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Adobe Photoshop vs Lightroom (Part 3)

Creative Sharpening

This is the third part of an extended look into the benefits of both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Connect on social media to follow this detailed breakdown and comparison.


What is creative sharpening?

Put simply this is when individual areas of an image receive additional sharpening for artistic purposes. You should have corrected any softness caused by lens and camera earlier during the input sharpening phase.

Despite the name, creative sharpening isn’t actually sharpening your image. In truth you are blurring and altering the data captured to give the illusion of a sharper image.

Adobe Lightroom’s local tools

You have a selection of tools available for sharpening specific areas in Adobe Lightroom;

  • Graduated Filter – If you want to add adjustments to one side of an image and ‘gradually’ reduce the effects as you get closer the other side then the Graduated Filter is what you want to use.
  • Radial Filter – Want to sharpen a single point? In that case the Radial Filter may be the best choice. It’s designed to alter a single point (of varying size).
  • Adjustment Brush – With this you paint very specific areas based on the size of the brush you choose. You are essentially painting a mask for where your alterations will be applied.

With either tool selected you make the adjustments in the same way you did for input sharpening.

I find the quickest way to add sharpening during the creative phase is to use the Clarity slider. This affects the midtones if your selected area which will give a really clear and punchy effect when used.

That pretty much covers Adobe Lightroom’s offerings when it comes to creative sharpening, and with that lets move on to Adobe Photoshop.

Adobe Photoshop’s Sharpen and Blur Tools

Within Adobe Photoshop you will find the Sharpen and Blur tools (sometimes hidden under the Smudge Tool). Both use a brush to select areas that you wish to apply the effects to, in the same way the Adjustment Brush works in Adobe Lightroom.

Once you have selected your brush size, hardness (same as feather) and strength you can begin to sharpen or blur areas by simply painting over them. Remember that you will need to have the correct layer selected if you are working with multiple layers (you should as this is what makes Photoshop great).

Photoshop Masks for Selective Control

You can also use a mask to apply a filter of any shape or size to your image. This can save time as you won’t need to brush each effect over each area of the image – you can make all the changes to the same area without having to re-brush.

There will be a more in depth article looking at layer masks in the future as it is far more powerful than you can possibly imagine!

Photoshop has filters too!

Not content with just brush adjustments you can also use sharpening filters to apply additional sharpening to an entire layer. Whilst sharpen, sharpen edges and sharpen more are older filters designed to work with smaller images they can still be effective.

  • Shake Reduction – reduce blurring by removing blur along a movement path including linear motion, arc-shaped motion, rotational motion, and zigzag motion. Draw the path and it will try to remove blur caused by that movement.
  • Sharpen – Increase the contrast between pixels of light and dark colours where they meet. This can be useful with pulling extra detail from textures such as sand on a beach.
  • Sharpen Edges – Increase the contrast between pixels of light and dark colours where they meet AND there is already a large contrast between them.
  • Sharpen More – Same as sharpen edges except the effect is more profound.
  • Smart Sharpen – Control the amount, radius and noise caused by sharpening. You can also remove some lens blur with this tool.
  • Unsharp Mask –  Sharpens the image by first blurring it and then applying the added contrast to the image using a layer mask.

So which should I use?

Personally when it comes to Creative Sharpening you cannot beat the control which Adobe Photoshop gives you. The ability to work at pixel level is incredibly useful but it is the layers system which makes Photoshop so powerful.

Being able to apply different types of sharpening to different areas using layers, and then blending them together is simply not possible in Lightroom.

Next we will look at output sharpening in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, concluding our extended look into sharpening.