The Lightroom Trick For Sharpening Women’s Skin


Above: When we sharpen women’s skin, our general goal is to keep the skin looking soft (with men it’s just the opposite — we want to see every bit of texture, every crease, every crevase, and so on). So, when we sharpen images of women, we have to take an extra step to ensure we only sharpen the details areas  (like her eyes, eyelashes, lips, edges of her nostrils, her hair, clothing, etc.) and we want to avoid sharpening her skin because sharpening there would accentuate texture and detail that we don’t want to keep soft. Luckily, Lightroom makes this super simple (as long as you know the hidden keyboard shortcut).

STEP ONE: Start by going to the Detail panel (shown here) which is where Lightroom keeps its main sharpening controls).


STEP TWO: Hold the Option key (PC: Alt key) down on your keyboard and click and hold on the Masking slider (as shown above) in the Detail panel. When you do this, the screen will turn solid white. This is telling you that sharpening is being applied to the entire image. We actually usually want that, of course, but not in portraits of women.


STEP THREE: Now, with the Option key (PC: Alt key) still held down, start dragging that Masking slider to the right. As you do, parts of your image will turn black. Those areas are no longer being sharpened (only the white areas will be sharpened now). Take a took at the preview above and you’ll see that there are still some white spots, patches and lines on her skin, and that her hair still has lots of black in it. Our goal is to drag this masking slider far enough to the right to where only the detail edge areas are left in white (like her eyes, nostrils, eyebrows, hair, clothing, etc.) are in white, and the rest is in black. We’re not quite there yet, so keep dragging.


STEP FOUR: Once we drag far enough, look at the results. Her skin areas are pretty much solid black, and that means that none of those areas are being sharpened — they’ll stay nice and soft, but her blouse, her jewelry, her eyes, lips, nostrils, hair, etc. — the parts that now appear in white), all will be sharpened. That’s it — that’s all you have to do. Once you see her skin areas have turned black, you can release the Option Key and the Masking slider, and use the Amount slider to apply as much sharpening as you’d like.

Hope you find that helpful, and we’ll see ya back her tomorrow for more tips :  🙂



P.S. Today we’re totally celebrating with “Cyber Monday” deals over at KelbyOne, and if you’ve ever wanted to join, today is the last day we’re offering our best deals ever (you’ll super dig out full-length, in-depth Lightroom classes). Here’s the link just in case. 

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

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  1. hi,

    Am I doing something wrong, I cant open sharpen images


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  2. I see the amount was 80. Is that your default for sharpening?

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  3. Nothing like a simple, valuable free tip to demonstrate the value of all the massive content in Scoots massive online video library for subscribers!

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  4. Yeah baby. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
    Starting to get a grip on Lightroom, now and enjoying it more everyday. As always thanks for giving us amazing tips… and for free?!!?? Man…

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  5. I do this a LOT with photos of equipment/machinery. You can keep a soft sky background and make the subjects in the foreground really POP forward with this method.

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  6. Wow, what a great tip Scott Thanks!

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  7. That’s great!! I love the high-pass sharpening in CS6 but it’s a pain ‘editing in’ then running an action and then saving etc. It’s all time. This is much easier. Thanks Mr K

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  8. just did this to one of my pictures , and it made a world of difference !

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  9. Woops! Never realised the masking worked that way round – guess i better do a lightroom class or two now!

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  10. Great tip, thank you. I usually use the adjustment brush to paint sharpening in those areas. But, this is much faster.

    Also, really liking the new direction the site has taken including the increased frequency and having written tips instead of videos. Great work.

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  11. Love this trick for sharpening. Thank you!

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  12. Lightroom is my first experience at editing my photographs. So far I really like it, even though I’m still slow at using it.

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  13. Can we see a before and after image? Also I like the new increased frequency to this site.

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  14. WOW, never realized this worked this way, mucho THANKS!

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