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Thread: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

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    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Right now I do all my PP between Canon DPP and GIMP.
    I recently downloaded the trial version of LR4 and have been experimenting.
    There are some things LR4 does better for sure. Some things I either don't know the LR way or GIMP is better. One of which is sharpening? When I compare a GIMP jpg to a LR jpg, the GIMP version looks better? Obviously I am doing something wrong! I noticed there is an 'output sharpening' option when exporting from LR to jpg, which by default is turned off, is this where I am missing? The sharpness looks great on my monitor, but somehow this isn't translating to the jpg.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Brian
    I wish I could explain this well enough myself, but I cannot. So I put up a Google link which has a ton of links for this same topic.
    I do not know Gimp at all other then the snipets I read online. So I cannot say one is better than the other.

    https://www.google.com/#hl=en&sclien...w=1271&bih=850

    https://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp...w=1271&bih=850

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Brian
    One other item I would like to mention. I use the NIK products. Within the NIK products, they has a slider called 'Structure'. This is an incredibly handy and effective slider for helping to bring out subtle, hard to produce detail, and it is extremely easy to use.
    If you decide not to use LR, you may be able to get the NIK products, either individually or in a package as stand alone products. If you are interested you may want to contact them and see what they say.

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    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Hi Pierre, thank you for your input. I will likely do some googling on this topic.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Brian,

    LR roughly follows the sharpening concepts developed by Bruce Fraser, a real guru on the subject who unfortunately died too young a few years ago. His books are still well worth reading. He divided sharpening conceptually into three types: capture sharpening, creative sharpening, and output sharpening. The sharpening that LR does by default (unless you turn it off) is capture sharpening, to compensate for loss of sharpness that takes place when the RAW output is processed. Every RAW image needs some measure of capture sharpening. The amount and nature of output sharpening depends on the type of the output: e.g, inkjet printing, CYMK printing, or web JPEG. That's what the output sharpening option is for in LR. It is not turned on by default, since the program doesn't know what output you will use. The Export presets give you some control over this, but not as much as the output sharpening options in Photoshop do.

    The best way to get a good feel for it is to view some of the LR sharpening tutorials you can find on the web, and then try various options to see their effects. Be sure to look at tutorials for LR 4, because sharpening has been changed and improved in this version.

    Hope that helps.

    Arlen

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    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Thanks Arlen, I was sure I was missing something. Not sure how I might adjust to not being able to see the results of a USM before saving to jpg?!
    I will do some experimenting in this regard.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Yes I agree, not being able to see the effect of sharpening on the output file before it's created is a drawback. I find that once you get a feel for the effects of the different options, it works satisfactorily most of the time. But if it's an image that I want to get "just right", I'll take it into Photoshop and sharpen it there, where I can see what's happening.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Brian, when sharpening in LR, be sure and mask off the areas that do not need sharpening. This is done by holding down the ALT key while moving the mask slider. You probably already know this, but be sure to create a mask that sharpens only edges. This technique can also be used on the radius and detail sliders.
    Brownbear found this helpful.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    That's good advice, Darren. But to make sure Brian doesn't get confused, let me point out that masking control is only available for input sharpening, not output (export).

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Hi Brian,

    There are some good tips in this thread already. To summarise:

    1. Capture sharpening - resolve edge detail appropriate for the image
    2. Creative sharpening - make your image pop
    3. Output sharpening - enhance edge detail appropriate for the output size and type (print/screen)

    Lightroom only does 1 and 3. It only does 1 by default for raw files since jpeg images are assumed to have been sharpened already.

    When doing capture sharpening it is important to view the image at 100%. The little sharpening window shows this (or right click and change it to 200%). I prefer to look at the main image at 100% too. You should adjust the sliders so that the pixels seem nice and crisp at the edges in the image. I am not at my main computer now but later I will add some settings that are good start points for different types of image (fine details, landscapes, portraits, etc).

    The best you will get for creative sharpening is to use the clarity slider. This has a similar effect to a wide radius, low strength unsharp mask but with some halo suppression. This is much improved over the clarity slider from Lightroom 3.

    You can use clarity within a brush adjustment to only enhance parts of the image or just use it across the whole image. However for more specific sharpening work you will need Gimp, photoshop or something else which supports USM, layers and masks.

    I just use the standard output sharpening for print or screen. It works fine. If you are very unhappy then you can try the other options. However it is a bit like a magic wand where it just seems to work.

    Alex

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Brian - my conclusion is that the lightroom downsizing and sharpening sucks! I operate on LR3 and process all my RAW files through there but unfortunately the final product still lacks a little bit of punch in some circumstances. I can't get Lightroom to downsize the file within lightroom and only during the export process does output sharpening get applied - but even then it isn't enough.

    You may recognise an image or two in the link below. Have a look at my photo near the bottom, I came to the conclusion that to get optimum results when downsizing you need to export as a TIFF and then sharpen in GIMP.
    "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 08 - Taking it to the next level ("The Reunion")

    I came across this in a few scenarios, unfortunately I can't seem to find the other examples to show you. Typically I am processing RAW and then exporting at about 1500 px high / wide for the web. Even if you oversharpen at full size, it still doesn't output well and the pictures get a bit more pop through GIMP.

    I've come to the conclusion that I'll only do that extra step where I really need the image to pop - say if I'm entering it in to a competition or similar.

    Sorry for the bad news.

    Be interested to hear if someone actually has a good work around for this.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    I've been using Lr4b and Lr4 with good success. Brian, I can't tell from the thread how well you know the tools in Lr, but if you hold the alt key down, at 100% viewing, while moving your sliders, you will be able to see exacty what is going on with your shapening. This allows you to very carefully mask your sharpening and sharpen quite aggressivly without adding noise. I find the noise suppression tools work well also.

    For screen output sharpening I've been using the Jeffry Freidl plug-in and it has settings for low, medium and high output sharpening. The high setting seems very equivalent to USM at ~250/.3/0 added to an image reduced to 72dpi and it can do a whole folder of images in one shot.

    I'm not a big fan of the Lr printing workflow, so I've avoided using it. I'm still using CS4 when I want to make quality prints.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Quote Originally Posted by speedneeder View Post
    Right now I do all my PP between Canon DPP and GIMP.
    I recently downloaded the trial version of LR4 and have been experimenting.
    There are some things LR4 does better for sure. Some things I either don't know the LR way or GIMP is better. One of which is sharpening? When I compare a GIMP jpg to a LR jpg, the GIMP version looks better? Obviously I am doing something wrong! I noticed there is an 'output sharpening' option when exporting from LR to jpg, which by default is turned off, is this where I am missing? The sharpness looks great on my monitor, but somehow this isn't translating to the jpg.
    Brian, when using lightroom, you have to be at 100% to see the sharpening. You might have it over done and when it got converted to Jpeg is looks horrible.

    here's a quick tutorial by Gavin Hoey about LR sharpening on my blog.
    oleleclos found this helpful.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    A lot of good advice here, but I would add a few things:

    Not sure how I might adjust to not being able to see the results of a USM before saving to jpg?!
    Unfortunately, there is no way to see output sharpening except to output the image via whatever medium you are using. In LR, there is no visible effect on screen. (I have not yet tried LR4's softproofing, so maybe it affects that.) In other software, you handle this by oversharpening for the screen. So, you see the output sharpening happen, but you still don't know what it will look like on the output device. I have had pretty good luck with the output sharpening in the LR print module.

    There are a couple of points where I don't agree with Alex:

    1. Capture sharpening - resolve edge detail appropriate for the image
    2. Creative sharpening - make your image pop
    3. Output sharpening - enhance edge detail appropriate for the output size and type (print/screen)

    Lightroom only does 1 and 3.
    Lightroom does creative sharpening as well, and I believe it does so using the same algorithms as capture sharpening. The only difference is that "capture sharpening" is the amount it applies by default on rendering the image, if you don't turn it off (I do.) The rest you do with the sharpening sliders. In fact, I think it is confusing in the LR environment to think of sharpening as three separate steps. I think it much clearer to think of it as two: sharpening you do before outputting to another medium, and then output sharpening. The first of these you can do entirely on your own (merging capture and creative), or you can let LR do some of it.

    The best you will get for creative sharpening is to use the clarity slider. This has a similar effect to a wide radius, low strength unsharp mask but with some halo suppression. This is much improved over the clarity slider from Lightroom 3.
    This is often called "local contrast adjustment" outside of LR. Although this is indeed the same as USM with a very large radius, it has a very different effect from traditional sharpening. It is extremely useful, and I use it in the great majority of images. However, I do think it is clearer to think of it as separate.

    My usual drill, if I am not going to take the image into photoshop, is this:

    -- import without sharpening. (I do this because I don't want pixels changed if I export for image stacking. Otherwise, I would have left the LR defaults.)
    --adjust clarity
    --adjust sharpening until it looks right on the screen
    --use output sharpening for both JPEGs and printing.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Chriss, thanks for the link, that's a nice helpful tutorial. (Note though that in LR4/ACR6.7, the sharpening effect is now visible without zooming to 100%, but you're right that it's still best to do input sharpening at 100%.)

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Thanks everyone for your input. I didn't know about using the 'alt' key!
    The video link was helpful Chriss - though my iPod doesn't seem to like Vimeo too well.
    I didn't understand what masking did previously.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Quote Originally Posted by DanK View Post
    There are a couple of points where I don't agree with Alex:
    Lightroom does creative sharpening as well, and I believe it does so using the same algorithms as capture sharpening. The only difference is that "capture sharpening" is the amount it applies by default on rendering the image, if you don't turn it off (I do.) The rest you do with the sharpening sliders. In fact, I think it is confusing in the LR environment to think of sharpening as three separate steps. I think it much clearer to think of it as two: sharpening you do before outputting to another medium, and then output sharpening.
    I agree that Lightroom can do capture and creative sharpening. However it cannot do both at the same time since they are different things and there is only one set of sharpening sliders. If you try and achieve both with a single set of sliders then you are compromising.

    Every image requires some capture sharpening. This overcomes the loss of pixel level sharpness due to the capture process such as the anti-aliasing filter and the Bayer demosaicing or the scanner deficiencies when processing slides/negatives. It should be done using settings appropriate to the finest image detail you want to resolve. And since any sharpening will also sharpen noise it should be combined with an edge mask (noise is less visible in fine detail) and/or some denoising.

    Creative sharpening is the enhancement of the image contrast in regions or overall. This should happen after capture sharpening. This can be slightly wider edge sharpening or as the radius increases it transitions into what is known as local contrast enhancement.

    I do wish that Lightroom had two sets of sharpening sliders:

    - The first should be as they are. The edge masking tool in Camera Raw (visible using the ALT key as stated by others) is fantastic. If that functionality was available as a plugin in for Photoshop I would much appreciate not have to use my edge masking macros any more.
    - The second set could be similar or changed with an expanded slider range. They should allow mask painting using the brush.

    Adobe will not do this because they have other products to sell. This is apparent since they consulted Bruce Fraiser (author of Real World Image Sharpening) over the output sharpening routines and yet ignored his request for two stage input sharpening.

    @DanK, It is interesting that you do not sharpening before image stacking. Is this for focus stacking or long-capture times with astro photography? I have found that my images focus stack better with some fine-detail input sharpening. But I have not done a lot of this so maybe I got an outlier.

    As promised earlier, here are a few sharpening settings to try. Just save them as presets so you can try each:

    Portraits: SharpenDetail = 20, SharpenEdgeMasking = 70, SharpenRadius = 1.2, Sharpness = 35
    Landscapes: SharpenDetail = 50, SharpenEdgeMasking = 10, SharpenRadius = 0.8, Sharpness = 40
    Fine Details: SharpenDetail = 80, SharpenEdgeMasking = 10, SharpenRadius = 0.6, Sharpness = 40
    Super high frequency: SharpenDetail = 55, SharpenEdgeMasking = 45, SharpenRadius = 0.5, Sharpness = 70

    I've not had a lot of problems with the output sharpening routines of Lightroom. As far as I know the screen routines are simply trying to maintain your pixel level edge contrast upon downsizing. This is done by some iterative resizing using bicubic interpolation and then some final unsharp mask.

    The print output is trying to produce edge halos that at a maximum size do not exceed what the eye can see. For an image viewed at a reasonable 12-18 inches distance this would be 1/50 - 1/100 of an inch. Using a 300ppi output the edge halos should therefore not be larger than 3-6 pixels total width. The width is adjusted slightly for the matt or glossy paper output to account for ink bleeding/spread.

    There is nothing difficult about output sharpening and so it is reasonable to assume that the Lightroom routines can do a good job. However they will be tuned to work on thousands of images and may be slightly worse than you like on a single image. In this case it is best to do it yourself. This is very easy to do with screen output since you will be viewing the image at the pixel level and can judge what looks best. If you are just doing a few images then you can tune each one. I would not want to tune 1000. Output sharpening is harder for print output because you need to reprint the page many times which uses time and money.

    Alex

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    jprzybyla's Avatar
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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    I am slightly perplexed after reading your post Alex. Have you used the Adjustment Brush that creates a mask in Lightroom 4 for Creative Sharpening? I have found that for local adjustments to an image it is very effective and not just sharpening.

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Alex,

    Re stacking: I was referring to focus stacking for increased DOF. I can tell you my logic, but I have never tested it. The only adjustments I make to images that I know I will stack are WB and, if necessary, exposure adjustments. I do the latter only if images are substantially under-or over-exposed or if some images are darker than others. I don't do anything that will mess with pixels. The reason is that I don't want to risk messing up the software's alignment of images. I then bring the stacked TIFF back into LR and go from there. That said, I have stacked lots of images with LR's default capture sharpening left on, and it has generally worked, so I may be worrying about nothing.

    Dan

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    Re: Lightroom 4 Sharpening - what am I missing?

    Quote Originally Posted by jprzybyla View Post
    I am slightly perplexed after reading your post Alex. Have you used the Adjustment Brush that creates a mask in Lightroom 4 for Creative Sharpening? I have found that for local adjustments to an image it is very effective and not just sharpening.
    Hi Joe,

    When using the adjustment brush for Sharpening you do not get much control over the settings. There is only a single slider not the usual set of Amount, Radius and Detail. This makes it a poor tool for creative sharpening. But it is better than nothing.

    I will change my 'request' to Adobe to update the brush sharpening sliders to allow Amount, Radius and Detail. This will definitely be a big improvement. A second set of sharpening sliders for creative sharpening will be limited since you may want to do more than just 2 passes. I'll scrap that idea.

    When I feel the need to work parts of the image for sharpening then I do my work in Photoshop. Unfortunately that then enters a non-parametric workflow. I would really like to have more creative sharpening tools within Lightroom that allow me the benefits of the non-destructive parametric editing of Lightroom (ACR), for example to synchronise settings across images, use virtual copies with different crops and colour developments and importantly to revisit and update my settings with fresh eyes.

    Quote Originally Posted by DanK View Post
    Alex,

    Re stacking: I was referring to focus stacking for increased DOF. I can tell you my logic, but I have never tested it. The only adjustments I make to images that I know I will stack are WB and, if necessary, exposure adjustments. I do the latter only if images are substantially under-or over-exposed or if some images are darker than others. I don't do anything that will mess with pixels. The reason is that I don't want to risk messing up the software's alignment of images. I then bring the stacked TIFF back into LR and go from there. That said, I have stacked lots of images with LR's default capture sharpening left on, and it has generally worked, so I may be worrying about nothing.

    Dan
    I applied the same logic when I first started stacking images. However I decided that the focus stacking software must assess the sharpness of focus using local contrast. So I tried a bit of capture sharpening to enhance pixel level sharpness and it improved my focus stacking of flowers. The petals can have large regions with very little contrast detail that appear to create an invisibility cloak that fools the stacking process. But when I am not happy with the stacking the first thing I try is turning off the capture sharpening.

    I found that the Photoshop algorithm does not handle flowers as well as Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker. Photoshop seems to take any pixel areas from the first frame that are in focus and does not consider the image stack order. Once an area is taken as in focus then a sharper region in a later frame does not override the prior softer pixels. In this way Photoshop has a greedy algorithm where the first frame used is critical since it will set the standard and may be over used even though better frames exist. The dedicated stacking software require the frames to be in depth order and provide region growing algorithms starting from small areas of clearly good focus. The double pass algorithm of Helicon Focus allows refinement of a first pass. Unfortunately in this case it seems like you get what you pay for since it costs the most.

    Alex

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