final sharpness of the image)
  • Closest focus distance (find out what your lens is and don’t get closer than the recommended minimum or you will have an out of focus image)

Improve focus and sharpness in editing with Photoshop

Improve focus in Photoshop It is very simple, we are going to see step by step how to give that extra touch of sharpness to your photo in Photoshop.

1. Open the image in Photoshop

Since editors don’t do miracles, I want you to look for a photograph that is correct in camera but to which you want to give that extra touch of sharpness or focus, for example in the eyes of a portrait or similar.

2. Create a new layer

Once our photograph is chosen, duplicate the background layer and rename it “sharpness”, “focus” or similar.

To do this, simply hover over the layer background>right click>duplicate layer.

3. Convert it to smart object

Then convert it to smart object.

Follow the path: blending options> Convert into smart object

This way you can change the settings. a posteriori.

4. Enlarge the image to 100%

Or at least give it a good magnification so you can see in detail the focus adjustments that you will apply next.

5. Apply an unsharp mask

To do this, go to the top panelr Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask.

6. Choose your unsharp mask values

Remember that the ideal is that you enlarge the image to see the detail of the adjustments that you are applying. In my case I have enlarged the image to 100%. If it is a portrait, always have the face in the box, which is the most important thing when it comes to getting a correct result.

Inside the unsharp mask you have the cursors of Quantity, Radio Y Threshold. To see the effect of each one, it helps to move the values ​​to the maximum and reduce them until you get a realistic result that improves the initial image.

One way to do this is to increase the Quantity to the maximum and, in turn, the radius to the minimum.

Now it is a matter of gradually increasing the radius until aberrations in the colors, halos, etc. begin to appear.

The Threshold slider reduces the focus, so we don’t want to apply it in this case.

Here you can see the highly exaggerated effect:

By clicking the preview button you can see the before/after effect application.

In my case, I find just the right touch of sharpness that I want to add to these amount and radius values.

I have chosen an amount of 150 and a radius of 1.1, but depending on the size or type of image, these values ​​can vary quite a bit.

A face is not the same as the texture of petals or rocks or what you can do with a 1MB image with a 10MB image.

I think the trick is trying to keep the image as natural as possible.

Here you can see the before/after applying these sharpening values ​​(image enlarged to 100%):

Original With focus filter

Applying the unsharp mask, we have the entire image in focus. Now, since I used a wide aperture to blur the background, I really don’t want to focus on the background, just the girl’s face, especially her eyes.

To apply a selective approach, we go to the next section.

Selectively apply sharpening in Photoshop

1. Create a negative layer mask

To do this, make sure you have the “Sharpness” layer active and if it isn’t, click on it.

Next, hold down the “Alt” (on Windows) or “Option” (on Mac) key while clicking on the button layer mask located at the bottom right of Photoshop.

A black mask will appear, which indicates that the mask is applied only to the area that we are going to select with the brush.

To select the brush, do from the left panel. Next, make sure you have the white color selected. Once done, head over to the top panel and select your brush type.

Brush tool White color selected Selects the type of brush

For this “exercise” we will select within “general brushes” the one that appears with the name of “Diffuse circular”.

Select the size that best suits your image, we leave an opacity of 100% and a flow of around 2 to 4.

Once you have it selected, we only have to “paint” over the area in which we want to apply that extra sharpness that we have already defined previously.

Original image Applying sharpening only to the eyes

This type of adjustment that we have selected for the brush is applied smoothly, so you can make multiple passes in the area that you want to highlight, the more you paint it with the brush, the more intensely the adjustments will be applied.

If you look closely at the two images I think you can see the subtle improvement in focus and sharpness in the eyes. Please note that this is a 100% enlargement.

Improved focus. Photoshop final image

Improve focus and sharpness in editing with Lightroom

Now let’s see how we can improve focus and sharpness in Lightroom with the editing of our photographs.

I will exemplify it with the same image that I used for editing in Photoshop.

1. Go to the reveal module located on the top panel

Once inside the module, a series of editing settings will appear in the right panel.

2. Look for the “Detail” section

Slide your cursor until you see the “Detail” tab.

Within detail you have, in turn, two sections, Approach Y noise reduction.

2.1. Focus in Lightroom

This tool is very similar to the unsharp mask that we have used in Photoshop.

If you look closely at the cursors, you will see that the program itself offers us some default values ​​and an image enlargement of around 100% so that you can see how the changes are applied in detail.

You can move around the image through the zoom box to the point where you want to actually see the effect in greater detail. I have chosen the face, specifically the eye area.

  • Quantity: As its name suggests, it is the amount of sharpening that we are going to apply to our image. The higher the value, the more the focus increases.
  • Radio: Indicates the size of the focus area around the edges of the image.
  • Approach: With it we indicate to Lightroom, what type of edges it should consider when focusing. At low values ​​it will take into account the most obvious edges. On the other hand, at high values ​​it will consider any edge.
  • Mask: Here we decide which areas we want to focus on and which areas we want to protect from focus. It is surely the most important slider, the one that is equivalent to what we already know in Photoshop as a focus mask.

Let’s see how to apply each of these adjustments as well as some tricks to hit the right point that we need for our photography.

TRICK: Use Alt+Mask (Windows) or Option+Mask to see where the focus is applied on your image as you move the slider. This way you can center the focus on those edges that you want to focus on.

You can also try this combination with the rest of the cursors, each one offers you the detail of the edges you are working on.

Sharpen Lightroom step by step

  1. Start with the cursor Mask using the trick I just told you about Alt/Option+Mask Cursor, to see the area where we want to apply the focus. Move it until the edges of the image you want in focus are in focus, no more.
  2. Then, slightly move the cursor from Radio. The recommended values ​​will depend on the MP of your camera but they range between 0.5 and 1.5. Observe the effect with Alt/Option and Radio cursor a at the same time.
  3. go to Detail and use a value between 25-45, depending on the resolution of your camera.
  4. Set it to about twice the resolution of your camera (for 24MP an approximate value would be 50).

(Very) indicative starting values:

  • Quantity: Multiply the MP of your camera x2 or x3. For example, mine has 36 MP, so the reference values ​​for me are between 70 and 90-100.
  • Radius: Between 0.5 and 1.5.
  • Detail: Use a value close to or slightly above the resolution of your camera.
  • Mask: I recommend that you set the value using Alt/Option, since this value will depend entirely on the image we are editing.

Here you can see the before and after with an image magnification of 100%.

NOTE: By clicking twice on each cursor, the initial values ​​are restored.

Selectively apply sharpening in Lightroom

We will open our image in the editor and go to the upper right panel where we will look for the tool adjustment brush.

With the adjustment brush activated, we can paint on our image those areas that we want to work on.

To see the area you have marked, you have to have the option “show selected mask overlay” activated, so those areas you have marked will be marked in color.

When you have the adjustment brush activated you will see that…