How to sharpen selected areas with Lightroom

Lightroom many times is used to doing overall corrections on your images but can be very powerful when you need to fine tune and image and edit a selected area. Today i’ll walk through how to use the adjustment brush to sharpen the eyes for a portrait image. You can use this to sharpen anything though, say you want to give more focus to a certain part of a landscape image and really make a tree pop. Add a little bit of sharpening to help pull the users focus into that part of the image. Just like dodging and burning (check our our non destructive dodge and burn photoshop tutorial) we can guide the users eye around the image by using sharpening (or blurring).

First head on over to the develop module and click on the brush icon right under the histogram (you can also click the K button as a shortcut). This opens up the adjustment brush settings where we can adjust things like exposure, contrast and other variables. Instead of impacting the entire image however we can paint these effects on.

I’ll start by zooming into the eye so we can paint with accuracy and set the brush to be a little smaller than the eye with a little bit of a feather. For this example I am using a brush at 20, feather of 58 and a flow of 74.

sharpening in lightroom

I’ll adjust the slider for sharpening to be +50, you can adjust this slider up or down depending on how much sharpening you want to apply to the eye. Here is the before closeup, you can see that the image was focused on the eye and it’s pretty much in focus but at this level there is some softness.

sharpen eyes before

Now paint in the adjustment. It’s a little hard to see the effect as you paint it on so sometimes helpful to check on the box Show Selected Mask Overlay. This will show you a red mask to indicate the areas you are painting on. You can click it on and off with that checkbox (it’s at the bottom left of the main image area in Lightroom).

Here is the closeup after the sharpening. You can see the edge of the retina is now sharper.

sharpen eyes after

Now if you want to add a little extra pop to the eyes you can use the Iris enhance preset that Lightroom includes. Go to the top of the Adjustment Brush box and click the Effect drop down. Choose Iris enhance. Here you will see it bumps up the saturation, clarity and exposure. Click on New to create a new adjustment mask layer and start to paint this effect on. Here is what the image looks like with this effect applied compared to the very starting image:

before and after lightroom sharpen

All done, wasn’t that easy! You can use the adjustment brush to do lots of things like soften skin, whiten teeth, dodge and burn…. Also if you want some brush presets to help give you a starting point with these check out our brush pack here: PORTRAIT BRUSH PACK FOR LIGHTROOM. Our brush pack sales always help keep the site alive and I appreciate the support!

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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