Sharpening in Lightroom 2

How does it work?

Lightroom 2 has two kinds of sharpening: Capture sharpening and output sharpening. Capture sharpening is used to neutralize the blurring caused by the Anti Aliasing filter in your camera.
Output sharpening is dependent on output (print or screen, what size) and meant to overcome the softening caused by resizing or happening when printing.


Output sharpening in Lightroom is simple: You get 4 options when you export the image: Off, low, standard or high. All else is taken care of by Lightroom. Ease of use for sure. Drawback is that you cannot preview it, so you’ll need to experiment a bit. After that, it’s “set and forget”.
Capture sharpening on the other hand, requires a bit more user interaction. The settings will depend on camera used, subject and personal preference. You can preview it, but only at 100% or higher magnification. So you either need to zoom in, or you can view sharpening in the microscopic small “preview window” Lightroom 2 has for this purpose.
(There is off course the workaround I mentioned in an earlier blog post)

The “Detail” Tab

…in Lightroom is where it’s at: You get 4 sliders for sharpening: Amount, Radius, Detail and Masking.
Some of these are quite self-explanatory if you know a bit about digital imaging, the others might be new to you. Let’s go over them one by one, using this image:
Notice I have the small “preview” window in the detail tab open. If I didn’t, Lightroom would show an exclamation mark, signifying that “a zoom level of 1:1 or greater is required to see these effects”:
Lightroom Develop module

Amount and Radius

These two are pretty obvious: Amount lets you set how much you want to sharpen. Scale goes from “0” to “150” (Which is red for a reason: In most cases it will be too much). The default setting is “25”.
Radius lets you set how wide you want the sharpening halos to spread out. Scale goes from 0.5 to 3. Default setting is 1. A higher setting will give you wider sharpening halos.
As with a lot of sliders in Lightroom, you get some “visual help” when you press the Option (Alt) key:
Press Option while sliding the Amount slider, and the image goes grayscale, to better show what the sharpening does to the luminosity values in the image.
Amount preview
Press Option while sliding the Detail slider, and you’ll see just the sharpening halos you are creating.
Radius preview

Detail and Masking

Detail (0 to 100, default 25) suppresses these halos.
A setting of 0 will undo quite a bit of what you did in the above sliders. Again, pressing Option while sliding will give you a fairly accurate idea of how much detail you’re allowing to be sharpened.
Detail preview
Masking does exactly what the name implies: It builds a mask on the fly (which is pretty nifty if you ask me) The default of 0 masks nothing so everything is sharpened, the maximum of 100 will sharpen only the big edges in the image. Press Option while adjusting the slider and, contrary to the other settings above, you’ll be shown the mask, not the effect on the image. Probably Adobe figured that it was less ambiguous that way. (And they were right)
Masking preview

Noise Reduction

… is also present in the Detail tab.
There’s a slider for Luminance NR and one for Color NR.
Color noise consists of randomly colored pixels in an image. Luminance noise is more like “film grain” and less of a problem in my opinion.
That’s good, since in most cases, Color noise is fairly easy removed in Lightroom. Luminance Noise reduction is not. At least, not without loosing detail in the process.
Unfortunately, the Lightroom engineers didn’t provide a “visual aid” for noise reduction, so you’re down to good old WYSIWYG.

Here’s the image again. First without sharpening or noise reduction (notice the “switch” in the top left of the “Detail” tab is in the “off” position):
No sharpening or noise reduction
Next, with sharpening but without Noise Reduction. Pretty big difference.
No noise reduction
Let’s see what just Color NR does. Notice the random “blobs of color” that were present in the previous image are about gone. And that with a fairly low setting:
Color noise reduction
Finally. with both Color and Luminance NR. Notice we are already losing detail in the last, while there’s still Luminance noise present.
Color and Luminance noise reduction

Finally, here is the exported image, with “standard” output sharpening for screen:
Exported for web, with output sharpening 'standard'

Hope this has shed some light on the subject of sharpening in Lightroom.

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2 Responses to “Sharpening in Lightroom 2”

  1. tim bugbee Says:
    September 26th, 2009 at 16:50

    René good info here. i rarely if ever do any adjustments on capturing sharpening in ACR but it looks like i should. do you adjust the amount/radius/mask/detail sliders for each photo, or arrive at a decent default position?

  2. René Says:
    September 27th, 2009 at 08:54

    Hi Tim!

    I mostly have them at an ISO specific “default” (which still tends to change around a bit), and only adjust when I see problems (this tends to also change the default).
    Current default mostly is a lower detail and higher masking setting then shown here (for high ISO) images.

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