How To Sharpen a Photograph Using Adobe Lightroom

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May 11, 2021
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There are so many methods for sharpening images in quite a variety of applications. I’ve talked about this topic in a few posts before. I discussed how to sharpen photos in Adobe Camera Raw and in Adobe Photoshop, but I’ve yet to delve into anything like this in Lightroom. Today, I’ll cover that.

If you’re interested in reading the posts I just mentioned, please feel free to follow the links below.

How to Sharpen Photos Using Adobe Camera Raw

The 3 Best Ways to Sharpen Photos in Adobe Photoshop

In today’s post, I’d like to work on going over how to properly sharpen a photograph using Adobe Lightroom. While I’m sure you’ll notice many similarities between Lightroom and Camera Raw and Photoshop, there are a few minor differences. I’ll show you them. I’ll also cover what each sharpening slider means and what it does.

Demo Photo​

I chose this photo because it’s got some detailed areas that can certainly benefit from some sharpening as well as some wide open areas that don’t need to be touched at all. One of the sliders I’ll discuss below effectively distinguishes these two types of areas and does a really nice job at getting you the result you’re looking for.


Working in the Develop Module​

Since I’ve already selected the photo in the Develop module of Lightroom, I’ll head over to the right column and click on the small arrow that sits to the right of the Detail heading. This will open up the panel that holds the sharpening sliders I’m interested in.


The Detail Panel​

Inside of this panel, I’m only concerned about five things. First is the small exclamation mark in the circle in the upper left corner of this panel. Next are the four sliders that follow. I’ll talk about what all of these mean next.

Sharpening an image has two effects on a photo. Not only does it bring out more detail than would exist if there was no sharpening, it also adds noise to a photo. Because of this, there’s always a balancing act going on whenever adding this effect to an image. So, with that in mind, you’ll need a rather large view of specific areas when working in this panel. Lightroom knows this and offers a small warning in the form of an exclamation point. If I were to roll over this icon, I’d see the following notice: For a more accurate preview, zoom the preview to 100% or larger when adjusting the controls in this panel. This makes perfect sense because if the view is too small, you won’t be able to see many of the changes you make anyway.

In Lightroom, there are three ways I like to zoom in. I’ll list them in the order of least favorite to most favorite. First, I could visit the View > Zoom In menu item and click.


Each click on this menu item will enlarge the image one step. If you try this method though, you’ll quickly realize that it’s not the best use of your time. The keyboard shortcut is much faster. That shortcut is Ctrl+=. By using this shortcut, you can really fly around the workspace and get things done in a jiffy. The best part is, it works in many applications, not only Lightroom. Basically, press Ctrl+= to make something bigger and Ctrl+- to make something smaller. Try it. It’s great.

What’s really cool in Lightroom is that instead of messing around with any of what I just explained, you can simply click on the exclamation mark itself. After you do this, the image will enlarge straight to 100%. After that happens, you can move the image to a location that’s detailed enough to see the sharpening effect. Also, when you click the exclamation mark, it automatically disappears, which is nice.


The Sliders​

In this section, I’ll do my best at explaining what each slider does. There are no difficult concepts to understand, but it does get a little confusing because there are four items that work on the same principle – sharpening.

Amount – The Amount slider adjusts just that – the amount of sharpening that you can apply to a photo. It adjusts the definition of the photo. If you think about what a photo is comprised of and what actually changes when you make any type of an edit in an editing program, you’ll conclude that everything is about the pixel. Sharpening is no different. If the Amount slider controls how much or how little definition is being added to a photo, we can only assume that this slider’s effects on the image’s pixels will be adjusted in the same way, accordingly.

Think about it this way; if you have a straight row of pixels and they begin as pure blue and end as pure red, with many different shades of purple in the middle, pushing the Amount slider will alter those shades of purple. The blue and red will stay the same, but the Amount of gradient between then will either intensify or smooth out. If an eyelash blends into the rest of someone’s face, pushing the Amount slider will sharpen the gradient between the lash and the skin, making the eyelash look more crisp. Remember, it’s all about pixel adjustments and color changes. Really, it’s best to open a test picture and play around for a while. You’ll pick up on what each slider does very quickly.

Also, be aware that until the Amount slider is moved to the right, none of the other sliders are active. It’s only when there’s a sharpening value applied to the image that the other three sliders can be used. They are grayed out until then.

I’ll go ahead and push the Amount slider to the right until I give it a value of 50.


Radius – Lightroom can distinguish between details in an image and areas that offer little to no detail. The Radius slider controls the size of the detailed areas. In the image I’m working on for this post, if I push the Radius slider all the way to the left, the girl’s eyelashes become thinner. If I push the slider all the way to the right, they become thicker.

Think of it this way; if you have a blank white image and add five black pixels to the center of it and push the Radius slider to the left to a value of 0.5, the black pixels will reduce in number to, say, three. If you push the slider all the way to the right for a value of 3.0, the number of black pixels will increase to, say, seven. This is because the detail of the image (the black pixels) are either growing or shrinking in area.

Since the default value of this slider is 1.0, I’ll leave it there. It looks good.

Finally, a quick tip for this slider is that for photos with tons of detail, you want to push the slider to the left so there’s a smaller value. This is perfect for outdoor shots. If you’re taking photos of objects and people, those with fewer details, go ahead and push this slider to the right for a larger value. Each detail will become emboldened.

Detail: I know I just talked about detail a lot, but this type of detail is different. The Detail slider is sort of like the Amount slider in that it adjusts how much emphasis is placed on the edges between colored areas. I’ll use the eyelash example again to explain.

Say you push the Detail slider all the way to the left, so the value is a very low , what you’ll find is that the photo looks almost blurry. The reason for this is because Lightroom, based on the setting you made, removed some of the contrast between the colors of the eyelash and the color of the skin. Now, if you push the Detail slider all the way to the right, for a value of 100, you’ll find a lot more contrast along the detailed edges in the photograph. One thing you need to be aware of though is that too high of a value can accentuate noise in a photo. If you were to push and keep this slider all the way over to the right, you’d likely see sharpened grain.

Masking: This slider is hugely important when it comes to sharpening a photo. In the most basic sense, the Masking slider controls exactly what is being sharpened. If you push the Masking slider all the way to the left, all pixels in the image will be affected by the above sliders I just described and if you pushed this slider to the right, only the most contrasted and detailed areas would be affected. Please see the next section for a much more clear description.

The Mighty Alt Key​

Sometimes, the effects of the Sharpening sliders can be a challenge to see. Because of this, I didn’t bother putting too many screenshots in this post. You wouldn’t be able to notice any difference between any of them anyway. Sharpening is important though and it oftentimes needs to be done.

Lightroom has a sweet feature that can greatly assist in viewing the effects the sliders can have on a photo. To activate this feature, simply hold down the Alt key on your keyboard when dragging a slider.

I’ll do this now and give you a screenshot of what it looks like as I’m doing so.

First, I’ll hold Alt down and click and drag the Amount slider.


As you can see, Lightroom removed the color from the photo. It did this because sometimes, when sharpening, color can be distracting. It’s much easier to focus on fine details if they are in black and white.

Next, I’ll do the same thing, but I’ll click and drag the Radius slider.


Again, the color was removed. Notice, though, how the edges of the image details show darker than the rest of the areas that aren’t too detailed. The reason for this is so you can see exactly how the slider is affecting those areas.

Next up, I’ll hold down Alt and push the Detail slider.


This sort of looks like the Radius slider output. If you look closely though, you can see that Lightroom is focusing much more on the minute details of the photo as opposed to only the edges. Again, this feature can help out a lot when trying to avoid the sharpening of noise or grain in a photo.

Finally, I’ll press Alt and push the Masking slider.


This is my favorite slider. When you hold the Alt key down and push this slider, you can either increase or decrease the black and white areas of a photo. Black areas won’t be sharpened by any of the other sliders and white areas will be. So, if I’m not interested in sharpening the cheeks of the girl in the photo I’m working on, I can push the slider to the right until they turn black. Conversely, if there is something in particular that I would like sharpened, I can push this slider to the left until that area turns white. This Masking slider in Lightroom works just as masks work in Photoshop. White reveals while black conceals.


That’s really all there is to it. I hope I explained how you can sharpen a photo in Adobe Lightroom thoroughly. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post or any other one, please leave a comment in the area below. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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Sharpening a Photo with Adobe Lightroom​

The process or sharpening images with Adobe Lightroom is nearly identical to the process of sharpening photos with Camera Raw. After all, Lightroom does use the Camera Raw engine for its image processing. As you may know, I’ve already written a post that talks about how to sharpen an image with Camera Raw, so you can read that at any time. Today though, I’d like to move into covering the same process in Lightroom. There are a few additional tools and features I’d like to discuss.

In today’s post, I’d like to write about the process that’s necessary for sharpening a photograph using Adobe Lightroom. As I mentioned, while it’s very similar to the one that’s used inside of Camera Raw, Lightroom has a few extra flips and switches inside of it, so it’s worth it to cover the entire process again. Luckily, it’s not a long process. Sharpening images is super easy.

Today’s Demo Image​

Sharpening is important when it comes to faces and detailed images. To combine these two ideas, I thought a picture of a lovable gold retriever would be perfect to experiment on. Take a look at this.


Let’s see if we can bring out some of the detail of the whiskers and the nose.

Navigating to the Detail Panel​

The sharpening controls for Lightroom are contained in a panel on the right side of the application. By default, the Basic panel is opened up, but if I collapse that by clicking on the small right triangle that’s at the right of the panel, I’ll have some additional space to see the panels below. I’ll click the triangle at the right of the Details panel to get a glimpse of the sharpening controls.


Warnings, Switches & Indicators​

Before I get into the actual sliders, I’d like to show you a few neat little tools you can use while making your edits. The first one is a warning that Lightroom gives you regarding the sharpening of an image. This warning is in the form of an exclamation point. Take a look.


Here’s what this is about. The warning says that you should view the image at 100% size or larger in order to see any changes you make. As you probably already know, the effects of sharpening are quite difficult to see, especially when the viewable size of the image is small on your screen. To get the best picture possible of what’s going on, the view will need to be enlarged. By clicking on this warning symbol, the view will automatically grow to 100%. If you were to enlarge your view of the image without the assistance of this tool, once you reached 100%, the warning icon would disappear.

The next tool I’d like to bring to your attention can be found directly above the warning I just mentioned. This one is a switch that turns on and off the sharpening effects. As you make your changes, you can click on this switch at any time to see what you’ve done. Sometimes, it’s tough to see how your gradual effects have altered the image. By clicking this switch, you can make abrupt changes that are easily seen.

Finally, if you take a look at the Amount slider in this panel, you’ll see that the right side of it fades into the color red. This is meant to serve as a warning. The more into the red territory you go, the more drastic and dangerous the sharpening effects will be, so be cautious in this area.

What Each Slider Does​

Now let’s get into what each slider in this panel does. I’ll list them and explain what they do below.

Amount: If you push this slider to the right, you’ll increase the amount, or intensity, of the overall sharpening you’ll impose on the image. If you press and hold the Alt key while pushing this slider, you’ll see the image turn to black and white, which can be helpful as colors in an image may confuse the eye to the sharpening effects.

Radius: To sharpen an image, Lightroom finds certain areas that contain high contrast. Those areas are considered edges. The Radius slider controls how many pixels from each edge the sharpening will have an effect. If you push this slider to the right, a larger area around each edge will have the sharpening effect applied to it. Also, if you hold down the Alt key while moving the slider, the image will gray itself out and only the affected edges will show.

Detail: This slider finds the small details of an image and applies a sharpening effect to them. If you don’t want those areas to be sharpened, push this slide to the left and if you do, push it to the right. Again, if you hold down the Alt key while doing this, you’ll see exactly what areas of the photo will be adjusted.

Masking: This is one of the most helpful tools of the bunch. Smooth surfaces of an image generally don’t need to be sharpened (such as skin pores). Only the detailed edges do. If you push this slider to the right, Lightroom will find those smooth surfaces (the areas without much detail) and mask them out so they’re not affected by any of the other sharpening sliders. If you hold the Alt key down while pushing this slider, you’ll see the image turn black and white. The black areas will be hidden from any sharpening while the white will have the affects applied. This is helpful for keeping the sharpening effects to a minimum and a more focused scope, if need be.

If you do a good job, you’ll see the eyelashes, hair or anything else you’d like to come alive, stand out. Here’s what this dog’s nose looks like after a bit of tweaking. Not bad, right? I know you can’t see it very well at this size, so just trust me on this one and experiment for yourself.


I hope I clearly explained how to go about sharpening an image using Adobe Lightroom. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below or in the Lightroom discussion forum. Thanks for reading!


May 7, 2021
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The Best Way to Sharpen an Image in Adobe Lightroom​

So many photo editors these days have the ability to sharpen photos. Some do a good job and some do not such a good job. Adobe Lightroom happens to be one of the applications that does a good job. As well they should. Adobe has been around forever and it’s got the necessary technology down pat by this point.

In this post, I’d like to review a few of the necessary steps needed to sharpen a photo using Lightroom. This isn’t a particularly challenging area, so I’ll try to keep this short.

The first thing you’ll need to do is open Lightroom and navigate to the Library panel. Then, select the photo you’d like to work on by clicking its thumbnail. Once that’s done, click the Develop panel link in the upper right corner of the application.

Once inside the Develop workspace, navigate to the Detail drop-down panel that’s in the right column.


Inside this panel, you’ll see the area labeled Sharpening. This is where it all happens.

Now, to actually sharpen an image, I advise you read all you can in a post I’ve already written on the topic. You can find it here. The post has good information contained in it. For now, I’d like to focus primarily on a few different features included in this panel.

1. The Amount Warning – The Amount slider has got a warning inside of it. This warning takes the form of a red gradient that’s located right inside the slider itself. It’s basically a reminder for users to not overdo the amount of sharpening they apply. Too much sharpening can make a photograph look very bad, hence the red gradient.

2. The On/Off Switch – If you look at the header of the Detail panel (where the word “Detail” is and where the white triangle is), you’ll notice a small switch that sits over to the left. This is an on/off switch that allows you to quickly view and hide any sharpening changes you made to the image. This is helpful because oftentimes we become blind to our edits in applications such as this one. With a distinct on and off capability, we can more clearly see what’s going on and what we’ve done.

3. The Reminder – When it comes to sharpening an image, you really need to see what’s going on. The changes are almost on a pixel level, so it’s important to have the image zoomed into at least 100%. Inside the Detail panel is a reminder to zoom the image in. This reminder takes the form of an exclamation mark inside of a circle. It’s located at the top left corner of the panel. If this warning circle is clicked, the image will zoom in to 100% automatically.

These are a few of the features I wanted to make you aware of in this panel. If you have any more tips or tricks for sharpening photos in Adobe Lightroom, please share them below. Thanks!
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