Photoshop’s High Pass filter: sharpen and soften portraits in all the right places

Photoshop's High Pass filter: sharpen and soften portraits in all the right places

The Photoshop High Pass filter can be used to both sharpen and soften an image. This is particularly useful for portraits, where the subtle Photoshop effects help your subject stand out, but the High Pass filter is useful in a number of different photo editing situations (which we’ll explain later).

Photoshop's High Pass filter: sharpen and soften portraits in all the right places

In this step-by-step Photoshop tutorial we’ll show you how to apply the High Pass filter to a duplicate image layer to isolate the edge detail, and then invert the result. When you blend this layer with the Overlay Blend Mode, the image is softened.

You’ll apply a mask to this layer so you can paint the smoothing effect onto the model’s skin and hair. You’ll then apply the High Pass filter to a second duplicate image layer to isolate the edge detail.

Finally, you’ll blend that detail using the Overlay Blend Mode, and then use another mask to paint this sharpening onto those areas of the image that need sharpening. Here’s how it’s done…

 

How to use the Photoshop High Pass filter for portraits: step 1

01 Soften the skin
Open your start image. To soften the skin, make a duplicate of the Background Layer by choosing Layer>Duplicate Layer or by pressing Cmd/Ctrl+J. Name it ‘Soften’ and click OK. Choose Filter>Other>High Pass, set the Radius to 9 pixels, and click OK. Set the layer Blend Mode to Overlay.

 

How to use the Photoshop High Pass filter for portraits: step 2

02 Invert the layer
Click Image>Adjustments>Invert to invert the layer so that it softens the image. Hold down Alt and click the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Target the Brush tool, select a soft round brush, set the foreground colour to white and paint on the skin and wayward hair strands.

 

How to use the Photoshop High Pass filter for portraits: step 3

03 Sharpen features
Make another duplicate of the Background Layer and drag it above the other layers in the Layers Panel. Name it ‘Sharpen’. Apply the High Pass filter again to this layer, this time using a 4 pixel Radius. Set the layer Blend Mode to Overlay and add a Layer Mask to it (holding down Alt again to fill the mask with black paint). Do not invert this layer.

 

How to use the Photoshop High Pass filter for portraits: step 4

04 Blend the effects
Using the same brush as before, paint with white on the mask to sharpen features such as the eyebrows, eyes and mouth. If the effect is too severe, paint with grey instead of white. Adjust the Opacity of both the ‘Soften’ and ‘Sharpen’ layers to blend the effect so that it looks natural.

NEXT PAGE: Other uses for the Photoshop High Pass filter

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