How to sharpen your photographs with Adobe Lightroom 5

In this episode, I finally explain to you how to quickly and efficiently sharpen your photographs using the amazing Adobe Lightroom 5.

If I start by saying to increase the sharpness of your photographs you need to start with a sharp photograph you might call me an idiot. However, that is a fact! Not that I am an idiot, though ūüėČ

No tool in the world, not even the almighty Adobe Photoshop will turn a blurred photograph into a tack sharp photograph. However, what Photoshop and as we about to see here Adobe Lightroom 5, can do is provide your photographs with more punch and extra sharpness.

In Lightroom 5 one only needs to use the Detail panel from within the Develop module.

Sharpening tool in Adobe lightroom
Sharpening tool in Adobe Lightroom

There are four sliders we are going to use: Amount – Radius – Details – Masking

Amount:

As it names implies, you use this slider to increase the level of sharpening in your photograph. The more you move the cursor to the right the sharper your result is, but you also increase some artefacts which degrade your photograph:

Excess use of the sharpening tool in Adobe lightroom
Excess use of the sharpening tool in Adobe Lightroom

To find the right balance between correct sharpening and artefacts, you can use the ALT or OPTION (the Mac) key to get the shades of grey view of your image. The colours can sometimes make the sharpening assessment difficult to your eyes.

Monochrome overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe lightroom
Monochrome overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe Lightroom

Once you have found the right dose, you can move on to the next slider.

Radius:

The Radius slider adjusts the size of the details that sharpening is applied to. Photos with fine details need a lower setting. Photos with larger details can use a larger radius. Using too large a radius results in unnatural-looking results and some white hallo. I must admit never change the default value which is 1.0. To make the most of its power, one needs to use the ALT or OPTION (the Mac) key to get a masking view of your image.

Radius overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe lightroom
Radius overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe Lightroom

Details:

This slider is a very interesting one since it helps you revel more texture in your photograph. Once again to make the most of its power, one needs to use the ALT or OPTION (the Mac) key to get a masking view of your image.

Details overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe lightroom
Details overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe Lightroom

By default, the value is set to 25. If you were to go lower, you would loose all details/texture in your photograph (counterproductive in the sharpening process). If you increase it too much, you will end up with more artefact as mentioned earlier with the Amount slider.

Masking:

This must be the 2nd most impact slider after the Amount. As a matter of a fact, this slider enables you to define which area in your photograph requires the sharpening to be applied. Or said differently, which part of you image does not need sharpening. By doing so, you can remove dramatically the artefacts mentioned above in the zone you do not need sharpening. Here it would be the sky. This slide should really only be used with the¬†ALT or OPTION¬†(the Mac)¬†key to get a masking view of your image. I do not know why this is not by default. Basically all that is white will be sharpened, all that is black won’t:

Masking overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe lightroom
Masking overlay view of the sharpening tool in Adobe Lightroom

In the context of this photograph, all i really care about it the cathedral so by moving the slider to the right i reduce the surface of the image affected by the sharpening (i.e. the sky).

In a future episode, we will learn how to reduce the noise in a photograph using Adobe Lightroom 5. You will notice the panel for the noise reduction in Lightroom is located in the same Detail panel alongside the Sharpening. This is because sometimes when sharpening your photographs, you can end up adding more noise into it a negative side effect.

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