Output Sharpening Workflow


Today’s Question: I seem to recall your preference or advice to do sharpening in Photoshop, rather than in Camera Raw or Lightroom Classic – or is my memory incorrect? Or was this before this more recent option of Masking while Sharpening was available?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do still prefer to use Photoshop for output sharpening, but I’m perfectly happy with the initial sharpening available when processing images in Camera Raw, the Develop module in Lightroom Classic, or in Lightroom.

More Detail: In the context of Camera Raw, Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom, you can think of there being two steps to sharpening. The first is the sharpening you apply with the initial raw capture, and the second is the final sharpening when preparing an image to be shared, especially for print. You could also say there is a third stage of creative sharpening in between, which could take the form of adjustments like Clarity and Texture, for example.

When it comes to output sharpening, there isn’t much flexibility and there isn’t a preview with the Adobe applications mentioned above. Rather, you choose the output type (such as glossy or matte paper) and the strength (low, standard, or high). While this sharpening does a good job overall, I prefer to be able to exercise more control by using Photoshop, at least for photos I’ll print. This is in part due to the fact that you don’t get a preview when applying output sharpening in Camera Raw, Lightroom Classic, or Lightroom.

For images shared online, I think the option to choose “Screen” (meaning a monitor display, for example) as the output type and then choosing a strength (I typically use “Standard”) is perfectly adequate. However, when it comes to preparing an image for print, I prefer the flexibility and control provided by Photoshop’s sharpening filters, such as Smart Sharpen.

The masking features for targeted adjustments in Camera Raw, Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom, along with the option to hold back sharpening in smooth areas with the Masking slider for the normal sharpening adjustment certainly helps. I just feel it is important to exercise maximum control when sharpening for print, and that it is helpful to have a preview available when applying output sharpening. I therefore prefer the use of Photoshop for the final sharpening of photos I’ll be printing, even though you can certainly get good results with the normal output sharpening options with the other Adobe applications.