You took some great photos of your cat, then realise they look a bit unfocued. Frustrating right? So, how can you fix a blurry cat photo if it isn’t quite as good as you thought.
Let me introduce two tricks to help you sharpen your photos fast. I will introduce online photo sharpeners, and show you some of the enhanced AI (artificial intelligence) software available that will amaze you. None of these techniques or software are not hard to use and they can transform your photos.
- I have done my best to keep this non-technical but if you want to explore filters and sharpening in more depth I have added links to the Resources Section.
Table of contents
- Basic Glossary
- Sharpen Fur With A Computer Photo App
- Photo Sharpening Software
- How To Use The Unsharp Mask
- How to Use The High Pass Filter
- Sharpen Cat Fur With An Online Photo Editor
- Smartphone Filter Suggestion
- When a photograph can’t be sharpened
- BONUS IDEA:
- Special Tips for Digital and Printed Cat Photos
- Image Sharpening Resources
Let me introduce a few camera/software terms so they don’t confuse you. Some you may know, but others may be unfamiliar and they will make reading the post easier.
- Unsharp Mask – a way to sharpen images used in digital image processing software.
- High Pass Filter – works by filling the entire image with neutral gray. It looks for edges in the image and highlights them by making the light side of the edge lighter and the dark side darker. Your software uses this to sharpen edges.
- Online Photo Editors – image editing for the budget conscious and photo editing on the move. No software is downloaded and your image is processed online then downloaded to your device.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – this software offers you a number of settings to capture what it is the best version of your photograph. As it uses a set of adjustments outside your control, you need to use your own judgement to decide if you agree with the adjustments made.
- Smartphone Photo App – software that can be downloaded to your smartphone that helps with editing and adding filters or the treatments yto your images. There are free and paid apps.
Sharpen Fur With A Computer Photo App
Your first place to try fixing a blurry photo is your own computer, smartphone or tablet’s photo editor. There are lots of ways to adjust your photos but the aim here is quick wins with sharper photos, so let me introduce you to my own two ‘go to’ filters that will help on your computer.
Photo Sharpening Software
I use Affinity Photo, you may have Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, Photo Works or GIMP. There are lots of photo editing options and your software should have the Unsharp Mask and High Pass Filter options.
Both of these tools work by faking sharpness and enhancing the contrast between two edges in your photo. The technical explanation goes much deeper but this description works for me and, I hope, for you too. I look at it as adjusting the size or ‘radius’ of a pixel to add the sharpness I need. The higher the radius you set the more sharpening is applied to your photo.
How To Use The Unsharp Mask
This might sound intimidating, but it isn’t. Explore this for yourself.
Your Unsharp Mask (USM for short) is found in the Filter menu. Look for a sharpen option, which will give you options including USM. In Affinity Photo it is in the menu Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask.
The USM can sharpen a photo that is not quite sharp enough and it is a great first choice to add a definition to fur. Try this filter first and use a gentle touch as you try out the tool. As you experiment you will find the point at which you love the change. When you reach this point save your photo as a new image and keep your original. You might want to experiment with othr options too.
Results With The Unsharp Mask
This smartphone shot of Natasha came out well, I am looking upwards, her cheeky cat face is almost in focus but looked too soft for a dynamic and fearless cat climbing a tree in the garden. After I used the USM you can see that it has given the photograph a slightly sharper feel.
- To see the original photo check out the ‘extreme’ sample underneath this one.
TOP TIP: Experiment with a digital copy of your photo. You can add a copy on top of your digital image by using Cmd/Ctrl J. If you prefer you can duplicate your photo and work on the new image. This way you keep the original unedited.
My best advice with this filter is to avoid pushing the USM tool too far. You will get unpleasant haloes, jagged edges or blotchy mottled textures, as you can see in the example here. Natasha does not look good when I push the settings to extremes and the photo of Toulouse loses all of its sharpness and becomes blocky.
How to Use The High Pass Filter
This has more steps than unsharp masks and you might want to explore how the process fits together on a practice image. The High Pass Filter (HPF) will add a touch of refinement that is helpful if you are saving a photo at a very high resolution. This high resolution is valuable for printing onto canvas and to make greetings cards or other printables.
TOP TIP: The first time I used the HPF in my software I panicked because the layer it created over my photograph was solid grey. What had I done?
It turns out the filter is applied to a ‘mask’ or layer on top the photograph. You need to adjust the ‘Radius’ (pixel size) of the filter to sharpen your image. The masks available include effects like Overlay, Darken, and Soft Light. I suggest you explore the layer options. They might not be totally relevant for this tip tutorial but they can show you some amazing future effects for your cat photos.
Results Using The High Pass Filter
I use the Overlay option for my sample and here are the steps I used for the filter.
- Create a duplicate image using Ctrl/Cmd J and work on this
- Find Your Layer Masks and select Overlay (usually on the right or in your tool bar)
- Choose your Filter menu>Sharpen>Select High Pass
- Adjust the Radius Slider to add your preferred level of sharpness
- Click Apply
- TIP Don’t push the slider too far. Moderation is the key to a quick and successful result.
- Delete your layer if it doesn’t work and experiment further!
Sharpen Cat Fur With An Online Photo Editor
You might not have access to photo software or just want to adjust an image quickly. At times like these, an online image sharpener can be helpful. Let me show you three in action, although there are plenty of others to shoose from.
Some of the more complex and sophisticated software limits the number of photographs you can process each month. Vance AI I on my list is one, so check before you start using the program. Trying out one or two photos on paid software is a useful way to check out if you like the software and want to invest in it, especially if you do a lot of indepth shrpening.
Lunapic Online App
- Availability: Online
- Cost: FREE
You can find a simple and super fast sharpening tool in the very popular online image editor Lunapic.
Results with Lunapic
Once you arrive at Lunapic look for Adjust>Sharpen. This brings up a window so you can quickly upload an image and use the slider to sharpen or soften it. I was able to sharpen my photograph of Jack here in a matter of moments before downloading it for use. It looks great and is very user friendly.
- Availability: Online for Everyone
- Cost: FREE
This is a very easy to use online image sharpener that also has plenty of other image editing options in the left sidebar. The site says you can sharpen an unlimited number of photos and there is a quick How-To video and lots of extra information below the work area.
Results with ImageOnline Software
I was pleased with the level of sharpening I was able to get with Dash’s picture. The difference is not huge but the subtle improvement is very helpful for me to be able to print cards or add the image to publicity printables.
Image processing work is done in client browser, we are not uploading your images to our server or anywhere else. No one can access your images including us. We guaranteed for your image security.Imageonline
- Availability: Online, and Windows PC
- Cost: 3 free images per month or Basic $9 per month
The number of programs using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to adjust images is on the increase so I am spotlighting one here. Vance AI has been getting a lot of positive attention and if you want to learn more check out this review.
Vance AI software gives you three free photos per month so it’s great for one or two important photos you need to adjust. Vance also has an Image Enhancer that does a lot more with AI.
Results with Vance AI Software
I found that the program works well with a photo that already looks clear but that you feel needs more help. With some gentle dodging to lighten Dash’s face, this would be a sharp image I would love to use for a card or canvas print. There is a lot more I am told the program can do so you may hear more about this program on the blog.
‘The more indepth Vance AI Image Enhancer allows you to fix blurry and noisy low-resolution images easily with Deep Convolutional Neural Networks’. This sounds complicated but could be worth exploring in more depth when you are moving beyond the quick fixes I cover here.Vance Image Enhancer
Smartphone Filter Suggestion
There are dozens of smartphone filters to transform your photos whther your phone is iOS or sndroid you are spoiled for choice so try out as many as you can. If you have apps installed, take a few minutes to explore then, and check out tutorials online. There are a lot of free opportunities for enhancing your cat photos, if you are budget conscious. I have reviewed three easy to use free apps with excellent results:
The sophisticated AI within this free smartphone app automatically reviews your image and makes basic adjustments and sometimes this is just what you need to make the photo perfect for an Instagram or Facebook post. Any adjustments made can also be reversed if you don’t like that the AI has done (click the little magic wand top right).
When a photograph can’t be sharpened
Frustratingly, there are times when you have to accept that a photo just can’t be improved as much as you hope. This is because the software to clear blurred images works with digital information stored in your photo. If there is no information there the software will struggle to sharpen the photo.
You can see in my iPad photo of Nemo from 2015 (below) that although I can add a tiny amount of texture, it doesn’t make too much of a difference. The split-screen shows the After/Before with pixelated fur and jagged edges to the blanket. I love the photo as it is, blurred but linked to happy memories, so have left the image alone.
If you hate the idea of sharpening your cat’s out-of-focus fur, consider adding a filter. Computer and smartphone filters can transform a slightly fuzzy photo and create a fun image that you would love to share on social media. Filters never fail to surprise, so try them out.
Photoshop Filter – Artful
Filters in this app are not named individually but displayed under each ‘lens’ (filter) in the Photoshop Camera application. This means I can only give you a general direction to each but once you explore and become familiar with the filters, you can enjoy creating new looks for your photos.
Number 1 under Artful gives an almost watercolour paper texture to the portrait of Toulouse with each subsequent filter shafting the way it looks in subtle ways. The one thing you can say is, there will be a filter you will love amongst those I show here.
My other favourite lenses at the moment in the app for you to try are:
Photo Filter – Cyanotype
Real cyanotypes are a photographic printing process and the chemicals used to turn an image blue. Using the chemicals is fiddly and you need to be very careful preparing paper and fabric to print on to, so discovering that there was a filter that did a lot of the hard work for me was exciting.
The second snapshot, below, was cropped to remove a lot of garden and focus on the athletic cat up to mischief as he stalked the fence. There are four filters in this lense, each gives a different light or dark treatment.
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Engineers used the process well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost process to produce copies of drawings, referred to as blueprints.The process uses two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanideWikipedia
Special Tips for Digital and Printed Cat Photos
- It is always worth trying a gentle touch of sharpening, as I did with Nemo’s photo, because the repair might be worth it for a treasured cat memory. Only you can decide if the changes make a difference to your photo and the memories you have.
- Consider getting a skilled image editor to sharpen a scanned image in Photoshop or other high end image adjustment software. This is how many old sepia photographs or tattered prints are transformed. If the memory is important to you, the option to get professional help is worth considering. They will work with a digital image or a high resolution scanned copy of your cat picture.
- If you want to try photo repair at home look for ‘photo repair or try Image Colorizer.
FINAL SUPER TIP: To avoid having to do ANYTHING to your photos, learn to photograph pets confidently with your camera! Get it right when you take a photo with your smartphone, compact, or DSLR for the fastest and sharpest win.
Read these helpful tips for sharp cat photos.
I hope these online editors give you an idea of the help an editor can give you when you need quick results with your cat photo editing. If you have your own favourite fast image sharpener, let me know in the comments.
Image Sharpening Resources
- Good review of AI and other Image sharpening tools.
- This technique uses a blurred or ‘unsharp’ negative of an image as a mask to increase sharpness.
- For a slightly technical but interesting description of High Pass Filters check out
- Useful insights into the impact of using Unsharp Masks
- Detailed image sharpening article (one pop up easily dismissed).
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can shoot and edit wonderful pictures they love regardless of the camera they use.
She is a Professional member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.