The Most-Abused Tools in Photoshop…


Updated 09/01/21, and still relevant today …




As I go to various art shows, galleries, contests and photo club exhibits, and as I judge various photo contests, I notice two common Photoshop errors repeatedly. If someone looks at your traditional print and says, “Oh, that’s digital!”, it is usually not a compliment. It usually denotes manipulation and phoniness. There is probably nothing wrong with the original image.


More than likely it is just over-saturated and over-sharpened in Photoshop.


Let me clarify what I’m going to say by adding that I’m not talking about “Photoshop Artistry” here – – That is a different discipline altogether – – I’m talking about a photographer that wants to take their images and make stunning “traditional” prints using Photoshop as their “Photographic Enlarger”.


In my opinion, these are the two most abused functions in digital printing and digital imaging. What does this mean? It means that the colors are unrealistic and unnatural to the point of creating posterization and pixelization, and that lines and objects are so sharp that you are getting a slight “halo” effect.


So, as you are working with your digital image in Photoshop, what do you do to avoid this?


Let’s start with Saturation. Saturation is defined as the intensity or purity of a color. The trick is to keep your colors looking natural and not too intense. Trying to increase the amount of a color that is just not there will create a sense of phoniness. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to make your corrections.  By the way, check out how to do this properly, starting with this post:


Now let’s talk about Sharpness.  Again, the trick is to keep things looking natural and not too intense. In Photoshop, open “Unsharp Mask’ and try starting with Amount: 75, Radius: 1.0 and Threshold: 2. Increase the “Amount” slider slightly until you start to see too sharp edges, then back off a bit. By the way, if your image is not fairly sharp to begin with, you cannot use the sharpening features in Photoshop to sharpen it. More detail with enlargeable pics here:




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•  By the way, this is all based on my Photoshop book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”, available exclusively on Amazon:


Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment and tell your photography friends!


Thx again, and cheers,


John Watts 🙂




2 thoughts on “The Most-Abused Tools in Photoshop…

  1. John, I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes I have to pull myself back on that saturation slider. It’s some good eye candy. 🙂 However, I do like to use the sharpening filter along with the history brush, especially for making water droplets sparkle. I’ll sharpen the picture enough that it looks natural, then sharpen again and use the history brush to remove all of the second stage sharpening from everything except the droplets.

  2. Thanks for posting!

    Good points all, Paul, especially for the water droplets…

    There’s another method you might try – – I was reluctant to bring it up in the main post as I’m a strong believer in the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) method, especially for folks just starting in Photoshop…

    1) Create a new Background Copy
    2) Change Blending mode to Luminosity (This sharpens only the “L” values of HSL)
    3) Sharpen using unsharp mask
    4) Create a layer mask and remove those elements that look over-sharpened…

    Hope that helps…


    John 🙂

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