How to Sharpen Images in Lightroom

You take a photograph, think it looks great on the camera, but then it turns out to be soft and blurry when you view it on a bigger screen. Bummer, right? Unless it’s being done intentionally, blurry images are pretty much unusable. But if there’s any scope of saving a photograph, sharpening it during post-processing might just keep it from heading to the trash can. Sharp images look cleaner, and the details are more visible too. And the most important part? Sharpening your images could give you better quality prints too. Your couples chose you to deliver only the best to them and to help you do that, in this blog, we will take you through the different steps to sharpen images in Lightroom.

Sharpen Images in Lightroom With the Detail Panel

Detail Panel in Lightroom
Image Courtesy @christinandchris

Lightroom sharpens a photo by increasing the definition between the edges. To start sharpening images in Lightroom, you will first have to go to the Develop module, which you can access by pressing D on your keyboard. In the Develop module, you will see a Details panel on the right side of your program. This is a powerful sharpening tool similar to the Unsharp Mask tool in Adobe Photoshop but better than that. The Detail panel gives you more control over your sharpening edits. Once you are in the Detail panel, you will find a square loupe offering a window into the details of your image. You will also see sets of sliders here. These sliders will help you sharpen your images and reduce noise in them. Let’s take a look at these sliders.

1. Amount

As the name suggests, the Amount sharpening control helps you set the amount of sharpening you want in your image. Be cautious while setting the Amount value for sharpening as too much of it might ruin your photo. To get balanced results, zoom into your image and see the effects. Another way of working with the Amount slider is to drag it to its maximum value and adjust other controls or settings accordingly. You can move the slider to the left to lower the opacity of your sharpening layer.

If you hold the Alt key in Windows or the Option key in Mac when you move the Amount slider, your image will temporarily become black and white. This will make it easier for you to observe and make changes to get better results. You can use this technique for all the sliders.

2. Radius

Radius, in a way, determines the thickness of the edges where the effect is applied. It helps you bring more clarity to your image as you sharpen it in Lightroom. When you move the Radius slider to the right and then zoom out of your image, you will see a big difference in the appearance of your subject. You will realize that the edges of your subject have become thicker.

3. Details

The Details slider in the Detail panel of Develop module will help you get an even better sharpening effect when you use it. The effect will appear on your entire image. You can move the Details slider to the right to get a strong effect, but this will also increase the amount of noise in your photo. The empty areas of your image will be the worst affected. Overdoing the Details control might ruin your entire image, but the good part is that you can balance this setting’s effects by using the Masking slider.

4. Masking

Masking is a setting that helps you get more natural-looking images as you sharpen them. The Masking control removes the sharpening effect from the portions of an image with the least amount of edges and detail. As a result, Lightroom sharpens your image selectively, giving you an appealing and perfectly sharp image in the end. If you want to see the areas that will remain sharp or be masked, use the Alt key in Windows or the Option key in Mac once again. Press the key as you move the Masking slider. Parts that turn black will not be sharpened, and the ones that turn white will be sharpened. Masking is commonly used to remove sharpening effects from a clear sky in landscape photos that may not require additional detail.

Brush Tool Options

Brush tool options in Lightroom
Image Courtesy @christinandchris

Sharpening your images in Lightroom can get tricky if your image doesn’t have any sharp areas. This might happen if you used a large aperture while taking the photograph. To have more control over your image sharpening edits, go to the Develop module. Under the Histogram screen, you will see the Adjustment Brush option. This will help you with selective sharpening. You can also use this option to brighten and color-correct details in your image.

When you click on the Adjustment Brush option, you will see a set of sliders pop up. After you brush over those parts of your image that you want to sharpen, you can move the sharpness slider to the right to see the change. You can always Erase your mistake in the brush section.

If you want to see where you used your brush, you can select Show Selected Mask Overlay. Your brush strokes will appear highlighted in red. You can then click on Done. To make changes in the same area of your image, you can click on the Adjustment Brush again. Then, click on the circle where you had made the adjustments. The new sliders will come up again. Now, you can begin editing once again.

3 Quick Steps to Sharpen Images in Lightroom

1. Choose an Image & Open the Detail Panel

Go to the Develop module and select the image you want to work on. To do so, either go to the Filmstrip at the bottom or click on the small triangle at the bottom of your screen. Now, open the Detail panel on the right side of your program. You will use this panel to sharpen your image in Lightroom.

2. Adjust Settings

In the Detail panel, go to the sharpening section. Here, adjust the Amount slider to determine the amount of sharpening you want for your image. Adjust the Radius. A smaller Radius might work better for images with small details – for example, photographs of landscapes. A larger Radius might work well for photos with large details. For example, people and portraits. Next, go to Details to adjust the emphasis the edges in your image will have. A low Details value will remove blurriness, while a higher value will define textures. For selective sharpening, follow the Masking steps shared above.

4. Preview Adjustments

Preview Adjustments in Lightroom
Image Courtesy @christinandchris

To preview the changes in your image, go to the Navigator panel on the left side of your program and click the 1:1 option. This will zoom in your image to a 100% view. Underneath your image, you will see the view options bar. Click on the Y│Y icon. Now, you will be able to compare your original photo with the sharpened image. If you want to go back to the normal view, then click on FIT. To return to the single image view, you can press D on your keyboard.

Related Read: How To Use The Lightroom Before And After Tool

Commonly Occurring Issues While Sharpening Images in Lightroom

1. Automatic Sharpening

Lightroom might automatically sharpen your images when you open them in the program. Even if the sharpening effect isn’t intense, you might want to have control and work on your original image rather than the automatically sharpened one. So to disable sharpening for photos that haven’t been opened in Lightroom yet, you can change the default settings in Lightroom’s Develop module.

You can disable automatic sharpening by applying a preset when you import your images. For images that are already in Lightroom, first, select them all and then click the Sync button at the bottom of the panel on the right side of your screen. This will open the Synchronize Settings dialog. Select the Check None option here. Enable the Process Version and the Sharpening checkboxes. Now, click the Synchronize option again. This will sync your new settings to all your selected images with no default sharpening applied to them.

2. Over-sharpening

If it’s not intentional, this is one thing you might want to avoid when sharpening images in Lightroom. Avoid getting carried away while sharpening your image as too much of it might give your image a harsh look, and the viewer would find prominent, visible lines on edges and around objects in your photo. Your image can also look too textured if you over-sharpen it.

3. Excessive Noise

Infographic stating be careful not to over sharpen images and look out for noise and zigzag lines

Excessive noise in your image could potentially be a by-product of over-sharpening. The results can turn out to be worse if your photo was shot at high ISO levels and you apply sharpening on top of the digital grain present in the image.

Related Read: How To Reduce Noise In Lightroom

4. Appearance of Zigzag Lines

If you apply too much sharpening to your image along with a large radius, straight and thin lines might get converted into zigzag lines. Also, any circular shapes might get cubic transitions. So to avoid such situations, be careful when you use Lightroom to sharpen images.


Optimum sharpening can drastically improve the quality of your images – for you and your audience! However, keep in mind that you can only improve the clarity and appearance of your images by using the sharpening tools in Lightroom and can’t make an overly blurry image more visible. Even though sharpening images in Lightroom isn’t a complicated process, you might take some time to get used to it, especially when it comes to the amount of sharpening. But, practice makes perfect, and this applies to you too.
If you want more Lightroom tips, you can explore the blog section of our website. At ShootDotEdit, we strive to make your life easier. And one of the ways we do that is by taking editing off your plate. To learn about our photo editing services and how we can help your wedding photography business, check out our pricing plans.

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