Initial Sharpening Approach


Today’s Question: In Camera Raw [or Lightroom Classic in the Develop module], under Detail, sharpening is set to 40. Is it better to apply more sharpening there, or leave it as is at the default of 40, and use the Smart Sharpen filter [or output sharpening in Lightroom Classic], or a combination of both?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend keeping sharpening settings at modest levels for the original raw capture (in Camera Raw in Photoshop or the Develop module in Lightroom Classic). You can then apply final output sharpening when you will print or otherwise share the image, specific to the type and size of output you’ll be producing.

More Detail: The sharpening available as part of the adjustments for processing raw captures is often referred to as “capture sharpening” or “input sharpening”. This sharpening is intended for compensating for issues that reduced overall sharpness in the initial capture. That includes, for example, slight softness introduced by the lens and from the conversion from an analog signal (light) to a digital image.

Because this initial sharpening is compensating for the initial capture, it doesn’t generally need to be very strong, and you can generally use relatively consistent settings. I typically set the Radius value to around 1.0 or a little lower, and set the Amount to somewhere between 40 and 80 depending on the image. If an image needs a bit stronger sharpening than is typical, then I might also refine the Detail and Masking controls, which help determine the extent to which fine detail versus smooth areas of the image are affected by sharpening.

Beyond that, the Texture, Clarity, and Dehaze adjustments also provide an effect that is somewhat similar in concept to sharpening, just affecting the image at a different scale.

Finally, when it comes time to share the image, I recommend applying sharpening that is tailored to both the actual output size as well as the method of output. For example, you generally need very little additional sharpening if the image will be shared digitally, such as online or in a digital slideshow. More sharpening is needed for images that will be printed, especially if the image will be printed to an uncoated matte paper.