Freaky Details Creative Sharpening In Photoshop

For a long while now I have been searching for a way within Photoshop to draw out more detail in my images as I am using the Adobe Photoshop Mac free version. I mostly shoot landscape photographs and I often try my best to make sure everything is in focus from foreground to background (see hyperfocal rule). I believe landscape images look best when printed large so that the viewer is free to look at whatever part of the image that he/she likes. 

But how do we make sure there is detail to be seen? It is not as simple as just taking a photo with everything in focus and banging a print through. In fact, even if you have shot everything correctly and applied capture sharpening and output sharpening there may still be much more detail in your file that you haven’t drawn out. One way to draw out this kind of detail is through creative sharpening, whereby you apply more aggressive amounts of sharpening and contrast to specific areas of the image. 

My new favorite way to do this is with Calvin Hollywood’s freaky details. This technique is awesome and full credit goes to him for discovering it and sharing it (find the link at the end to see his tutorial). After I learned about this technique I applied it to my workflow and over time I modified it so that I had more control over it. This is certainly one of those techniques that make you want to go back and re-edit your old photos.

This is one of those techniques that is much easier to learn through a video tutorial than it is to read off the page. I’ll describe it in the steps below but I’d recommend watching the tutorial so that you get a better idea of how the steps fit together.

Free Stuff

I have made a Freaky Details Photoshop Action for this effect that you can download from the Free Stuff page. I still recommend reading through the tutorial and watching the instructional video so that you get a better understanding of the effect before trying the action. If you run the action be warned that it can take some time to perform depending on how fast your computer is.

Instructional VideO

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The freaky details effect

Step 1) Copy the layer and call it freaky (ctrl+J).

Step 2) Invert the layer (ctrl+I).

Step 3) Change the blending mode of the top layer to Vivid Light (alt+shift+V).

Step 4) Apply surface blur filter (note: for better results keep the threshold on a low number)

Step 5) Let it render, this is an intense filter that your applying and sometimes it takes a minute for your computer to render.

Step 6) Create a new layer based on all the underlying layers (ctrl+alt+shift+E) and call it details.

Step 7) Delete the layer called freaky.

Step 8) Change the blend mode of the layer called details to overlay (alt+shift+O).

Step 9) Apply a surface mask (you can download my surface mask Photoshop action).

Step 10) Paint black on the surface mask, this helps keep the effect from drawing out details in the areas of the image that you don’t want it to.

This effect has become something that I apply to almost all of my photos to various degrees. It is highly effective at drawing out detail that your camera originally captured but that may not be showing on screen or on print. It also gives the image a somewhat illustrated feel since people are not used to seeing this level of detail in their images. But be warned this is a very destructive effect, it will draw out detail but it will also emphasize any technical problems with your image such as high amounts of noise, chromatic aberrations, incorrect exposure, and dust on your sensor. Calvin Hollywood’s technique is brilliant however I have also included a few different methods for masking it off certain parts of the image in order to prevent halos and other technical problems.