How To Sharpen Images In Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom comes with some great tools to sharpen images during post-processing. Located in the Develop module of Lightroom, the “Detail” box contains both Sharpening and Noise Reduction tools that allow Photographers to enhance their digital workflows by fine-tuning images and getting them ready to be published and printed in a quick and efficient way. In this article, we will discuss about the “Sharpening” technique.

Before We Start:

Before we get into the technical details, here are a few points I want you to remember:

• Sharp, clear images are much more pleasing than blurry and soft images. However, pushing too much with sharpening during post production will result in “over sharpening”. It results in harsh, visible lines on edges and around objects. Over-sharpened images often look too “textured”.

OverSharpened IMAGE.jpg
An Over Sharpened Image

• Using excessive amounts of sharpening can add a lot more noise to an image. The worst result is when an image is already shot at high ISO values and sharpening is applied on top of the digital grain, resulting in even more noise.

• Blocky pixels and artefacts are some other effects of too much sharpening.

• Lightroom sharpens an image simply by increasing the definition between edges found in the image. It is impossible to restore detail that your equipment did not capture in the first place.

The Detail Panel:

Lightroom comes with a very powerful sharpening tool within the Develop module, under the “Detail” panel. It is very similar to Photoshop’s “Unsharp Mask” tool, but better, because it gives you extra controls over how you can sharpen your images.
After importing the image into Lightroom’s “Library” module, follow these steps:

1. Press “D” on your keyboard or click on “Develop” on the top right panel to get into the Develop module.

2. Left-click your image to view it at 100%. I highly recommend viewing your images at full size (100%) before making any sharpening changes.

3. Expand the right panel in Lightroom and scroll down until you get to “Detail”.

The detail panel will look like this if you’re using the latest version of Lightroom:

The Details Panel
The Details Panel


The Sharpening Tool has four different sliders:

  1. Amount: The amounts of sharpening you want to apply. 0 means no sharpening, and 150 is full sharpening. On default the value is set to 25.There is no magic number, but I love to stay below 90. Remember, increasing “amount” will also increase noise across the scene.
  2. Radius: the size of the sharpening area around the edges. The default value of 1.0 means that Lightroom will apply sharpening over 1 pixel around the edge. If you increase the radius to a maximum value of 3.0, sharpening will be spread over three pixels around the edge, resulting in thicker, “shadowy” edges. I use the default radius value of 1.0 most of the time and I recommend keeping it under 1.5.
  3. Detail: The detail slider controls the amount of sharpening on the edges or “details” of the image. A small value like 0 only sharpens large edges, while a high value like 100 would sharpen even the smallest edges. For example, if you are working on an image of a bird, if you leave the detail at “0”, only the edges of thick feathers would get sharpened, while using a larger number above 50 would bring out and sharpen even the thinner feathers. Personally, I prefer to stick with the default value of 25.
  4. Masking: This is my favourite slider of the sharpening toolset. This dictates where and what to sharpen across the scene. As many of you out there strive for clean backgrounds with your wildlife portraits the last thing you want to do is enhance any camera noise in those lovely backgrounds. Moving the slider up will only apply the sharpening to the main detailed parts of the scene, leaving the backgrounds, or out of focus, less defined parts, un-touched. A very useful tool to use!

With the above controls, you could effectively sharpen your images without much work and dramatically cut your workflow time.

Using The Option/Alt Key:

The Option (Mac) or Alt (PC) key on your keyboard can do a lot of the magic in Lightroom. One of the biggest challenges in sharpening is seeing the effect of sharpening on your images. Sure, viewing the image at 100% helps, but playing with such sliders as radius, detail and masking often confuses Lightroom users, because slight changes could be invisible when looking at the image. That’s when the Option/Alt key comes in handy.

Radius: That’s how the image looks like when I press the Alt button and move the “Radius” slider. It gives me a clear indication of how exactly radius will affect my image. As you can see, at the maximum setting of “3.0”, the radius around the edges is too thick, giving an unnatural look to the image:

Amount & Details: Pressing the Control/Alt key while moving the sliders for Amount and Detail will also show the effects on a gray background, giving us a pretty good idea on how the setting will affect the image.

Masking: The “Masking” slider works a little differently with the Option/Alt key. The masking tool is used for leaving the smooth areas intact, while applying sharpening only to the edges. We can control where the edges start by moving the slider from 0 to the right. At “0”, no masking is applied to the image and therefore, the entire image is sharpened. If you have a smooth background, sharpening will certainly add noise to the background, even when noise is very minimal to start with. Here is what happens when you start moving the slider:


Note that the “black” areas are where no sharpening effect is applied. It is only in the “whites” Lightroom will apply sharpening effects.

Sharpening Example:
Let’s jump to a real example. I will start with this image with no sharpening effects applied at all:

Nikon D810 + Nikkor 600mm f4 E FL VR
Nikon D810 + Nikkor 600mm f4 E FL VR .

1. Inside Lightroom, press the “D” button to go to the Develop module. Once you are in the Develop module, open the right sidebar and scroll down to “Detail”.
2. Hold the Option/Alt key and move the Amount slider to your taste. In this case I will use the value of 90 .release the Option/Alt key when done.
3. I will keep the Radius slider at default value for this image. You can play with it if you wish.
4. Hold the Option/Alt key and move the Detail slider to your taste. For this image, I will keep it to 60. Release the Option/Alt key when done.
5. Finally, hold the Option/Alt key and move the Masking slider to mask out the unwanted areas. I have kept mine at the value of 70.
6. Look at the final result and press the “” button on your keyboard several times to see how the image looked before and after you applied sharpening to it. You can also see the Before and After images in two separate windows by pressing the “Y” button, or you can use the switch on the “Detail” panel to turn Sharpening on or off.

Here is a before and after of the image I processed at 100%:

Please note that the above values are for this example only.

Output Sharpening:

Many Lightroom users get confused about the Output Sharpening feature in the Export window. Should it be used after sharpening is already applied to an image? If you are exporting the image in its original size, then I recommend turning off Output Sharpening during the export process. If you are resizing the image to a smaller version for the web, then I recommend leaving it checked with the Screen/Standard amount of sharpening applied. When images are reduced in size via Lightroom, the sharpness is also slightly reduced, so sharpening the images a little bit does not hurt. Output Sharpening does not use the same settings you used for the image in the Develop Module though – it just slightly sharpens the entire image.

Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.




6 thoughts on “How To Sharpen Images In Lightroom

  1. Thanks for this great article dada. Articles like this are greatly helpful to beginners like us. ❤❤❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice article, thank you for writing and sharing. It would also be interesting to see your thoughts on how the Noise Reduction features in LR can be exploited in case one is trying to balance sharpness and noise at the same time while post-processing.

    Liked by 1 person

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