Why Are There Three Different Places To Sharpen In Lightroom?

I get asked this question pretty regularly so I thought I’d start this week off with a quick look at why there are three different places, and three different types (and ways) to sharpen inside of Lightroom.

CAPTURE SHARPENING:

Why3-1

Above: Capture Sharpening is the sharpening that is designed to bring back the original sharpness of the image (sharpness that’s lost through  the act of capturing the image to a sensor, and converting it to digital, and all that stuff). To add some “Capture Sharpening” to your image, you go to the Develop Module, to the Detail panel, and you’ll see a Sharpening section (shown in red above).

If you shoot in JPEG mode on your camera, you’ll see the Sharpening “Amount” slider here in Lightroom is set to “0” (zero) because your camera already adds capture sharpening to your image in-camera. If you shoot in RAW, you’ll see that the Sharpening Amount slider is set to 25 for RAW images by default, so it’s already adding a little capture sharpening to make up for the fact that your image is the “RAW” untouched image out of the camera with no sharpening applied in-camera at all.

What I do:
If I’m not going to Photoshop at all with this image (I’m going to start and finish totally in Lightroom), then I usually increase the amount a bit higher than 25. It just seems too subtle to me. So, how high do I drag it? I pains me to say it this way, but it “depends on the image.” If the image is the type that loves sharpening (something with lots of detail, like a car, a sports shot, a landscape, etc.) then I crank it up quite a bit. If the subject its something of a softer nature, I go easy on it. However, I don’t crank it up too much because I know I’m going to add at least one if not two more sharpenings (if that’s even a word) to the image before I’m done. OK, so that’s Capture Sharpening.

LOCAL SHARPENING:

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Above: Local Sharping is where you “paint” sharpening over one or more parts of your image (using the Adjustment Brush in the Develop Module) to make those areas looks extra sharp or have those areas stand out. Having just these small parts of the image stand out, can make the overall image appear much sharper without any of the “bad things” (halos, artifacts, color-shifts, etc.) that come with over-sharpening the entire image.  In the example shown above, I painted over the back of the couch that’s right at the bottom foreground of the image. I also painted over the two red chairs and the chandelier to help draw the eye (things that are sharper draw the attention of our eyes).

What I do:
This is totally optional sharpening, and I only use it if I have a photo that I think could benefit from it. For example, imagine a tight shot of a football player’s helmet. I might take the Adjustment Brush; crank up the Sharpness slider quite a bit; then paint over just the metal fasteners, or the face guard or the logo on the front of the helmet to make just those areas really pop. Even though it takes just a few seconds to do this, it makes the overall image appear much sharper. Again, this is a totally optional step, so don’t feel like you have to do this — but if you see an area that you wish was sharper, this can help.

OUTPUT SHARPENING:

This third type of sharpening is applied when you’re completely done with your image and you’re either going to: (a) export the image outside of Lightroom as a JPEG or TIFF or PSD, or (b) you’re going to make a print of the image from right within Lightroom itself (rather than jumping over to Photoshop to print it there). This output sharpening doesn’t come into play if you’re just taking the image over to Photoshop.

Why3-3a

Above: We’ll start with Exporting: When you’re exporting your image out of Lightroom as a JPEG, TIFF, or PSD, in the Export window that appears you’ll have the “Option” of using Output Sharpening, and what’s nice about this particular sharpening is that Lightroom does all the math. All you have to do is tell it if the image you’re exporting is going to be seen on screen (so, it’s headed for your Web site, or flickr, or Facebook, etc.), or if you’re actually going to make a print. There’s a pop-up menu where you tell Lightroom whether it’s for Screen viewing, or you tell Lightroom it’s for ‘print’ by choosing either Matte or Glossy as your paper choice. Then lastly, you get to choose how much sharpening you want: a small amount, the regular amount, or a lot (high). When you do that, it looks at all these choices you just made and it automatically chooses the proper amount of sharpening, based on your choices. How cool is that!

What I do:
I do choose whether it’s going to screen or print, but then I use the “High” setting for everything — no matter where its going. I just do. I wish I had a more exciting and intricate answer, but truthfully that’s what I do. I think the Output Sharpening set to Low is way too subtle. It should be named “off.” I think Standard should be named “Low” and High should be named “Medium.” But, that’s just me — you have to try all three settings and see what you think.

 

Why3-3b

 

Above: Here’s the Print dialog box, and down in the Print Job panel you can see the same Output Sharpening settings that you just saw in the Export dialog. I use it the same way, with the same settings as I mentioned above. 

OK folks, that’s a sharp way to kick off our week (groan. That was a bad one, I know).

Best,

-Scott

P.S. I know that at some point over the past three or four years, Matt has probably covered this exact topic. Maybe numerous times. If you already know this, or think it’s “Lightroom 101” or whatever, just remember that there are a LOT of folks here that are brand new to the site, along with a lot of Lightroom beginners as well. If I cover something that’s already been covered, that is bound to happen — especially for a blog that’s been around for years. So, if you’re advanced in Lightroom, or already knew the topic, or read it last year, there’s really no need to post a comment to let me know that. I’m trying to share techniques and tips based on questions I get about Lightroom during my live tour, via email, from Twitter (FB, Google+); from friends, and from your questions in the survey I posted a few weeks ago (thanks again to everyone who posted. It was a huge help). Some of the tips will be beginner, some intermediate and some more advanced, and I’ll strive to do something for everybody whenever possible. Thanks again for your support these past few weeks, and for all the kind words and encouragement. It means a lot. 

Author: Scott Kelby

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Editor of "Lightroom magazine"; Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference & Expo, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books. You can learn more about Scott at http://scottkelby.com

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35 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Scott. I’ve been using LR for years, and I tend to overthink and complicate sharpening sometimes. 🙂

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  2. Scott, great explanations. Would you pls add the difference to the “Clarity”. In my understanding clarity also adds contrasts to the small details?!?

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    • Clarity helps when your photo has a lot of lens flare, which makes your image look flat. Or if there’s fog, clarity will help bring out more details. I think of it like a “smart” contrast (like how vibrancy is a “smart” saturation). I’ve found it helpful in some of my landscapes where there was a lot of direct sunlight hitting the lens.

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  3. Thanks a lot Scott. It was really helpful specailly the bit about export settings.

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  4. Does the clarity slider also provide a type of sharpening? I’m concerned that I’m adding too much sharpening through the clarity, contrast, and other sharpening controls.

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  5. Thanks Scott for the wonderful eye-opener!

    I’ve been using Lr now for less than a year, but having worked through a couple of Lynda tutorials, felt I was getting the hang of this monster software! I find Lr very intuitive, one of the things that’s not so intuitive is, why are there so many places to be able to sharpen.

    Do I sharpen in the Develop module, or the Print module, are they the same? With one clear and easy to absorb article you’ve brought clarity to the situation (hum).

    I will also echo that your ‘What I do’ comments are extremely helpful, as, well it saves readers having to do endless experimenting (which I’m sure is what you’ve done).

    So, many thanks!

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    • I’ve been a fan of this blog since it’s inception and am still a fan even with the latest changes. It’s been fun to read the tips from a different perspective. I don’t mind “rehashing” things at all. Often it’s just a reminder of some things I forgotten to use or let’s me feel good about what I do know. But I have been learning some “new things” so it’s been quite enjoyable. Thanks.

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  6. Good article, but what’s the point in doing ‘capture sharpening’ if you also do output sharpening? And isn’t that difficult to balance and doesn’t that also run the risk of over-sharpening. OR… does Lightroom take the sharpening you’ve already done into account when calculating how much Output Sharpening to apply???

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  7. Scott,

    What do you do about the noise introduced with the sharpending?

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  8. Hi Scott,
    Thanks for all the effort you put into this. I find it really helps 🙂

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  9. Scott, I just love the way you are able to explain things in a way that even I can understand. You have my grateful thanks!

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  10. You’re the BEST, Scott!! As always – THANK YOU!!! Keep on keepin’ on!!! 😀

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  11. Thanks Scott! I’ve been afraid of sharpening, probably because I was scolded when I first started out (8 yrs ago) as a stock photographer, so I quit sharpening. But then I was a beginner & probably wasn’t doing it correctly. I’m definitely going to experiment with it now! Thank you for the post & sharing your expertise.

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  12. Hi Scott, great article.
    Can I just ask, what should my export sharpening be, if I plan to export my image to my website, but also want the image to be available for purchase as a print. Should I sharpen for screen, or print? and if print, should it be for glossy or matt?

    Thanks,
    Carl
    Wales, UK.

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  13. Hey Scott! Excellent tips. I just finished reading your books as well.. When sharpening in Adobe, is there ‘too’ sharp? I mean, I understand at a point it looks funny, but how do you know when sharp is enough? Any tips to look for? Thanks!

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    • Thank you, Scott, for this tip. I’ve been teaching myself LR for the past couple of years, with the help of your book and all your fabulous classes on Kelby One. Up until now I’ve stuck to using the two sharpening presets for either faces or scenic, as well as the output sharpening. These tips will help me move on to more “advanced” sharpening. Thanks!

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  14. Hi Scott
    Thanks for a great “killer tip’.
    I have a number of your books and they are my “first go to’ for problem solving.

    Cheers Len

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  15. Hey Scott,

    When using the adjustment brush to apply sharpening you can only alter the amount slider not the detail and radius sliders. I read somewhere that changing the detail and radius sliders under the detail panel will allow the adjustment brush to paint with those settings. So if I set the radius to 1.0 ans detail to 100 the adjustment brush will you those settings. Is this true?

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  16. Yes, keep it up. New or revisited, beginner or expert. I have been subscribed here for around a year but never really connected with it, in the last couple weeks I have read more posts than in all that time combined. I enjoy the way you write and your humor.

    I’m hoping to start fresh with LR in the New year. Re-install it or what ever I have to do. I guess I have to look into it but its become a mess over the years with multiple external drives and I don’t think I set it up right in the first place with how it saves files, backups and all that.

    Anyway thanks for taking it over, it’s given me more enthusiasm to get things cleaned up. That’s why I started following this blog in the first place, I knew it had to be done…

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  17. Thanks, Scott. I have never understood why there is output sharpening on export for “screen” if the image is not resampled (i.e. if output at the native pixel resolution, rather than smaller or bigger). Since in that case there is no further downsampling or upsampling involved and the picture, which should now be ‘perfect’ after capture and creative sharpening, is already on screen, what does it do and why? (Does it in fact do anything?)

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  18. Is there a place for plug in sharpeners in your work flow. If so, what and when

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  19. Scott,

    Thanks for a very useful explanation of the three sharpeners

    Many camera club members enter competitions where they have to export a JPG reduced to 1400 x 1050 px. This image will be projected on to a large (about 5 feet square) screen for the judge’s to score.

    What rule-of-thumb sharpening settings do you suggest to take into account the original size reduction and then being projected larger than life size?

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  20. Scott, after reading your post-script, it made me remember how some of my former high school students would complain after one of my lessons that they “had this” when they were in junior high. I’d always informed them that not everybody was taught these lessons, and besides, “It’s always a great review” for those who already knew the skills and knowledge. Great lesson, Scott! It was a great review! 😉

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  21. Scott, I’ve been using lightroom for years and never really experimented with sharpening. I will now, thanks for the tutorial.

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  22. Scott, the structure of this and your other posts is beyond brilliant. Thank you and keep up the great work, including beginner tips, as it’s always good to be reminded of these again.

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  23. Yes, to echo others, thanks very much! I’ve been using lightroom for 4-5 years and still can get something out of a rehash. I also really appreciate the “what I do” advice and have saved it.

    Can you do the same thing for Clarity/Vibrance/Contrast/Saturation? Especially with a “what I do” section?

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  24. Yes, to echo others, thanks very much! I’ve been using lightroom for 4-5 years and still can get something out of a rehash. I also really appreciate the “what I do” advice and have saved it.

    Can you do the same thing for Clarity/Vibrance/Contrast/Saturation? Especially with a “what I do” section?

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  25. Scott, as I stated in the survey – this is FREE FREE FREE and any information that you wish to share is more than welcome and very much appreciated! Beginner, novice or expert our brains only hold so much so even if the topic has been covered, a reminder or do-over for those with “mature” brains is much appreciated! 🙂 Thanks again Scott for all you do for the Lightroom, Photoshop and photography community!!!!!

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  26. Thanks Scott, especially for the personal input. Please could you answer a question on it, though – do you know if the “masking” slider only works on its own panel or does it also apply to sharpening added via the masking brush (which does not have a masking control).

    Excellent tip, as always; I struggle with getting the balance right between sharpening and clarity within the adjustment brush as these two work hand-in-hand for some types of local enhancements.

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    • I believe it only applies to the Capture Sharpening applied in the Detail panel, but I’m going to double-check to see if there’s any link whatsoever between the detail masking slider and the Sharpening slider in the Adjustment Brush. I’ll let you know if anything changes. Cheers.

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      • May I also add that the story you recently wrote about, when your son gave a speech about how you were always there…. had EVERY single reader in tears. What a moment for a proud dad!

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