Today’s Question: In Lightroom when you export a photo to a folder on the hard drive, you have an opportunity to apply output sharpening. Later, if you take that photo to the Print module, you also have an opportunity to do sharpening before printing. In this workflow, if you sharpen both times, do you run the risk of over sharpening?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you were indeed to apply output sharpening more than once for the same image, there would most certainly be a risk of having the image be over-sharpened. However, with what I would consider a “normal” workflow in Lightroom it is not likely that you are actually applying output sharpening multiple times to the same image. Instead, you would be creating unique output each time based on your original capture.

More Detail: Lightroom employs a workflow with two stages of sharpening. The first stage of sharpening is found in the Develop module, and is aimed at compensating for the factors that reduce sharpness in your original capture. Thus, this sharpening step is often referred to as “input” or “capture” sharpening.

The second stage of sharpening is output sharpening, where you’re primarily improving the perceived sharpness of the image in the final output. This is most critical when printing a photo, because ink spreading on the paper can have a significant impact on the perceived sharpness of the image.

Generally speaking, both “input” and “output” sharpening are applied when the image is actually exported in some form. And in general, whenever a photo is exported you will be creating your output based on the original capture.

So, for example, if you export a photo as a JPEG image so you can share the photo online, Lightroom will create a JPEG image based on your original capture and save the resulting file in the location you specify. When you print an image from within the Print module, the output is similarly created based on the original RAW capture. In both cases, of course, the adjustments you applied in the Develop module are taken into account, and the setting you used for output sharpening is also employed to sharpen the final image.

The output sharpening, however, is not preserved as part of your adjustments in the Develop module. So assuming you are generating output from your original image in both cases, you don’t need to worry about applying multiple passes of output sharpening to the photo.

Of course, if you export a JPEG image for sharing and add that exported image back to the catalog, it is possible to apply multiple output sharpening passes to a photo. However, this is not a workflow approach I would generally recommend. Instead, I recommend using your original capture as the starting point whenever sharing a photo in any way from within Lightroom.