Sharpening in Lightroom

How Lightroom displays sharpened images

A new user to Lightroom will probably notice that images look soft and unsharpened when viewed at anything other than full-size. The reason being that Lightroom only shows the effect of sharpening when viewed full size. This is in contrast with a program such as Photoshop which will provide an approximation of the sharpened image. I would guess the Lightroom designers decided not to provide a compromised sharpening view.

To see the effects of sharpening on your image you have to export outside of Lightroom and then view in your final application or print.

Sharpening Modes

Lightroom performs sharpening in a number of different places:
  • capture sharpening in the Develop Module
  • export sharpening - always available from the Export menu
  • print sharpening in the Print Module
  • Web sharpening of exported web galleries

Capture Sharpening

You apply capture sharpening in Lightroom using the Detail section of the Develop Module. All digital camera RAW images will require some sharpening when taken straight from sensor.

Lightroom Capture Sharpening Controls

Lightrooms' sharpening controls now include a small view port which shows you a portion of the image at 100%. The small square icon in the top left-hand corner when selected will allow you to move your mouse cursor over the image and select the point which will be viewed at 1:1.

the Amount Slider


The Amount Slider sharpens using Luminance data only. If you hold down the alt key you get a threshold view. Using this view it is easier to judge the sharpening effect. The view is a grayscale and is somewhat easier than looking a colour view. Make sure you image looks good when viewed at 100%.

sharpening - threshold view of luminance data

A good Lightroom setup is to zoom the image to 1:1, maximise the viewing window and use the before and after view (Y key) as shown below.

Lightroom Sharpening Workspace

Avoid over sharpening here. I find that between 40 and 50 is a good starting point.

the Radius Slider


This works in a similar way to the Unsharp Mask filter in Photoshop. It sets how far outside of the edge in pixels the sharpening affects. A setting of abut 1 is fine. Season to taste!

the Detail Slider

The Detail slider can be used to reduce the halos that form as the sharpening is increased. You should try to avoid visible halos at 1:1. Use the alt key trick again to if needed but you will see the halos better in a colour view.

the Mask Slider

The Masking slider will allow you to target the sharpening to edges of the image. This is a really powerful tool as it will stop the sharpening being applied to the solid blocks of colour and target the edges. Use the alt view here again.

So this is Capture sharpening. What about the Export and Print sharpening?

Export Sharpening

The Export dialogue box allows you to specify the target for output sharpening. You can now set this for screen (web) or for Matte or Glossy paper.

Sharpening target

You also have the option to set the level of sharpening from low, standard or high. In most cases standard should be the choice here.

Sharpening level


Print and Web Sharpening

You will see similar sharpening options in both the Web and the Print Modules. In the Print Module the sharpening is found under the Print Job section on the right hand side.In the Web Module it is found under Output Settings.

LInks to related Lightroom Sharpening Tips

The Visual Sharpening Mask
Before | After Sharpening