Sharpening in Lightroom

Sharpening in Lightroom

When you’ve finished doing your basic color correction to an image in Lightroom you’re ready to look into sharpening the image. In a previous posts I explained the basics of sharpening and how to use the High Pass Filter in Photoshop to sharpen an image. Today I’ll show you how to sharpen in Lightroom.


You’ll find the sharpening tools in the Detail area in the Lightroom Develop module.


It’s best to work on the image at a 1:1 ratio as this ensures that the sliders that you’ll use can be seen at work on the image. If you aren’t in at least 1:1 view you will have to work from the small preview window. To select 1:1 zoom, click the indicator in the top left of the screen.


You have four sliders in the sharpening area. Amount controls how much sharpening is applied to the image. This can be considered to be your fine-tuning tool.

The Radius is one of the key settings to use. The Radius value can be moved between 0.5 and 3. Typically, a good Radius to start sharpening with is around 0.5 to 1 and then adjust it from there if the sharpening is insufficient. Images with large areas that are not very detailed such as portraits, may need larger values for the radius where images with a lot of fine detail may respond better to smaller values.


The Detail slider reduces the haloing in the image. The higher the value you use for Detail, the more halos you will see around the edges in the image. The lower the Detail value the less halo effect and the smoother the result.

You can see how the slider works when you are viewing a 1:1 preview size. Hold the Alt or Option key as you drag on a slider. The higher the Detail value the more lines you will see in the grayscale preview indicting the sharpening effect on the image.


The Masking slider works to mask out areas of smooth color. What it does is to enhance the edges and remove the sharpening effect from areas in the image that have smoother color transitions which you probably don’t want to be sharpened.

Again, you can hold the Alt key as you work with the slider. The slider values range from 0 – 100. At zero, everything in the image is sharpened and at 100 only the edges are sharpened. In the preview, the white areas are those being sharpened and those that are black will not be sharpened.


If you aren’t using 1:1 view you will need the preview window to be visible so you can see the results when using the Masking and Detail preview options. To view this, click the arrow in the top right corner of the Detail area.


When you’re starting out learning how to sharpen it can be difficult to see just what effect the sharpening is having on the image. If you press the backslash key you’ll return to the unedited image rather than to the image as it was before you started sharpening it.

This is a time where virtual copies can be useful. Wind back the history to just before you started sharpening the image. Right click the image and choose Create Virtual Copy. This creates a virtual copy of the image whose starting history is the current view of the image after your initial fixes have been made.


Now when you sharpen the image and use the Before and After settings you can see the change that the sharpening is applying to the image because that’s the only change to the virtual copy that you are editing.

Typically, if you are displaying images on the web you want to sharpen the image so that what you’re seeing on the screen is what you want to see when the image is on the web. On the other hand, for printing you generally apply heavier sharpening to the image as some of this will be lost in the printing process.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Magnus K May 14, 2011 09:37 pm

    Nice one. I was never really happy with my sharpening skills in Lightroom and it has kept me from publishing a few shots. But the small tip with the alt key really made a difference in getting it right

  • gregor April 22, 2010 11:34 pm

    Hi Michael. not sure if this will help, but check you've changed your image to 8bit in order for the Jpeg option to become available in PS.

  • Michael Padnos March 28, 2010 10:43 pm

    You have been a great help to me on a variety of subjects, so I fling myself at your feet with the following:

    1. After reading your explanation of the advantages of Lightroom, I took the plunge and bought a copy. At first I was very happy with it: i imported a whole afternoon's shoot and was able to select the best possible image to work with in just a few seconds; a significant savings of time over my previous, clumsy and time-consuming procedure.

    2. I fiddled with my picture in Lightroom; but then , heeding your cautions, I wanted to do some pixel-by-pixel manipulation, so I opened the image in PS4 and did what needed to be done.

    3. Then came the problems. First of all, i can't figure out how to save the improved image in JPG. (I can save it w/o any problem in TIFF, which is fine for printing, but I need to send this particular image over the net and for some strange reason, Picasa declines to send a TIFF image -- or at least, THIS Tiff image. And PS 4 doesn't offer JPG as an alteernativeay to save this imported image.

    4. Nor can I send the improved image back to Lightroom. The improved image is not lost -- it is accurately stored in the file I originally downloaded from my camera -- but I can't figure out how to get it back to Lightroom, where I would like to store it permanently .

    Why won't PS4 let me store an image from Lightoom in JPG? And why can't i send this image back to Lightroom for storage? Any why won't the $!!#%%#$$!!! Picaca let me e-mail a TIFF image?


    Thanks for the help!


    PS In appreciation for your wisdom, I have noted my website, something which I never do except for friends and clients. I hope you enjoy it.

  • Scot S di Vincenzo October 13, 2009 01:59 am

    As for sharpening "Perfectly Clear" is waiting for Adobe to release its LR code so a plug in can be developed
    The stand alone version will be released soon and it sharpens AND reduces noise

  • Ed September 25, 2009 03:25 pm

    Fabulous! Useful tips Helen.

  • Tysen September 25, 2009 07:19 am

    I like how the Alt masking view looks with the black and white. Anybody have a suggestion on how to create that look in Lightroom or Photoshop?

  • jeoxenx September 25, 2009 04:22 am

    Great explanation!
    Thanks a lot. That was one of the last basics I was completely avoiding in Lightroom because I just couldn't get it to work...

  • Missy September 25, 2009 02:29 am

    When following sharpening tutorials for PS, I've always been told to size the image at the final output size - say 5x7 at 300dpi for a print, and THEN sharpen. I suppose this is because when you're looking at the image 1:1 and sharpening, you're viewing the actual pixels that will be in the final print.

    With Lightroom, would this still hold true? It seems that you only really get "final size" when you export from Lightroom and specify the output size. If you're using crop to "size" an image in LR, you're really only changing the aspect ratio, not final pixels.

  • James September 24, 2009 05:38 am

    As a total newb to Photoshop as well as Lightroom could you break down the major differences in sharpening in Lightroom vs Photoshop. I was told a while back that it is better to sharpen in Photoshop…is this true? And if so why?

  • Chris September 24, 2009 04:55 am

    Also note that the clarity adjustment increases local contrast which enhances the apparent sharpness. In addition, chromatic aberration also causes softness which can be fixed by the chromatic aberration slider.

  • Fletch September 24, 2009 03:48 am


    The output sharpening doesn't use any of the settings in the develop module. It uses the resolution and the output type to determine how to sharpen the image based on how it will be displayed. Screen has less sharpening tha printing. You can set low (which is almost zero), meduim (which is a little bit) or high (which is a decent amount but not loads).

  • sergey September 24, 2009 03:28 am

    great post as I am always under-estimating the power and sophistication of Lightroom. The more I use it the less of a need for Photoshop.
    The least understood panel by me has been the sharpening and I now quite understand the "sharpening for the web" portion. Any advice or future posts on sharpening for printing?

  • Nicholas Downes September 24, 2009 03:01 am

    Great article Helen, especially the Alt hotkey, the resulting view of which I have sorely missed compared to sharpening in Photoshop.

    Klaus, the sharpening feature on export is is limited in comparison - note that its applying a set of pre-defined variables to all images, which is probably great if all your images of a similar subject matter.
    If, like me, you photograph a hundred different subjects with different lighting, exposure, WB etc, then an image by image sharpening procedure will give you more control over the result.
    And ensure you don't have any spare time.

    Many thanks,

  • Klaus September 24, 2009 02:12 am

    And what about the Output Sharpening selectable in the Export menu. Does it use the Mask, Radius and Detail settings from the Develop module?
    Or is it just a general sharpening performed on top of the "input" sharpening of the named module?

  • Elle September 24, 2009 01:58 am

    This is excellent; thanks for sharing!

  • astronautaperdido September 24, 2009 01:46 am

    Great tutorial... Simple and detailed!!! Thanks for this!!

  • Nico September 24, 2009 12:50 am

    You could just use the \ key to do before-after comparison :)