Sharpening Options

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Today’s Question: Some photographers don’t like the sharpening feature of Lightroom. They prefer using the High Pass filter in Photoshop. Sharpening in Lightroom is a standard feature with standard values. Is there a way to adjust these standard sharpening values during import? What is your opinion about the sharpening by Lightroom compared to the High Pass filter in Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I think the initial sharpening available in Lightroom’s Develop module is excellent. Output sharpening (such as when printing or exporting a copy of a photo) is also very good, but doesn’t provide a preview that would help you make the right decisions about settings. It is possible to adjust the default settings for sharpening, but in my opinion the best way to approach this is to create a preset that you apply during import or later in your workflow.

More Detail: Sharpening is one of the photo adjustment options that many photographers seem to want to over-complicate. Granted, the math behind sharpening isn’t necessarily all that simple, but the basic concepts are relatively straightforward.

In the earlier days of digital imaging I certainly felt that many sharpening tools were a little too aggressive, and that using special “tricks” in software such as Photoshop could provide superior results. With more recent software updates, however, the sharpening algorithms have gotten much more sophisticated, to the point that no special tricks are generally necessary.

The initial sharpening available in Lightroom (and Camera Raw) is excellent, and so I recommend using this for your initial sharpening. The Clarity (and Dehaze) adjustments provide similar benefits, and in my mind largely eliminate the need for techniques such as the use of the High Pass filter for a sharpening effect. Note that the High Pass technique produces results that are closer to Clarity than actual Sharpening.

It is possible to change the default settings for adjustments in Lightroom. You start by clicking the Reset button in the Develop module to clear out all adjustments for a sample image. Then you change the settings you want different from the defaults, and choose Develop > Set Default Settings from the menu. You can then click the “Update to Current Settings” button to confirm the change. However, note that the change will only affect photos captured with the same camera model as your sample image.

If you want to apply these changes more universally, you can create a preset that includes only the adjustments you want to be different from Lightroom’s defaults. You can then apply that preset either during the import process, or later in your workflow either in the Develop module or via the Quick Develop adjustments in the Library module.

For output sharpening, because Lightroom does not provide a preview for the available settings, I often prefer to send photos to Photoshop to resize and sharpen them. This enables me to exercise much greater control over the output, which is especially important for images that will be printed.