Sharpening – How to Get Tack Sharp Images

Creating sharp images is a goal for most avid photographers. As an instructor for landscape photography, there are many tools that I teach to create the sharpest images possible. Here are some of the tactics I use when shooting and editing.

In this article, I cover my favorite tools in camera, as well as the settings I use in Lightroom as I complete my editing. All of the tips I give you here assume you are shooting RAW files.

Use a Tripod!

I am an advocate of making your tripod your best friend. Yes, I know they can be heavy and burdensome, but they are indispensable if you want to improve your photography and create sharp images. I’m also talking about a STURDY tripod, not one with spindly legs. And why would you put your expensive DSLR or Mirrorless camera on a $50 tripod anyway?

A tripod will not only give you a sturdy base for your image, but also will cause you to slow down, do a complete scan of the image frame, and consider the best aperture for the scene. You can easily make slight composition adjustments on your image, zoom in on your focus points and make sure they are tack sharp, and consider the best exposure for the scene.

Hand Held shots

Hand holding your image for landscape photography really isn’t the best plan to get tack sharp, creative images. If you are hand holding your camera, please make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough to hide any camera shake. You may need to increase your ISO to increase your shutter speed and camera noise can also be a consideration depending on your camera. Get to know your camera and what ISOs it can shoot without creating unneeded noise.

I know many of the new advanced cameras have image stabilization either built in to the camera or the lens. That is insurance to be sure you will have a sharp image, but watch your shutter speed. Personally, I will not hand hold an image under a shutter speed of 100. I know the cameras can handle a lower shutter speed, but for me, it’s not worth taking a chance on a blurry image. I am the happiest with images that I have taken on my tripod, that’s because it forces me to slow down and consider the best option for each scene.

Some other things to think about when shooting…

• Set your focus to single point
• Keep your camera at the lowest ISO for the particular scene when shooting on a tripod.
• Use the best lens you can for your camera. A quality lens will make all the difference.
• Use a remote cable or self timer to diminish camera shake when activating the shutter
• Use mirror lockup if available on your DSLR.

Adding sharpening within Lightroom

Straight out of the camera, a RAW image file hasn’t had any processing done to it. A JPEG file will have saturation, contrast and sharpening applied in camera. If you shoot JPEGs and RAWs , the JPEGs will often appear more appealing right out of the camera. They’re sharper, with more saturation and contrast than an unedited RAW file. If you are shooting RAW and avoiding the last editing step of sharpening, then your images won’t turn out their best.

When you first start sharpening in Lightroom, make sure that you are looking at a contrast point on your image, zoomed into 100%. Take a look at the image and reduce the color noise by about 20% right away. It’s import to reduce noise before sharpening as you will end up sharpening any noise that’s in the picture if you don’t remove it.

Option + (Mac) – dragging | Alt + (Win) – dragging in any of the sharpening sliders in the Detail panel in Lightroom will display a greyscale preview of the slider’s effect. Previewing the edges of the masks (created with the Detail and Masking sliders), can be helpful in determining which option is best for the image that you’re working on. I use this greyscale preview as an guide to sharpening the edges. If you can barely see the preview, that’s enough detail. And don’t forget, it is best to view an image at 100% to see the effects of sharpening (as well as noise reduction) accurately. And remember, watch for halos in the high contrast areas.

All of these tools will help with the sharpness of your images. If you need more help with your editing and organization in Lightroom, please consider taking my online Lightroom class or signup for a private Lightroom session sold in batches of 2 hours, 6 hours, or 10 hours. And remember, continually practice your photography craft and you will get better at it.

Did you like the subject of this article? Consider these blogs as well!

How to Take Advantage of the Sweet Light in Landscape Photography

5 Things You Need to Know About Dynamic Photography Landscapes

The Detail Module

The three main sliders in the detail module are the sharpening, radius and detail sliders and each image will require a different amount of each. I generally start with about 80-100 in the sharpening slider, 1 in radius, 25 in detail. I leave the masking slider at 0 until a can preview what areas I don’t want to sharpen.

If sharpening and radius is too high, it will create a halo which means that the sharpening has added too much contrast. (See the picture to the left where the blue sky meets the top of Half Dome.) The radius controls the width of the halo. Reduce the radius slider until you don’t see the halo at all. Drag the sharpening slider to the right until it looks sharp, but not crispy. If you select the option/alt in the detail slider, it will show which edges are being sharpened. Just make sure not to sharpen edges that are noisy.

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Holly Higbee-Jansen is photographer, trainer, blogger, and workshop leader who enjoys teaching and the creative process. Her passions include teaching photography workshops in beautiful locations in California, Iceland, Costa Rica and the American West with her husband Mark. Holly also teaches online classes on Lightroom, Photoshop and photographic technique. Get Holly's Free E-Book on "Landscape Photography and the Light" and find out about her newest workshops at


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