If you have digital pictures on your computer do you know that they can all be improved? They can all be clearer and sharper? In fact, did you know that every single photo ever taken ever can be made clearer and sharper using simple techniques photographers have been using for decades?

Digital photos, especially cell phone photos are often what is known as low resolution. For a simple explanation of resolution, see the article, “Photo Resolution – click here.” Cell phones, even if they are expensive like the iPhone have small, almost miniature lenses and often have very poor image processors compared to modern digital photography equipment. Sharpen photos from cell phones, iPhones and from even high quality digital cameras by using a secret resharpening technique photographers have used for decades.

The technique has a strange name, and if you have any popular photo software for editing digital photos you probably already have this ability. Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro and many other photo software titles have this strangely named function built in. The technique’s name is “unsharp mask.”

Sharpen All Photos

All digital photos can be improved using this technique. You read that correct, any and all digital photos should have an unsharp mask procedure applied to them, especially photos from cell phones. But again, this technique should be used for all photos always and once you learn the technique you will probably always apply it to images you will use for some publishing or viewing purpose. In other words, do this for any photo to be published, printed, displayed or used outside the way most digital photos live their lives – unseen forever on a hard drive. Any photo that will be seen by more than the original photographer can be improved – sometimes dramatically – by applying unsharp mask.

Digital Photo Sharpening Demonstration

This demonstration uses photos from an Apple iPhone to more clearly demonstrate how resharpening using an unsharp mask procedure improves the photo’s clarity. Notice the two photos of a bridge in Pennsylvania, United States. The photo on the left is the original photo taken directly from the iPhone. The photo on the right had an unsharp mask procedure applied to it using Imagener photo sharpening. This software is for photo enlargement but prominently adds resharpening as a major function.

Notice the sunlight on the street and how much more crisp it is. Another obvious improvement is the clarity of the back of the sign, and the shrubbery on the left hand side of the picture. The detail in the upper part of the picture of the trees is more defined both in color and sharpness of the branches and all objects in the right hand side version are clearer and more defined.

How to Sharpen Photos

So how do you begin using unsharp mask? The technique has such a strange name, most people think it makes photos less sharpened – in other words more blurry. And who wants that? So, if you’ve seen the words “unsharp mask” on a menu in your photo software you probably skipped over it and didn’t investigate what it really does. If you have photo software of any kind, simply open it and go to the Help menu item. Find a way to search in the Help window and type in “unsharp mask.” You are looking for a function that will allow you to input 3 numbers.

  • Amount
  • Threshhold
  • Radius

When you see a function or directions in your photo that talks about unsharp mask and where to input the values for Amount, Threshhold and Radius you’ve found the resharpening function in that software package.

If your software doesn’t know any of these words (a search for “unsharp mask” returned nothing), or you know you don’t have photo software that has this function, the Professional and Unlimited versions of Imagener from Kneson Software provides resharpening directly in the interface. Unlike Photoshop and most other expensive photo software programs Imagener shows the full image while applying the unsharp mask procedure and has an auto-slider function so you can test various settings just by mouse movements.

How To Use Unsharp Mask

The article “Unsharp Mask Definition – How to Sharpen Any Photo” (article can be found here) is absolutely the simplest definition and clearest explanation of the meaning of the three unsharp mask values. Most writings on the subject of unsharp mask are highly technical because the technique has been used by professional photographers for decades. Before digital cameras photographers had a procedure using film to apply the same effect (and back then, photos really needed sharpening!). Now, since the function is built into many software programs, it can be accessed by us mortals that aren’t so technically inclined in photography, and this article allows you to understand the Amount, Threshold and Radius values of unsharp mask so you can use the technique on your important photos.

Digital Camera Photo Sharpening Example

Want to see an example of how this resharpening procedure can improve a photo taken with a digital camera? See the article, “How To Make Enlargements Sharper,” click here.