Sharpening is the last step in editing an image. If you’re working in Lightroom then you have a very sophisticated Sharpening tool at your disposal. It’s hard to determine what the coolest part of the process is – the Detail and Masking sliders or the fact that sharpening is applied to only the image luminosity so it doesn’t mess up the image colors.
To sharpen in Lightroom, open the Develop module and the Detail panel to show the sharpening tools. A good starting point for most images is to set the Amount to 100, set the Radius to 1.0 and the Detail to around 25. As an aside, it’s nice to see that Lightroom is realistic about the appropriate radius to use and it limits you to a value between 0 and 3 which takes some of the guess work away from determining what value you should use.
Now you have a starting point, adjust the Detail and Amount sliders to see how they affect the sharpening. To see the before and after, press the backslash (\) key. The Detail slider is unique to Lightroom – it doesn’t appear in Photoshop. What it does is to remove halos around the sharpened edges. Low values for Detail reduce halos and higher values allow them.
The Masking slider is a way cool tool. It lets you remove the sharpening from texture areas of the image and areas that you typically would not want to be oversharpened such as skin tones. To use it, drag the Masking slider to around 75 and compare the results. You should see less sharpening in areas that don’t typically need it the larger the Masking value. To see what the mask looks like, hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) as you drag on the slider and you’ll see a grayscale mask in place of your image. The white areas of the mask are the areas that will be sharpened – they are the edges in the image – and the black areas are those that will not be sharpened or which will be sharpened with less intensity.
The mask gives you a lot of control over how the sharpening is applied to the image and it prompts the question “why isn’t this in Photoshop too?”