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Adobe Lightroom - Portrait sharpening

11 Feb 2015

One of the features that can be difficult to grasp in Lightroom is Photo sharpening and as promised to the delegates in London last week, I am posting a couple of videos to run through this again.


Every raw photo, even if it seems sharp out of the camera, benefits from sharpening. In fact when you import your images Lightroom automatically sets the amount of sharpening to 25 as a default (you can change this back to zero on the slider if needed). JPEGs have already been sharpened when compressed so there will be less need to sharpen a JPEG.


Lightroom is built for photographers and the detail panel is therefore designed to apply sharpening just to the edges to avoid over sharpening.


It is worth pointing out that you can’t sharpen an out of focus portrait as you will be just sharpening the blurred pixels.


This video will show you how I sharpen portrait shots in Adobe Lightroom.




I view the image in the Loupe view of the Develop module, and then open the Detail panel on the right hand side.


You will notice how Lightroom has set a general sharpening default of Amount 25, Radius 1, Detail 25, Masking 0. However as this is a portrait it is better to use a portrait sharpening default to start with, so I  go into the Lightroom Pre-set panel on the left hand side and select Lightroom’s own sharpening preset for portraits. Presets > Lightroom General Presets > Sharpen _ Faces. This will set our sharpening settings in the detail panel to Amount 35, Radius 1.4, Detail 15 and masking 60. A much better starting point.


The next step is Masking, where I mask out areas that should not be sharpened, This is an important slider for portraits as the background and most of the face does not want to be sharpened, but the eyes and other features on the face do. This slider, when pushed to the far left, is set so that the entire image will sharpened. As I move the slider to the right, it masks out everything but the edges. I press and hold the Option/ALT key down while moving it so that I can view the actual mask change. The

white areas are the areas that will be sharpened, while the black areas will remain untouched by the sharpening adjustments. This is the only adjustment that I make in either Fit or Fill in the Navigation panel so I can see most of the image on the screen.


I then set my image to 1:1 for the next 3 sliders. Also If you look in the upper-left section of the Detail panel, there is a small target icon. Click on it, and then go to an area in your image that you want to watch while setting the sharpening settings. In this case the models eyes.


The Radius slider controls the size of the sharpening area around the edges. The value of 1 means that Lightroom will apply sharpening of 1 pixel around the edge. If you increase the radius  to 2 or 3 sharpening will be spread to 2 or 3 pixels around the edge. Photos with small details like a field or textured building should be set to a lower number, otherwise over sharpening will be obvious. With this portrait photo we can push the radius up a little to around 1.5. I will again use the Option/Alt key when moving the slider, to help me see my changes.


The Detail slider controls which edges are sharpened. A small value only sharpens large edges whilst a high value sharpens all the edges. If you push the slider up to more than half way you will start seeing noise in your image, something you don’t want on a portrait shot. Once again I will use the Option/Alt key when moving the slider.


The amount slider controls the amount of sharpening applied to the image, and that is why I would suggest using this last. Again if you increase the slider too much you are likely to get noise.


Finally quickly look at your image at 1:1 in the viewer to check there are no over sharpening artefacts or too much noise. 


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