How to improve the quality of photos with Adobe Photoshop


Improving the quality of an image using Adobe Photoshop tools seems almost like a daily task for most designers: fix wrong resolution of the image, work with bright or low light conditions, image in movement, etc. Thus in this article we are going to learn how to use the Unsharp Mask and Reduce Noise filters, as they are the most commonly used tools for this kind of task.

For this tutorial purposes, I am going to work with a common picture of famous singer Shirley Manson.


Inside Photoshop, apply a duplicate layer option.


Enter the menu Filter> Sharpen> Unsharp Mask. Regulate Amount, Radius and Threshold parameters.


An “unsharp mask” is actually used to sharpen an image, contrary to what its name might lead you to believe. Sharpening can help you emphasize texture and detail, and is critical when post-processing most digital images. Unsharp masks are probably the most common type of sharpening, and can be performed with nearly any image editing software (such as Photoshop). An unsharp mask cannot create additional detail, but it can greatly enhance the appearance of detail by increasing small-scale acutance.

The sharpening process works by utilizing a slightly blurred version of the original image. This is then subtracted away from the original to detect the presence of edges, creating the unsharp mask (effectively a high-pass filter). Contrast is then selectively increased along these edges using this mask — leaving behind a sharper final image.

The three unsharp mask filter parameters are described below:

  • Amount: Is usually listed as a percentage, and controls the magnitude of each overshoot. This can also be thought of as how much contrast is added at the edges.
  • Radius: Controls the amount to blur the original for creating the mask. This affects the size of the edges you wish to enhance, so a smaller radius enhances smaller-scale detail.
  • Threshold: Sets the minimum brightness change that will be sharpened. This is equivalent to clipping off the darkest non-black pixel levels in the unsharp mask. The threshold setting can be used to sharpen pronounced edges, while leaving subtle edges untouched. This is especially useful to avoid amplifying noise, or to sharpen an eye lash without also roughening skin texture.


Once you apply the filter, you can rerun the filter with the last setting immediately with the shortcut [Ctrl + F].

Then it is advisable to duplicate the last layer to work on it, and apply the next filter entering the menu Filter> Noise> Reduce Noise.

04ImproveQualityPhotos 05ImproveQualityPhotos

This filter (Reduce Noise) is designed to remove luminance noise and JPEG artifacts that can appear on digital photos. Luminance noise is grayscale noise that makes images look overly grainy. Here’s some info on the options:

  • Strength: Specify the amount of noise reduction. You can reduce noise in the overall image or (if you click the Advanced button) channel by channel. Be sure to check out the Blue channel, in particular. It’s often the channel that captures all the crud.
  • Preserve Details: A higher number preserves edges and details but reduces the amount of noise removal. Find a happy medium.
  • Reduce Color Noise: Removes random colored pixel artifacts.
  • Sharpen Details: Counteracts the fact that removing noise reduces sharpness, as well.
  • Remove JPEG Artifact: Check this option to remove the annoying blocks and halos that can occur because of low-quality JPEG compression.


You can also save and reload your settings. Click the disk/arrow icon. In the New Filter Settings dialog box, enter a name for your settings and click OK. To load your settings, choose your desired settings from the Settings drop-down menu (pop-up menu on the Mac).

Now you have to add layer mask. When you work with a layer mask, you can hide or show all of the layer, or base the mask on a selection or transparency. Later, you’ll paint on the mask to precisely hide portions of the layer, revealing the layers beneath.


You can use masks to hide portions of a layer and reveal portions of the layers below. You can create two types of masks:

  • Layer masks are resolution-dependent bitmap images that are edited with the painting or selection tools.
  • Vector masks are resolution independent and are created with a pen or shape tool.

Layer and vector masks are nondestructive, which means you can go back and re‑edit the masks later without losing the pixels they hide.

In the Layers panel, both the layer and vector masks appear as an additional thumbnail to the right of the layer thumbnail. For the layer mask, this thumbnail represents the grayscale channel that is created when you add the layer mask. The vector mask thumbnail represents a path that clips out the contents of the layer.

In this case only Layer mask was used, according to the photo eyes and lips mainly cleared.


And finally it results in improved image quality.



It is recommended to test filters and Reduces Noise Unsharp Mask, to understand the parameters that each one how to apply properly for a more professional work.

The aim is to improve the quality of the image, thus, the filters presented in the order desired, one or more times may apply.


  1. ADOBE (2013), ADOBE PHOTOSHOP Help and tutorials, link [] visited as of 2015-07-07.
  2. ADOBE (2014), Adobe® Photoshop® CC Help, link [] visited as of 2015-07-07.

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