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4 Days to Sharper Photos: Sharpening in Lightroom

In the last 3 posts, we have talked about how to get sharper images in-camera.  Today, I am going to share how to take an already sharp image and give it a little bit more sharpening in Lightroom.


**NOTE: You can’t make an out-of-focus image instantly sharp in Lightroom. Sharpening a blurry photo in Lightroom will do nothing except for sharpen the blurry pixels.  This isn’t a fix for a badly out-of-focus image.**


As you begin to move each slider in the Detail panel, hold down the ALT/OPTION key while adjusting each.  As you do this you will see the image in black and white or shades of gray.  Since sharpening is difficult to see, using the ALT/OPTION key will help you to actually see what is happening. The view that opens while the ALT key is pressed will also help you to focus on exactly what needs to be sharpened.


Step 1:  Open the Detail Panel

Sharpening in Lightroom is done in the Detail Panel which is found on the right-side of the Develop Module.  It is bundled with Noise Reduction.  I’ll let you know exactly why later on in this post.


Step 2: Choose What Needs to Be Sharpened

Using the little preview window at the top of the Detail Panel, choose what you’d like to see sharpened and make sure you can see that in the window.  You may need to open the preview area with the little disclosure triangle in the upper-right of the panel.  You can use the square in the upper-left to choose what you’d like to see in the window.  Because that preview is very small, I also choose to zoom in on my image to make sure the sharpening is happening in the right places.


Step 3: Amount

The Amount slider chooses the intensity of the sharpening.  Depending on the image, you may want more sharpening than others.  For instance, a landscape image or an image of most anything but faces and skin can tolerate a little more sharpening.  But a portrait of someone--especially a close up will tolerate much less sharpening.

Remember to hold down the ALT/OPTION key to see more precisely how much sharpening is being applied and where.


Step 4: Radius

Think Edges when adjusting this slider for Sharpening.  This slider is going to determine how far out from the edges the sharpening will be applied.  As a general rule, images with small details or images with a lot of skin should have a fairly low number.  Images with larger details can tolerate a higher number.


Step 5: Detail

This slider brings back a little detail after sharpening has been applied.  

Step 6: Masking


This is really a magic slider.  This slider will look for solid or smooth areas and try to mask off the sharpening from those areas and keep it to just the edges.  I typically apply small amounts in the other areas we talked about above.  However, with this slider I am VERY generous and generally have a very high amount.


Step 7: Artifacting


Artifacting happens during sharpening.  It is those little pixels or blurriness that you see in an image that has been oversharpened.  Make sure to zoom into your image and look for artifacting around areas with lots of edges, specifically the eyes.  

**Remember: Sharpening should be subtle.  There should be a very slight change. Once it looks obvious, you have gone too far.


Sharpening on Export


I generally apply one or the other.  If I have sharpened my image I don’t apply much output sharpening.   When sharpening on export, the amount of sharpening I apply will depend on whether the image is being exported for printing/handing off to clients or for the web.  In general, I use much less sharpening on images that are being exported for the web and just a little more for images that will be printed.

For the Other Posts in This Series:

4 Days to Sharper Photos: Getting Sharper Photos In Camera

4 Days to Sharper Photos: Depth of Field and Shutter Speed

4 Days to Sharper Photos: Good Light and Good Lenses

4 Days to Sharper Photos: Sharpening in Lightroom


 

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