How to Edit Blurry Digital Photos

Kate Miller-Wilson
Blurry snowmobiling photo

You think you have that perfect shot, but when you upload it to your computer or look a little closer on your phone, you realize it's blurry. Fortunately, there's a lot your can do to save your blurry photo and make it great.

Fixing Blurry Shots on Your Computer

Photo editing

Thanks to advances in technology, you don't have to erase an image on your digital camera just because it is out of focus. Most blurry photos can be fixed with the help of photo editing software. You don't have to be a computer whiz to edit shots although you do need to have some experience navigating websites.

In addition, you need to be able to practice restraint when it comes to sharpening shots. Due to the technology involved in editing images, it is very easy to over edit a shot. Doing so will cause extremely pixilated photos that are far more unattractive than the original blurry versions.

Remember, if you are shooting a scene where blurring may be an issue, use the RAW format setting on your camera rather than JPEG. By doing so, your camera will preserve all the details originally captured, and you will have more control when editing.

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom, part of the Creative Cloud suite which has an estimated 21 million users in 2017, is by far one of the most popular photo editing programs out there. It makes it easy to fix blur in digital shots. Here's the basic process:

  1. Open the photo in the Develop module.
  2. In the Detail panel, locate the Sharpening slider. Move it to the right to sharpen your image.
  3. You can adjust the Radius and Detail sliders until you like the results. These will vary with the image you're sharpening, so it's a good idea to experiment until you like your shot.
  4. Export the photo or use Lightroom to publish it to social media.

You can also adjust the sharpness of a specific part of a photo by using the brush tool. Simply brush on sharpness only where you want it to avoid over-sharpening the background or other elements in the shot.

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is also part of the Creative Cloud and is one of the most popular photo editing programs available. The following steps will help you sharpen your shots in no time:

  1. Open the photo in Photoshop.
  2. Look for the "Sharpen" menu from the drop down "Filter" list. There are a few different sharpening tools, each with its own features. However, if your photo is just slightly out of focus, you should start with the standard "Sharpen" first. Click it and the menu will disappear. Your image will be slightly sharper.
  3. If your photo requires additional sharpening, click on "Sharpen More."
  4. When you're happy with your image, export or save it.

You'll notice there are actually several sharpening tools in Photoshop. If you know the cause of the blur in your image, such as camera shake, you can use the appropriate tool to fix it. You can also experiment with different tools until your image looks sharp enough for your taste.

Google Nik Sharpener Pro

Google's Nik Collection is a free suite of photo editing programs that work as plug-ins with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. You can also use them as stand alone editors. One of these is Sharpener Pro 3. Here's how to use it:

  1. Perform your basic edits to your image and then open it in Sharpener Pro 3 - Output Sharpener.
  2. On the right, under Creative Sharpening, you'll see four sliders: Output Sharpening Strength, Structure, Local Contrast, and Focus. Each sharpens your image in a slightly different way, so you'll want to experiment to see what works for you.
  3. Drag a slider to the right to make the image sharper. You'll notice that the quality of the image will degrade as you do this, so experiment to find the right balance.
  4. Click Save when you're done.

You can also selectively sharpen certain spots in the image with control points, and you can choose certain colors to sharpen.

Focus Magic

Photo-editing software, such as Photoshop, is better suited to edit photos with mild to moderate blurring. If your shot is severely out of focus, you might consider using Focus Magic. This program is designed to fix extremely blurry digital photos. According to its designers, Focus Magic uses "advanced forensic strength deconvolution technology to eliminate blur and recover lost detail." Similar to Photoshop, Focus Magic allows you to preview your edited image and compare it to the original, so that you may change the direction of the blur or increase or decrease the distance.

  1. Import you image.
  2. Just enter a value in the blur distance text box and adjust accordingly. You can also manipulate other fields that need adjusting.
  3. Once you're satisfied with the preview, click "OK," then wait while your digital photo is rendered and sharpened.

Photos for Mac

Photos is a program that comes on every Mac computer, and if you're a casual photographer, it's likely all you need to fix your blurry shots. Here's how to do it:

  1. Double click to open the image in Photos, and then click the Edit button.
  2. Click the Adjust button. Under Adjustments, click Add and select Sharpen. You'll see three sliders: Intensity, Edges, and Falloff.
  3. Drag the Intensity slider to the right to sharpen the image and adjust the Edges and Falloff sliders to get the exact sharpening effect you have in mind.
  4. When you're done, save the image.

Windows 10 Photos

The Windows 10 Photos app is another bundled software option that will work to help you perform basic sharpening on your image. Here's how you can use it:

  1. Open the photo.
  2. Click Edit and select Enhance. This gives you lots of one-click fix option you can use to improve your shot.
  3. Save your photo.

Sharpening Photos on Your Phone or Tablet

Young woman in creative studio

There are lots of great mobile apps out there than can help you edit your photos, and some stand out as great for blurry shots. If you like to snap with your phone or edit your DSLR shots on the fly using a tablet or phone, give one of these a try.

VSCO

Business Week Daily listed VSCO as one of the best photo editing apps available, and it's a great choice if you need to sharpen on the go. It's available for Android and iPhone. Here's how you can use it to fix your blurry image:

  1. Import the photo into VSCO.
  2. Go to Studio view and select the slider icon.
  3. Near the bottom of the screen, choose the little up arrow. From there, select the slider menu. This allows you to choose the specific tool you want to use.
  4. Select the sharpen tool, which looks like an open triangle. This opens the slider for sharpness.
  5. Adjust sharpness to your taste and save the image.

Snapseed

Another popular photo editing app which was also on Business Week Daily's list, Snapseed is also a good option for fixing blurry photos on a mobile device. It's available for iPhone and Android. Here's how to make it work for you:

  1. Open your photo in Snapseed.
  2. Select the Details tool and select Sharpening.
  3. Swipe right to increase the sharpness in the image and left to decrease it.
  4. When you're happy with the image, save it.

Three Quick Editing Hacks for Fixing Blur

No matter what editing program you use, sharpening a photo isn't the only way to fix blur. Because sharpening can be destructive to your image, it's handy to know a few more tricks. You can hide blur and make your photos look sharper with these digital editing hacks. Try them in anything from phone photos to DSLR shots:

Amp Up the Clarity

Clarity is different than sharpening. It increases the contrast in the middle tones of your image, not the very dark or very light parts. This gives a sharpening effect without as much risk of halos or pixilation. In some programs, clarity is referred to as "structure."

Increase the Contrast

The difference between the light and dark portions of a photo is the contrast. When looking at an image, people tend to notice contrast and read it as sharpness. This means that when you have a blurry image, you can disguise some of that blur by increasing the contrast. Experiment with different levels to see what you like.

Convert to Black and White

Similar to the contrast tip above, converting an image to black and white can also help trick the eye into reading it as sharper. Remember that you'll need to do more than just remove the color from the image, though. Add contrast to make the image really pop or use your favorite black and white filter.

Avoiding Blur

Ideally, it's a good idea to look at your image and determine what caused the blur. Was it too slow a shutter speed for the motion happening? Was there camera shake? Did you miss focus when shooting it? That way, you can make the blurry image look its best but also learn from it. This process means fewer blurry photos in the future.

How to Edit Blurry Digital Photos