Sharpening Strategy


Today’s Question: I now shoot with a mirrorless camera. Adobe Lightroom Classic has sharpening in the develop module that I used for “capture” sharpening when I used to shoot with a Nikon DSLR. Should I just use that sharpening when I am going to do something with my photo like share it online or print, once I know how the photo will be used? If so can I just use the sharpening in Lightroom’s export feature? Will I ever need to use the various approaches to sharpening in Photoshop 2020?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The sharpening in the Develop module should be applied to every single capture, regardless of the type of camera that was used. Additional sharpening should generally be applied for images that are being prepared for output, with that sharpening based on the specific details of how the image will be shared.

More Detail: The sharpening found in the Develop module in Lightroom Classic, or in Adobe Camera Raw for Photoshop users, is generally referred to as “capture” or “input” sharpening. That is because this sharpening is intended to compensate for factors that lead to a loss of sharpness in the capture. Based on this, I recommend that this sharpening be applied modestly to all images, regardless of how you will share those images.

When you’re ready to share a photo, you’ll generally want to apply an additional step of sharpening that is optimized for the final output. That means applying this sharpening based on the final output size, as well as the medium through which the image will be shared. For example, when printing (especially to uncoated matte papers) you need to over-sharpen the image to some extent, in order to compensate for the softness caused by the spreading of ink on the paper.

For online or other digital sharing you will generally need only a modest amount of additional sharpening, in part to compensate for a loss of detail from reducing the overall resolution of the image, and in part to help the image look its best.

When exporting an image from Lightroom Classic, you have the option of applying sharpening. However, there isn’t much control (or a preview) available for this sharpening. For basic digital or online sharing, I’m comfortable using this output sharpening. But for printing I prefer to send the image to Photoshop and make use of the Smart Sharpen filter. Just be sure that when sharpening “manually” in Photoshop that you are applying sharpening as the final step, after the image has been resized for the final output.