Selective Sharpening with the Lightroom Masking Tool

Peggy Farren 2014-01-17

by Joe Fitzpatrick


The nature of digital images requires that some sharpening be applied after capture. With a JPEG initial sharpening takes place in the camera; with a RAW file all sharpening is done in post processing. Unfortunately when you sharpen an image noise is also sharpened and when you reduce noise an image becomes less sharp. Lightroom offers a solution for this problem by allowing you to restrict where sharpening takes place.

Open up the image in Lightroom’s Develop Module and select the DETAIL panel. The illustrations show Lightroom 5; Lightroom 3 and 4 are similar.

Start by adjusting the noise in the image.

Lightroom Sharpen Mask 2

Then adjust the sharpening

Lightroom Sharpen Mask 3

Hold down the ALT key (OPTION key on a MAC) and click and hold on the MASKING slider.

Lightroom Sharpen Mask 4

The entire image will turn white. This shows the area that is being sharpened.

Lightroom Sharpen Mask 5

While holding down the ALT key, slide the slider to the right until only those areas that you want sharpened are still white. Areas of the image shown in black will not be sharpened. Since noise and sharpening are interrelated you will often need to go back and forth between sharpening and noise, adjusting each until you get the perfect result.

Lightroom Sharpen Mask 6

That’s it! You have sharpened the image without emphasizing noise in areas without a lot of edge detail.

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