Photoshop and Lightroom Super Resolution: How to Quadruple Your Photo Size
The functionality of Lightroom and Photoshop is a remarkable technology that uses artificial intelligence to quadruple the size of your photos. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great way to breathe new life into older photos and print larger photos with twice the pixels in width and height. Here’s what it is and how to use it.
To create the Super Resolution feature, Adobe trained its Sensei artificial intelligence technology on millions of real photos. He compared the originals with quarter-sized versions so the system could learn the best way to detonate them again. It applies this behavior to your own photos, making very educated guesses about how to increase their resolution.
Yes, Photoshop makes pixels that weren’t there in the first place, and no, it’s not going to magically add detail like Rick Deckard does with “improve” the controls in the sci-fi movie Blade Runner. Those caveats aside, I find it works well on many images, especially when expanding edges, where this is often done without adding any artifacts like pixelation or jagged pixelation. Even faces – the parts of images that concern us most often – stand out.
Super resolution works through the Adobe Camera Raw Tool in Photoshop. Adobe formed the feature to work with raw photos, the format that amateurs and photo professionals prefer for editing flexibility and image quality. But the super resolution can work on conventional images, like JPEGs and HEICs that your phone is probably capturing.
Having said that, let’s get started. I will first explain how to use super resolution alone, then how to apply it to JPEGs, and finally how to use it in Adobe’s Lightroom software to edit and catalog photos.
How to Use Super Resolution in Adobe Camera Raw of Photoshop
Begin the Super Resolution process by opening a raw file. Photoshop will open raw files directly in the Adobe Camera Raw tool.
Following, right click on the photo and select the Enhance option. You can also use the Command-Shift-D keyboard shortcut on MacOS and Control-Shift-D on Windows.
You will see an enhanced Preview dialog box with a few options to control the process. First theimproves rendering of raw files. Below, make sure you’ve checked the Super Resolution box. To see the expected results, click and drag to pan around the preview image, or click the magnifying glass icon to zoom out, then click again on the patch you want to examine.
Then click on the Upgrade button and wait. Photoshop shows its estimate of how long the process would take – several minutes in some cases – but often times it gets done faster in my testing, sometimes just seconds to turn 12-megapixel photos into 48-megapixels.
If you want to bypass the Enhanced Preview dialog box, hold down the Option key on MacOS or Alt on Windows while clicking the Enhance option.
After that comes the fine tuning. I recommend zooming in tightly to change details like sharpness, texture, and noise reduction using the sliders on the right edge of the tool.
Finally, click either the Done button, which will save the new version next to the original with “-Enhanced” appended to its filename, or click Open, which opens the image in Photoshop.
How to use super resolution on a JPEG
To apply super resolution to JPEG, HEIC, or TIFF, you must first change Photoshop preferences to open those file formats in Adobe Camera Raw by default. Unfortunately, you can’t just use the Camera Raw Filter menu command from the Filter menu.
First, open Photoshop preferences, go to File Handling section, then click Camera Raw Preferences. In the next dialog box that appears, click the File Management section. Change the JPEG / HEIC drop-down list to “Automatically open all supported images”, and do the same with TIFF images if you want to too.
Note that this means that these images will open in Adobe Camera Raw even if you don’t want to use the super resolution and the rest of the Adobe Camera Raw editing options. Personally, I like them, as I do most of my photo editing in Lightroom – a close relative of Adobe Camera Raw. But if you want Photoshop’s normal behavior, you’ll have to turn it off again in Photoshop preferences.
DSLRs and mirrorless cameras from Sony, Nikon, Canon and other camera makers all have the ability to take raw photos, but smartphones are also improving, withand Google’s raw compute technology.
How to use Adobe Lightroom’s super resolution
For a few months there, it was difficult to use Super Resolution if you were using Lightroom to catalog and edit your photos. Fortunately, with the Lightroom release of June 2021, the functionality is built in.
Its use is simple, but it is a step outside the beaten track of your usual publishing and catalog operations. Select the photo in Lightroom’s Library mode, then choose “Enhance” from the Photo menu. You can also right click on the image to get the option in a context menu.
After a while to generate a preview, you will see a dialog box that allows you to move around the preview, zoom in and out, click to compare before and after previews, and check Lightroom’s estimate for the working time. Click “Improve” when you’re ready.
As with Photoshop, it’s best to look at the pixels to check your detailed zoomed edits. You may want to lower the sharpness, especially in areas like the hair, where super resolution can make mistakes, or increase noise reduction. I’ve also found that manually adjusting the purple and green fringe issues in the Lens Corrections panel can be helpful in reducing color artifacts.
Note that the keyboard shortcut for Enhance is different for Lightroom and Lightroom Classic, two very different versions of Adobe’s Lightroom. For Lightroom Classic (which stores photos on your computer’s storage system), it’s Ctrl-Alt-I on Windows and Ctrl-Opt-I on MacOS. For Lightroom (which stores photos in the cloud and syncs them across your computer, phone, and other devices) the shortcut is Ctrl-Alt-E on Windows Cmd-Opt-E on MacOS.
Additionally, in Lightroom Classic, you can ignore the Enhance dialog box and simply launch a Super Resolution extension with Shift-Ctrl-Alt-I on Windows and Shift-Ctrl-Option-I on MacOS. It will apply the previous enhancement settings, so if you’ve unchecked Super Resolution before, you’ll need to reselect it through the dialog first.
Super resolution in Lightroom can handle JPEG as well as raw images, although it turns JPEG into DNG file. As with all DNG files, you will need to export a JPEG file for easy sharing.