After starting this series one of the most commonly asked questions was to go into more detail on how the sharpening tools in Lightroom work. Sharpening in Lightroom is broken down into four different sliders – Amount, Radius, Detail and Masking – and they each work together to help you achieve the perfect amount of sharpness in your photograph. Today, rather than simply answer this question to the comparatively small group of people over on my site, I thought I’d bring these tips to the dPS community as a whole. I know there are a lot more people out there looking to master the art of sharpening images and I’m happy to help explain them.
Before We Get Started
There is one thing I’d like to mention before we dive into the tutorial and that is that these tools are designed to help improve an image that is sharp to begin with. They won’t fix camera shake, missed focus points, or poor DOF choices, but rather improve upon an already sharp image. So with that said if you’re struggling to get your image tack sharp you might want to check out this great DPS article on five tips to achieve sharper images first and then head back here to learn how you can make them even better.
The Amount Slider
As the name implies the amount slider is a broad and general addition or subtraction of the amount sharpening applied to your image. The more you slide to the right the sharper your image will become. It works by increasing the contrast between different pixels in a fairly general way. The next three sliders can help us refine how the amount of sharpening is applied throughout the image.
Before we get into those other sliders though I do want to mention that each of these four tools has an extra option attached to it. By using the Alt (windows) or Option (Mac) key on your computer you will be shown an overlay that will help aid you in making better decisions with your sharpening.
For the amount slider this option removes the color from the image letting us use a simple gray scale image for sharpening. This is important because some colors can give false sense of sharpness when placed next to each other and can make it difficult to determine the true level of sharpness in the image.
The Radius Slider
Next in the detail panel is the Radius Slider which lets you control how far away from the center of each pixel the sharpening effect occurs. This is great for determining if you’d prefer a more airy feel (smaller radius) or a more hard edge feel (larger radius).
Each photograph is different and often times in portraiture the radius is left rather small, while in architecture or landscape, the radius can be made a bit larger to truly define the edges of your scene.