Photoshop Tutorial: How to Sharpen a Photo Nondestructively

Sharpening can improve the clarity and detail of a photo, but it’s important to do it in a way that doesn’t make the image look unnatural or grainy. There are two main ways to sharpen a photo in Photoshop: destructively and nondestructively.

Destructive sharpening involves applying a sharpening filter directly to the image, which permanently alters the image data. This can be fine for quick adjustments, but it can also make it difficult to undo the sharpening or make further adjustments later.

Nondestructive sharpening involves using a smart object or a sharpening layer, which allows you to apply the sharpening without permanently affecting the original image data. This is a more versatile approach, as it allows you to adjust the sharpening strength and other settings later without affecting the original image.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to sharpen a photo nondestructively in Photoshop:

Step 1: Create a Smart Object

  1. Open the image you want to sharpen.
  2. Right-click on the image layer in the Layers panel and select “Convert to Smart Object”. This will create a smart object version of the image layer that you can edit without affecting the original image data.

Step 2: Apply the Unsharp Mask filter

  1. Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask.
  2. In the Unsharp Mask dialog box, set the Amount to a value between 100 and 200%. Higher values will make the image sharper, but they can also make it look more grainy.
  3. Set the Radius to a value between 0.5 and 2 pixels. A lower radius will make the sharpening more localized to the edges of objects, while a higher radius will make the sharpening effect more widespread.
  4. Set the Threshold to a value between 3 and 10. A lower threshold will make the sharpening effect more subtle, while a higher threshold will make the sharpening effect more pronounced.

Step 3: Adjust the sharpening strength

  1. Once you’ve applied the Unsharp Mask filter, you can adjust the sharpening strength by dragging the “Sharpen” slider in the Properties panel. This will apply the same sharpening settings as the Unsharp Mask filter, but it will allow you to make more subtle adjustments and see the effect in real time.
  2. Keep an eye on the image and make sure that the sharpening doesn’t make the image look unnatural or grainy. If the sharpening is too strong, reduce the Amount or Radius value.

Step 4: Repeat for other layers

If you want to sharpen specific areas of the image, you can create additional sharpening layers and apply the Unsharp Mask filter to those layers. This will allow you to control the sharpening more precisely.


  • Use a high-resolution image to start with. This will give you more detail to work with and make the sharpening effect more pronounced.
  • Sharpen in small increments. It’s better to apply a little sharpening and then add more if needed, rather than applying too much sharpening and having to undo it.
  • Use a soft brush when sharpening specific areas of the image. This will help to blend the sharpening effect and make it look more natural.


By following these tips, you can sharpen your photos nondestructively and achieve a natural, professional look in Adobe Photoshop.