You might have seen images of still life images looking incredibly crispy and sharp, or you might have seen advertising layouts particularly in the sports genre looking quite dramatic, sharp and detailed.

How is it done?

Here are a few examples of layouts we’ve worked on that apply the High Pass filter in only very select areas of the layout. We never use it on the entire image

Client: Matthew Beedle for Kate Spade
Client: Chris Turner
Client: Getty Images Stone Collection

There’s a lot of ways to ensure an image retains a lot of detail, although truth be told you really should be doing it on the camera. This means your lens should be sharp, not old, smudgy or blurred. Your camera needs to have sharp back with a good megapixel count, having a medium format camera like a Hasselblad or Mamiya would help too. Ample light and strobes will help keep high detail on the subject as well.

But, what if the odds are against you and you don’t have this?

Do not fear, the high pass filter is here.

It is not a solution for adding detail on everything but it can be useful, and we quite like the versatility of this Photoshop feature.  As part of a demo I’ll show you a really simple RAW image opened up on photoshop.

STEP 1: Open up your file on Photoshop. This is the original image.  In this example, I’d like to make her eye extra sharp and detailed

STEP 2:  Duplicate that layer, and then go to Filter > Other > High Pass

What it really is doing is it’s automatically filtering out the four key channels (Red, Green, Blue, Yellow) of your image and finding the area of most contrast, and automating it into a hyper field where there is a concentration of this contrast point.

You can adjust the intensity of this filter, it ranges from 1-100, I almost never go beyond 15 points because I feel it starts breaking and bastardizing the pixels!

Step 3: Adjust the intensity of the high pass. Here I’ve set it at 15 pixels. I almost never go beyond this point. It’s just way too fake looking otherwise.

You’ll have this new filter on top of your current visible layer.

Try a few blend modes like Overlay, Screen, Hard Light or Soft light and look only at the area you wanted to enhance.

Step 4: I’ve chosen the Hard Light blend mode, it works quite nice with the layer below it.

In this instance, I want to enhance the eyes only, so now that I’m happy with my adjustment, I’ll go ahead and mask out the rest of the layer.

Step 5: I’ve chosen the Hard Light blend mode, it works quite nice with the layer below it.

Remember with masks, black = hide,white = reveal, and you can have any range grey in between depending on how much you want to show or hide.  I normally only paint in black or white, and then adjust the layer opacity.

So here, I’ve masked out the eye only, but it’s looking too sharp.

So I’m going to reduce my layer opacity to 60% because I think that’s right for the image.  I’ve also made a layer on top to brighten the eye a little.

Here’s the image before and after with the high pass filter.

I personally don’t like it overly sharp, so I would never set it at 100%, I’d take it down to 50-60% maximum.  But, play around with it and see what looks good for your layout.

High Pass Filter is handy for

  • still life
  • exaggerated contrast on select areas of an image
  • dramatic sports-style skinfinish
  • Close up detail like eyes, lips, eyebrows, lashes
  • Logos or other sharp detail needed in images
  • Stitch lines on bags and clothes made more visible
  • Textures on items made more visible

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