4 Steps to Sharper Photos in Lightroom

Sharp Images Grab Viewers Attention More

Whether it's for print or for web, most images need to be sharpened before displayed. There are a million different ways to accomplish this, but I prefer to keep it simple and in one program. This easy workflow will help you create eye catching images that pop out to your viewers.

Step 1: Clarity is NOT Sharpness

Far too many photographers learn about the clarity slider and jack it up to create "sharp" lines and images that seem to pop off the screen in an HDR fashion. This is one of the most over abused tools in Lightroom, and a little bit goes a long way, if you use it at all. For portraits, I often keep my clarity adjustment at -5 to -10. This keeps skin detail from emerging in unflattering ways and helps soften the light and contrast on the subject. Here's my image after processing along with my exposure and basic adjustments:

Image with 0 sharpening applied in developing or exporting

100% zoom on unsharpened image

Basic adjustment settings

Basic adjustment settings

Step 2: Apply Sharpening in Detail Panel

The sharpening tool in the detail panel is similar to the sharpening filters in Photoshop. You can adjust the amount of sharpening as well as various thresholds for where and how it will be applied. For a good starting point, 25 - 1.0 - 30 - 10 is a good basic level for sharpening. For this portrait, my settings were 50 - 1.5 - 65 - 10. This is mostly because I was shooting wide open at f/1.8  and I wanted to bring back a lot of sharpness the Canon 50mm 1.8 loses at that aperture.

Image after applying sharpening in detail panel

100% crop after applying sharpen settings in detail panel

Detail panel settings

Detail panel settings

Step 3: Adjustment Brushes

If you are working on a portrait or any image where you really want specific elements to be sharper than the rest of the frame, you can use a combination of adjustment brushes to achieve the hyper sharpness you see a lot in large aperture, shallow depth of field photos like this portrait. I used a combination of negative clarity on the subjects skin, then positive clarity and sharpness on the eyes, nose, and lips to enhance those features. 

Image after adjustment brush sharpening

100% crop after adjustment brush sharpening

Brush settings

Brush settings

Step 4: Export Sharpening

The last step, and likely the most crucial, is the export sharpening settings in the export module. You have three options: none, print, screen. I use print, which tends to sharpen a little more than screen, but I find it works well for both. You also have three levels to choose from; low, standard, high. I use standard most of the time, as it provides sharp lines without looking overdone on smaller screens like phones and tablets. 

Final image after export sharpening applied

100% crop of final image after export sharpening

Export settings

Export settings

Final Comparison

Click to enlarge

How Do You Sharpen Your Images?

Sharpening is an often obsessed over aspect of lenses, but many photographers don't utilize the tools available in post production to enhance their lenses sharpness. Luckily, Lightroom has fantastic sharpening tools and features if you know how to use them. Do you use Lightroom, Photoshop, or another technique?


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