I stumbled upon this youtube clip by Matthew Gore recently and wanted to share it with you. He does a very good job at explaining the concept of “sharpening” and how to use Lightroom to do it. For those of you not familiar with sharpening, it’s part of the post processing of an image done in software like Adobe Lightroom. What it does is increase the contrast of edges around shapes in your image and makes the image appear more crisp. So it’s a simple way of making an image pop. Cameras and software apply some level of sharpening anyway, but this video shows how to use the sharpening controls with far more control. I’ve been experimenting with this technique for a couple weeks now, so I’ve included Matthews video tutorial, plus some notes below specific to architectural photography.

What to sharpen in architectural photography

In architecture what works well with sharpening is the hard edges and lines of the building. What doesn’t work well is the areas between these strong lines like the sky, or the colour of an object. Sharpen these areas too much and they’ll look like tessellations and ruin your image. So a word of warning, more sharpening is not always better, it’s a subtle adjustment that needs to be applied with care and each image is going to require a different adjustment because it will have a different array of edges and objects. Below is an example of this which compares the original image on the left and the sharpening mask preview on the right. The white areas will have sharpening applied, while the black areas will be left untouched. This allows the hard edges around the boxes and the ladder to be sharpened and not affect the colour and the texture of the boxes themselves.

what to sharpen

Photo of Double Monk shoe store in Melbourne, designed by architect Antony Martin.

The process

Step 1 – Sharpening Amount

I set my sharpening amount between 50 to 75 for architecture.

I judge it by eye via the sharpening preview shown below and keep going until the edge (1) looks jagged, and then I back off a little. In previous versions of Lightroom I would have added sharpening until the area labeled 2 become tessellated, but the beauty of Lightroom now is that you can mask out areas you don’t want sharpening applied to, which we’ll do in the next step.

sharpening lightroom


Step 2 – Masking

Hold down the alt key and move the masking slider

This step masks out the areas you don’t want sharpening applied to, which is generally areas that are not edges. For example, you don’t want sharpening applied to the sky because it’s a gradient and will appear tessellated if over sharpened. The trick to applying masking is to hold down the alt key while you move the slider. This will turn the preview and the image itself black and white (see previous image above) to illustrate which areas will be sharpened. Slide it to the right until all the non edge areas are black and you’re done.

sharpening masking


What about the radius or detail sliders

I didn’t find much difference in the quality of the sharpening when I adjusted the the radius or the detail sliders, so at the moment my sharpening process is just those two steps.