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3 Ways to sharpen your RAW images.

TipSquirrel is delighted to welcome guest poster Gavin Hoey.



If you’re serious about your photography then the chances are you shoot your images in RAW most, if not all, of the time. With RAW images you get the chance to fine tune the results in the comfort of your own home and the results can be truly amazing.


But shooting in RAW does mean that you will need to tweak each and every picture you take and that tweaking is going to include sharpening. But did you know there is more then one way to sharpen your RAW images?

In this post I’m going to look at three possible ways to sharpen your images using Adobe’s Camera RAW software that’s found in both Lightroom 2 (or 3 Beta) and Photoshop CS4. Don’t worry if you’re using Photoshop CS3, you’re not going to be left out either, just jump down to the video on sharpening below.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Throughout this post I’m going to use the same image. It’s a good candidate for sharpening as it has texture on the stones that needs sharpening and a blurred background that doesn’t need any sharpening at all.

Work flow options.

OK. Let’s kick off with the fastest way to sharpen every image that you process. The process is called Output Sharpening and is available in Camera RAW 5.2 and beyond. It’s designed to be the very last step of your workflow, so if you’re planning to do anything at all in Photoshop, then this probably isn’t for you.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

You’ll find output sharpening by clicking the blue writing just below the image and from there a popup box will appear. Click on the “Sharpen For” box and you’ll find several sharpening options that can be selected. These are geared towards the final destination of your image, in other words how you’re going to output it. So if you’re planning to put the image on the web select Screen and if you’re going to print the image select either Glossy Paper or Matte Paper.

But that’s not all, you can also choose between Low, Standard and High amounts of each sharpening, so you can really fine tune the effect.

However, there are three basic problems with this output sharpening. Firstly, there’s no preview to help you choose which settings to use. Of course Camera RAW is a non destructive process so if you don’t like the results you can try again.


The second problem is that Workflow Options aren’t options at all but presets. In other words unless you change it every image will get the same sharpening effect.

The third problem is potentially the biggest. Output sharpening is essentially a global effect and sharpens the whole image removing a layer of control from you, the photographer.

Adjustment Brush

The adjustment brush was a new feature in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4. For me it’s the best new tool or feature Adobe have introduced in recent years. It’s amazing at local exposure control, you can see a video of it in action here:

It’s also a very handy sharpening tool.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

It works like this. Set the Sharpness slider to +100 and all the others to 0. Choose a suitable brush size and paint sharpness over the area you wish to sharpen. If you make a mistake simply select Erase and remove sharpness.

And here comes the best bit. If the image looks over sharpened simply lower the sharpness slider for a bit of non destructive adjustment.

Detail Tab Sharpening.

Commonly called Capture Sharpening, this is how I’ve applied sharpening to my images for a long time. Having said that, I do enjoy the speed of the adjustment brush, but this method gives you the ultimate in control.

It’s a little bit complicated to explain in writing and so much quicker to show you. So here, exclusive Tip Squirrel readers, is a quick video tutorial on how I do my capture sharpening.


  So which method is best? Well, they all have their merits and can even be used in combination. I’ve always used capture sharpening exactly as you see in the video and I can’t see me changing any time soon.


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About Gavin Hoey (41 Articles)
Gavin has been a regular contributor to Digital Photo Magazine in the UK since 2003 where he writes “how to...” techniques on photography and Photoshop Elements. His Photoshop lectures are always in demand and he can often be seen popping up at camera clubs all over the UK.