How To Use Photoshop Elements To Sharpen Your Images

Yippee. Local fairs are still going strong and there is no better place to practice your animal photography and work on improving your technique.

A good starting place is to practice moving in close because there are carousels, carts and carriages everywhere. Not to mention telephone lines, tractors and trucks.

So move in close and crop your images in the camera. I tried to do that here, but while this was  a cute shot of a family enjoying the fair…

I quickly saw that this was the image I wanted.

Here’s another wonderful subject, but egad…the background was awful.

So I had to move…

Much better, but darn, I slightly missed the focus. (I know it was a focusing problem because I was shooting at a shutter speed of 1/250…plenty of speed to stop the action.)

So I had to play with it in post processing. First I cropped in around the subjects.  I knew when I cropped, my editing program would throw out a lot of pixels, which means that I would not end up with a photo I could enlarge, but hmmm, at least I’d have something usable for the web…which incidentally, is where this one ended up.

To crop, I open it in Photoshop Elements and select crop.  Elements is a terrific program and it is much easier to use than Photoshop (which is the way to go if you are a professional photographer). But this blog is for amateurs who want to follow my rule that animal photography has to be relaxing and fun!

Here it is cropped.

Ok. It did go softer with the crop.  So now I needed to try sharpening it. (Most digital cameras sharpen your images as they are taken. Point-and-shoot cameras sharpen more because users tend not to edit their photos heavily. Digital SLRs, often sharpen a lot less because the camera manufacturers know that you’re more likely to do the job yourself. Creative control is the reason you would purchase a digital SLR, right?)

So next I selected the sharpening tool in Elements. With Elements, I can do a Full or Quick edit. For this image, I opted for a Quick edit because it isn’t going to make the cut as a great image. (Why spend a lot of time manipulating an image that should have been taken correctly in the first place?) But hey, it happens. In fact, it happens to all of us, so let’s see what can be done.

Photoshop Elements loads images into the program at 50% sharpening by default, so it has already sharpened the image when you open it. But in this case I want to increase the amount, remembering that anything past 100% is a little too extreme. Actually, no images should ever need that much sharpening…they should instead, be trashed.

Okey dokey. Let’s try it.

Remember we are working in the Quick editing side of Photoshop Elements, because we just want to have fun…. If you want to knock yourself out and go into the Full edit there are a lot more options for sharpening.

So here’s the image with a bit of sharpening.


Be careful as you use the sharpening tool. You can tell your image has too much sharpening if it starts to fall apart and looks really grainy (pixelated). As with any of these tools, it’s pretty easy to get carried away. You see how a bit of sharpening can improve an image, and then you want to sharpen it “just a little more” until you end up with something that no longer looks natural. There’s a handy way to prevent yourself from doing this by selecting the preview feature which allows you to view the before and after of the image.

Bottom line. Each image needs to be sharpened a different amount, and that amount depends on the content of the image. Whenever the fine detail starts to fall apart, stop.

Good shooting!


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