Lightroom - Sharpen Your Images Like A Pro

Sharpening in Lightroom is achieved in the Develop Module and then opening the Details Panel. When sharpening, it is useful to remember that Lightroom cannot make out of focus images sharp, what it does do, is create the illusion of sharpening. It does this by creating more contrast in edges and transitions.

The next thing to recognize is that there is no set formula for the amount of sharpening you can apply. Folks are going to tell you to always set sharpness to a set amount but in reality, it depends very much on the quality and resolution of your image. That said, I generally work between 50 to 80 on the Amount Slider.

If you open a JPEG file in Lightroom, it's not going to apply any sharpening by default, because the sharpening has already been applied in-camera. If you import a RAW file, Lightroom applies a minimal amount of sharpening by default, and this is so minimal; you generally need to apply more! Here is what the sharpening panel looks like:

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The panel has four sliders, but in general, you only need to worry about two of them as the default values for the others are good to go for most images:

1) Amount

2) Masking

For completeness, here is what the sliders do:

Amount - This is the intensity of the sharpening effect.

Radius - This impacts the number of pixels affected outside the sharpening point. (Already set at the optimum position).

Detail -  Helps to stop you from getting edge halos.(Already set at the optimum position).

Masking - Enables you to optimize what is and isn't sharpened in your image.

Step 1 - Sharpen the complete image by increasing the Amount slider. Try starting with 65-70 to see how things look. Pressing the Option (MAC) or Alt (PC) when moving the slider gives you a grey mask to indicate the thickness of edge sharpness that is applied.

Step 2 - Apply the masking effect using the Masking slider. Click the OPTION key on a MAC (ALT on a PC) whilst moving the slider to displays a black and white mask. The principle being that masking is only applied on the white areas of the mask, and not the black areas. Like this:

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So, you basically want to avoid sharpening backgrounds like skies or in this case water, and only sharpen the foreground objects. Some sharpening of background objects is going to be inevitable, so move the masking slider until you get a good balance.

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