Sharpening in Lightroom 3

0Comments

Lightroom 3 has a pretty clever sharpening system. Isn’t it funny how when you look at a shot, you think it looks pretty great until you get some sharpening going and then you realize that it wasn’t even close to being sharp? That said, sharpness isn’t the most important thing to many photographers and sharpening should only be undertaken when you actually want a sharp shot (obviously!) So let’s tackle those sharpening sliders in Lightroom.

{The Sliders}

Amount – The amount slider is the most obvious of sliders. It controls how much and is your fine tuning tool.

Radius – Controls how far outside the edges to apply the sharpening. For example, a setting of 1 means it will spread 1 pixel outside of the areas LR perceives to be your edges. A setting of 3 will spread three pixels outside of your edges, but be careful. A setting of 1 will be fine for most images.

Detail – The detail slider controls how much high frequency information is sharpened. Basically, the lower values sharpen the edges to remove blur and the higher you go up the slider, the more useful you will find it to make textures more pronounced.

Masking – This is the last slider on the sharpening panel. It controls an edge mask as you’re sharpening. With a setting of 0, everything in the image receives the same amount of sharpening. As you move up the slider, sharpening will become more and more restricted to near the strongest edges.

{The Shortcuts}

Each of the sliders can be slid while holding down the alt key to show you how the changes are affecting your image. For example, holding down the alt key while sliding the amount slider will make your image appear in greyscale while you’re sliding. This is to remove any distraction from colors so you can clearly see the changes.

The screen shot you see to the right (click to view in full size) shows the results of holding down the alt key while moving the masking slider to show you what is being sharpened in your image. The gray & white areas are the areas being sharpened.

So you see, Lightroom is a very deep and powerful editing program for your photography. Enjoy!

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Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

  • Like many other things in Lightroom, but it can also get you some undesired results if you’re not careful. Keep an eye on your noise levels, and adjust your masking accordingly. When you get it about right, bump it back a few notches just to be safe (your first few times, especially).

  • KRE

    Perfect, was always wondering how this worked! Thanks!

  • Ken

    Thanks for the tips, keep em coming

  • Thanks for the explanation. I did not know about about the “alt” key tip. But clicking on the shot to the right does not bring up a full screen view of the image.

  • Thank you very much for this article! I’m having Lightroom since a short time and also didn’t knew the ALT-Tipp.

  • Great tip on the shortcuts, thanks

  • So the next article needs to tell how sharpening works against Noise Reduction. I see noise, reduce it, then go up and sharpen. Is this spitting in the wind?

  • Fish

    ahh sweet! I was gonna read up on this shortly cause I am new to lightroom. You just answered a lot of my questions. Thanks!!

  • ccting

    Ya, i used to do sharpening in Lightroom, but how to determine the correct value for amount, or that is the try-on-error approach?

  • ccting

    I think masking is used to remove some detail while give more contrast to some outline? To left, more outlines seen even the small lines and shapes, to right less outline seen and only the strong lines and shapes visible, and they become stronger.
    …?

  • Thanks for this article. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around sharpening for the last few weeks–I keep feeling like I’m taking it too far. There have been a number of times where hitting the reset button seemed like the best thing to do, especially after adding noise reduction to the mix. It seems like sharpening is the most mysterious procedure for me. Your article help clarify a few points, and I too had no idea about the alt key trick. I’ll give it a try.

  • Remember to view at 100% when adjusting your sharpening.

    Also, the ideal radius is really determined by the image – one with lots of high frequency detail needs a smaller radius, one with just low frequency detail needs a bigger radius.

  • Pradipta

    @PML Photo: How do you determine ‘high / low frequency’?

  • Mary

    I don’t have Lightroom, but my understanding of sharpening a photo is that all the other fixes you are doing should be done FIRST & only after those are done, is one to do the Sharpening step. Is this a wrong assumption?

  • jeff

    @mary: yes, that’s generally true. In lightroom, though, there’s an algorithm that applies everything in the ‘correct’ order, regardless of the order the sliders are in and/or the order you adjust them. In other apps, like photoshop or gimp, then yes you want to wait until you’ve made your other major adjustments.

    @ccting: the masking identifies areas of the photo that are smooth (i.e. not edges) and essentially blocks them from having sharpening applied. You can hold the alt key down (see the article) to see what areas are masked at different levels. It’s useful to avoid sharpening skin, sky, shadows, etc. where you’re more likely to be sharpening noise than an edge.

  • love the alt key shortcut!!

    my p365

  • love the alt key shortcut!!

    my Project 365

  • Thanks for the shortcut Alt thing, I did not know this shortcut until now.

  • Nic Showalter

    Should an image be sharpened (and, if so, how much?) before being exported? There is an option for sharpening (for screen or for print) in the plug-ins for flickr, zenfolio, etc.

  • Pb

    I have been using the ALT combination with all 4 settings for years, can you explain in more detail how using the ALT key in combination with Radius and Detail uses Hi-pass sharpening, and how it differs from those setting w/o using the ALT key combo?

  • Gordon Lindsay

    Thanks for the Alt tip, I’m a bit late getting here.

  • Thank you very much for this, I have always been using this very sporadically. Its nice to know exactly what buttons do every once in a while…

  • MMinasi
  • For low mask values, (say 50 and below) I use sharpening of 15 to 30 roughly. For higher mask values (portraits) I use sharpening 40 to 50 maybe 60.

    I was wondering, when you use a really high mask value like 90 or 99, should the sharpening amount be set slightly higher than usual at say 60 or 70, or should I be going near or even beyond 100 sharpening?

    Then another question… I base my sharpening on lightroom’s presets (Landcape with radius about 0.8 and detail about 35; Portrait radius 1.6 and detail 15 or 20).
    Are there any photo situations when you would want a high radius and high detail slider, or low for both?

  • Johnny Chung

    Is there a way to edit the photo to make it look like when you press the alt key and move the radius slider? i think it is a pretty nice effect…

Some Older Comments

  • Johnny Chung December 3, 2011 03:03 pm

    Is there a way to edit the photo to make it look like when you press the alt key and move the radius slider? i think it is a pretty nice effect...

  • Michael Currin November 10, 2011 08:55 am

    For low mask values, (say 50 and below) I use sharpening of 15 to 30 roughly. For higher mask values (portraits) I use sharpening 40 to 50 maybe 60.

    I was wondering, when you use a really high mask value like 90 or 99, should the sharpening amount be set slightly higher than usual at say 60 or 70, or should I be going near or even beyond 100 sharpening?

    Then another question... I base my sharpening on lightroom's presets (Landcape with radius about 0.8 and detail about 35; Portrait radius 1.6 and detail 15 or 20).
    Are there any photo situations when you would want a high radius and high detail slider, or low for both?

  • MMinasi November 5, 2011 09:42 am

    Nice short definition re image frequency here:

    http://forensicphotoshop.blogspot.com/2009/04/low-frequency-vs-high-frequency.html

  • Daniel Nielsen November 4, 2011 05:10 am

    Thank you very much for this, I have always been using this very sporadically. Its nice to know exactly what buttons do every once in a while...

  • Gordon Lindsay November 4, 2011 04:51 am

    Thanks for the Alt tip, I'm a bit late getting here.

  • Pb November 4, 2011 04:26 am

    I have been using the ALT combination with all 4 settings for years, can you explain in more detail how using the ALT key in combination with Radius and Detail uses Hi-pass sharpening, and how it differs from those setting w/o using the ALT key combo?

  • Nic Showalter November 4, 2011 04:02 am

    Should an image be sharpened (and, if so, how much?) before being exported? There is an option for sharpening (for screen or for print) in the plug-ins for flickr, zenfolio, etc.

  • Dexter | Techathand.net October 13, 2011 04:27 pm

    Thanks for the shortcut Alt thing, I did not know this shortcut until now.

  • carolyn October 1, 2011 05:16 am

    love the alt key shortcut!!

    my Project 365

  • carolyn October 1, 2011 05:16 am

    love the alt key shortcut!!

    my p365

  • jeff October 1, 2011 02:17 am

    @mary: yes, that's generally true. In lightroom, though, there's an algorithm that applies everything in the 'correct' order, regardless of the order the sliders are in and/or the order you adjust them. In other apps, like photoshop or gimp, then yes you want to wait until you've made your other major adjustments.

    @ccting: the masking identifies areas of the photo that are smooth (i.e. not edges) and essentially blocks them from having sharpening applied. You can hold the alt key down (see the article) to see what areas are masked at different levels. It's useful to avoid sharpening skin, sky, shadows, etc. where you're more likely to be sharpening noise than an edge.

  • Mary September 30, 2011 03:21 am

    I don't have Lightroom, but my understanding of sharpening a photo is that all the other fixes you are doing should be done FIRST & only after those are done, is one to do the Sharpening step. Is this a wrong assumption?

  • Pradipta September 25, 2011 10:37 pm

    @PML Photo: How do you determine 'high / low frequency'?

  • PML Photo September 24, 2011 01:55 am

    Remember to view at 100% when adjusting your sharpening.

    Also, the ideal radius is really determined by the image - one with lots of high frequency detail needs a smaller radius, one with just low frequency detail needs a bigger radius.

  • Greg Aitkenhead September 23, 2011 03:00 pm

    Thanks for this article. I've been trying to wrap my head around sharpening for the last few weeks--I keep feeling like I'm taking it too far. There have been a number of times where hitting the reset button seemed like the best thing to do, especially after adding noise reduction to the mix. It seems like sharpening is the most mysterious procedure for me. Your article help clarify a few points, and I too had no idea about the alt key trick. I'll give it a try.

  • ccting September 23, 2011 10:15 am

    I think masking is used to remove some detail while give more contrast to some outline? To left, more outlines seen even the small lines and shapes, to right less outline seen and only the strong lines and shapes visible, and they become stronger.
    ...?

  • ccting September 23, 2011 10:08 am

    Ya, i used to do sharpening in Lightroom, but how to determine the correct value for amount, or that is the try-on-error approach?

  • Fish September 23, 2011 07:06 am

    ahh sweet! I was gonna read up on this shortly cause I am new to lightroom. You just answered a lot of my questions. Thanks!!

  • Russ Frisinger September 23, 2011 07:02 am

    So the next article needs to tell how sharpening works against Noise Reduction. I see noise, reduce it, then go up and sharpen. Is this spitting in the wind?

  • Louis Dallara September 23, 2011 06:29 am

    Great tip on the shortcuts, thanks

  • Roman September 23, 2011 04:33 am

    Thank you very much for this article! I'm having Lightroom since a short time and also didn't knew the ALT-Tipp.

  • John King September 23, 2011 04:02 am

    Thanks for the explanation. I did not know about about the "alt" key tip. But clicking on the shot to the right does not bring up a full screen view of the image.

  • Ken September 23, 2011 02:49 am

    Thanks for the tips, keep em coming

  • KRE September 23, 2011 02:01 am

    Perfect, was always wondering how this worked! Thanks!

  • Rick September 23, 2011 12:30 am

    Like many other things in Lightroom, but it can also get you some undesired results if you're not careful. Keep an eye on your noise levels, and adjust your masking accordingly. When you get it about right, bump it back a few notches just to be safe (your first few times, especially).

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