Optimizing Sharpness


Today’s Question: I am sharing links to two Instagram where the photos appear VERY sharp. The photographer said that he takes the photos into Photoshop to sharpen. Can Lightroom do this? What about Lightroom Mobile?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can indeed sharpen in Lightroom (Classic or CC) as well as Lightroom Mobile (now referred to as Lightroom CC as well) and Adobe Camera Raw. In fact, for optimal detail I would say that a combination of sharpening along with the Clarity, and Dehaze adjustments can help produce excellent perceived sharpness in a photo, especially when it is shared at a relatively small size.

More Detail: Sharpness in a photo is generally exhibited by relatively high contrast in areas of texture. In other words, when there are variations in tonal values within a photo, a higher degree of contrast in those areas generally translates into greater perceived sharpness.

In a very general sense you can think of the difference between sharpening, Clarity, and Dehaze as being a matter of scale. There are really more differences at play with these adjustment options, to be sure. But you can think of sharpening as increasing sharpness at a very small scale, Clarity as increasing sharpness at a “medium” scale, and Dehaze as increasing sharpness at a large scale.

I typically focus my initial attention on applying overall adjustments to the image in order to optimize tone and color. Then I’ll look at the Clarity adjustment to help emphasize mid-tone contrast and texture. Finally, for images that have a little bit too much of an overall hazy appearance, I might increase the value for Dehaze a little bit.

The key is to try to optimize the overall appearance of sharpness, texture, and detail in the image, without overdoing it to create a “crunchy” appearance or the look of exaggerated adjustments.

I think it is also important to add that a well-lit scene (especially with considerable crisp texture in the scene), with a proper exposure, and perfectly established focus, can all contribute significantly to the final appearance of relative sharpness in the photo. In some cases you may actually find that relatively narrow depth of field can help draw greater attention to the perception of sharpness in a photo.

And, since in this case the question was motivated by viewing images on Instagram, it is also worth noting that when images are shared at a relatively small size, the perceived sharpness may be a little greater, since we’re not able to closely evaluate the degree of contrast along texture edges in the image.