How-To Geek

Reader Request: How To Repair Blurry Photos


Ever taken a picture that has a focus that’s just a little bit too soft? Today’s graphics idea was requested by a reader that wanted to do something about those blurry images. Keep reading to see our solution!

What Can Work, And What’s Going to Crash and Burn


Not every image is ideal for this treatment. The ideal candidate is going to be a photo that is slightly out of focus or was damaged by a little motion blur—the kind of photo that’s good, but frustratingly a little bit blurry.


An image like this one doesn’t have enough detail to be repaired with this method and would require extensive repainting—a little too advanced for today’s tip. Remember, you can’t create image data from nothing, so no filter is going to bring out details that the camera didn’t resolve.


Extensive motion blur (leading to double images, as shown here) is also very tough to deal with, and likely requires radically rebuilding the image. Today, we’ll start simpler, with a tip that only requires a few filters and some clever masking.

Repairing Blurs in Photographs


Today, our demonstration is in Photoshop, but it is very GIMP friendly. Feel free to follow along, although your menus and shortcuts may be different than we use here.


Duplicate a copy of your photo background layer. We’ll be working mostly in that background layer, so make sure you have it selected, as shown, above right.


Navigate to Image > Mode > Lab Color and select it.


If you don’t have your “channels” panel open, find it by going to Window > Channels. Then select only the “Lightness” channel. Your image should jump to a grayscale—that’s normal.


In that grayscale, navigate to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. These settings harshly overdo our sharpening, unintentionally bringing out grain texture in our image. You can use the settings shown here, but adjust it to suit your own needs. Remember, overdoing it at this stage is okay, be extreme, if necessary.


Click the “Lab” combined channel in the Channels panel. That should return your image to full color.


Adjusting sharpen filters in Lab color can stop the filter from affecting the color in the image. But our image is nearly ruined by the harshness of the grain. Let’s take our tip a step further and create an image that looks more like what we want.

sshot-526 image image

Hold down ALT and click the mask button in your layers panel. Then pick the paintbrush tool and right click to set it to a soft brush setting. Make sure your foreground color is white, as shown above right.


You’re eliminating everything you just did from your image, then painting back in the areas you want to keep. Edges work best, as shown here in red. By painting in the edges, you give the soft image an illusion of sharpness. This way you can selectively repair the areas that are too blurry and soft, while retaining the soft parts that are missing the grain in the image.




After. Remember, it’s not possible for a computer to somehow discover image data that isn’t there, so it’s impossible to completely remove the blur. But this technique can help you salvage an image that’s not quite gone over the brink. Make sure you change your image back to RGB before saving it for any web application by going to Image > Mode > RGB Color.


As an alternative to using the Unsharp Mask filter for making adjustments to the sharpness of your image, you can make very fine-tuned adjustments using Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. Photoshop users can find it by navigating to File > Open As, then selecting any JPG and using the setting “Camera Raw.” In the Camera Raw program, use the sshot-545 icon to bring up the sharpening and details tools.

Found this tip helpful? Even if you hate it or have your own method you think is superior, let us hear about it in the comments. Or, if you prefer, send your suggestions and questions to, and we may feature them in a future graphics related article.

Image Credits: Bubbleblower by Jørgen Schyberg, Creative Commons. Focus on Less by quatipua, Creative Commons. Out of focus by Susana Fernandez, Creative Commons. Other photographs copyright by the author.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 03/16/12

Comments (14)

  1. Tony

    Hi, great article.

    But for those with loads of blurred pictures, without Photoshop or without the necessary skills to manually deblur their photos. Please have a look at this article

    All you do download and install
    Then feed it the fuzzy photo and walk away while it does its magic.

    Worked wonders for my elderly friend with shaky hands and a new grandchild.

  2. LadyFitzgerald

    I’ve achieved good results using Microsoft Picture It 7.0. All one had to do was click on Sharpen/Soften (I think that’s what it was called; it’s been a while since I use the program) and drag a slider a bit. As mentioned, there is a limit to what can be sharpened. Trying to sharpen too much resulted in a very harsh looking image. If there is too much blur, it just made the blur look harsh. For pictures only slightly out of focus, such as the image of the baby (cute kid, btw) used in the article, Picture It could fix it just as well in one easy step.

  3. Eric Z Goodnight

    Great suggestions, guys. In addition to that, you can use either of those tools combined with this method. You could make a copy of your file, sharpen it, then use GIMP to combine them to sharpen only the edges, resulting in a much better image than a simple sharpen alone.

  4. dan

    i love how the images load so slow on this website.

  5. Eric Z Goodnight
  6. Gabi

    Thank you, thank you very much!

  7. foot

    Usually I’ll toss a pic that’s too fuzzy. A few times, on pics I needed to keep, I’ve had some success with (not to be confused with Paint).
    Like other options, any clearing is limited. I’ve had to bye my niece a tripod.

  8. foot

    ^ buy (same niece would shoot me for that error)

  9. LadyFitzgerald

    Pity Picture It is no longer available. I still have a copy of it but it works only with XP so it will be obsolete when I replace my XP machines with ones that can handle Win 7 (It’s appearing more and more that Win 8 will be inadequate for serious computing on desktop machines and even most laptops.

  10. JimH

    “Lazy_loading” Ahhhh, I always wondered how you got images to load only while I scrolled down the page. I knew it wasn’t the HTML I know.

    Good tip, btw. I’ll have to try it. I usually just feathered lasso the eyes and mouth and smart sharpen them while making sure I don’t over do it.

  11. J

    The best tool for repairing slightly out of focus pics is Focus Magic. It uses actual deconvolution to sortof refocus the picture. It even works with pictures that are in focus but were slightly blurred all over from motion blur from moving the camera, by mathematically removing that motion. Focus Magic is MUCH better than “Unsharp Mask” or a sharpening function.

  12. kim

    DeFine from NIK and InFocus by Topaz labs. FYI, CS6 is going to be SICK when it comes out. I would pay 400$ alone for just the new sharpening / de blur capability, clone/heal, and content aware. This is the only reason why I use photoshop anyways.

    If anything should happen to all of your other images which are good and all you can salvage is a crappy picture like these, then paying for a new version of CS6 could be a lifesaver!

    Otherwise, those images need to find the bottom of the recycle bin!
    (i know they are for lessons only)

    I can’t wait for CS6 to come out. Better yet, I cant wait to see the new clone/heal abilities come to light! The de blur/sharpen youtube videos are out there, go take a look! scandelous!

    here come the worlds worst photographers! sound the trumpets.

  13. kim

    *since I obviously the one with the title of am “Grammatically challenged” in my post above…* lol

  14. Scott

    This works so well. Saved several shots for me. Thanks so much!

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