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Understanding sharpening, and how to apply it

From: Noise Reduction and Sharpening in Lightroom and Photoshop

Video: Understanding sharpening, and how to apply it

I've selected this image of the elephant, and

Understanding sharpening, and how to apply it

I've selected this image of the elephant, and we're going to take that into the develop module. First thing I want to do is look at it up close and figure out where the focus is. It's pretty obvious in this image, it's right around the elephant's eye, and it's pretty quickly dropping off on the other side of its head, and in the background. So those are the areas that I really want to make sure that I sharpen. And there's a lot of stuff out of focus. Now, as I mentioned before, I want to get a decent exposure to start with here. So just make things look a little bit better.

And as I do that, that's going to change what I'm sharpening, or later where I might reduce some noise. And for the most part, our controls here in Lightroom are laid out in the order that we would want to use them. So let's move down to Sharpening under our Detail. And you'll notice we've got this great little widget, essentially what we want to do is we want to be able to preview the entire image as we have here, but we also want to be able to see it up close. So if I click on this little loop, I can place it on the elephant's eye.

And now I can have the best of both worlds. I've got a 100% preview and I've also got the full image. Alright, now if I were to just take sharpening and turn that on, it wouldn't really be obvious what's happening. Same with radius. If I were to pull that over, it's not really clear exactly what's happening. So let me show you a great shortcut. While you are pulling the sharpening amount slider, hold down the Option or Alt key. And what you see is that we get a temporary black and white preview. And that's letting us just focus on the contents of the image.

Now, this is another great place to caution, don't over do it, you'll notice that you'll quickly start generating a bunch of noise and artifacts. So, even taking it in the 30s is probably taking it a little stronger than what we want to use, but I'm going to leave it there so you can see on screen. The next thing, the radius. Not really obvious, but if you hold down the Option or Alt key, we're going to see a ghosted area that goes from nothing to a 3 pixel radius. And so you really get a sense of what's happening here. That's the effect of the sharpening and how far it stretches out.

So I want that about there. Detail, same thing. Using the slider on its own doesn't do a lot. Using it with the Option or Alt key, I see that there's very little detail. And if I pull it to the far right, there's quite a bit. Now details is an important one, because if I were to have a lot of sharpening, watch what happens with detail. All of those artifacts pop out. Barely any of the artifacts pop out. So there's a relationship between detail and amount. Back that down again. The last one, and this is one of my favorites, is masking.

If I were to just pull this slider, it would seem that nothing is happening. But if I were to hold the Option or Alt key, and see that everything that's white is being sharpened. But as I gradually pull it over, I'm only sharpening the edges of the image. The areas that are black are not being sharpened, and so I can build a pretty sophisticated sharpening mask. So if I get this over there, the areas that are sharpened are only those white areas. And what this allows me to do is use a little bit more sharpening, again, I think 39 is a little bit strong.

If that's in focus, I'm probably wanting something closer to 25, which is my default. And I might play around a little bit with some of the other sliders. So, that's basically how that works. Now, general caution, don't over sharpen here. Don't sharpen in Lightroom to try to buy back focus. There's some tricks we can use and I'll talk about those later, but your aggressive sharpening wants to be done in Photoshop. This is a place where you do global sharpening. So, that gives you an idea where to start.

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