Catch Up: Sharpen Up! Camera RAW’s Detail Tab for Sharpening

With more and more designers discovering Camera Raw, and using the Camera Raw filter (in Photoshop CC) to gain access to those fine controls, one of the most frequently-asked questions that I come across relates to sharpening in the Detail tab in the ACR—Adobe Camera Raw—dialog. In this post we’ll take a look at sharpening in the detail tab and if you’re also a Lightroom user, then this applies to you, too!Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 14.05.36

So in the image above I’m not actually using a Raw file but a JPEG in Photoshop, converted to a Smart Object (not a necessary step, but it’s always wise to do so) then selected Filter > Camera Raw Filter…  and performed a few adjustments to the tones before moving to the Detail tab. In the sharpening section, we have four sliders:

  • Amount
  • Radius
  • Detail
  • Masking

Before we look at these here are a trio of a handy tips:

  1. Make sure that you are viewing the image at a zoom level of at least 100%. In the bottom right-hand corner there is a note to this effect but it’s sometimes/often/frequently (as applicable) overlooked.zoomLevelChange your zoom level with the keyboard CMD | CTRL + | – or use the controls on the bottom left of the dialog
  2. It isn’t necessary to click-and-drag on sliders in the Camera Raw dialog—simply mouse-down on the associated word and drag left/right to change the values
  3. Holding Down the ALT key while dragging gives you a better preview (as you’ll see below)


This is—as you’d probably expect—how much sharpening is applied; the range is 0 to 150. Maxed out, you’d probably see your image waaaay over-sharpened, but as the other controls fine tune the amount, it is actually possible to go this far. Holding down the ALT key gives you a greyscale preview that eliminates the distraction of colour.amount


Imagine you have a garden, your fence needs some repair and it’s going to be necessary for you to work on both sides of the fence—in your neighbour’s garden. Someone you live with is very precious about your garden, and this is echoed by your neighbour. Between the three of you, you come to an agreement that your work can be done with any shoring-up not being greater than two metres into each garden; that’s essentially what radius means. OK, using a garden analogy may-or-may-not sit well with you but it is an easy way to explain that sharpening is essentially modifying the contrast of edges—in Photoshop/Lightroom where dark pixradiusels neighbour light pixels—and determining how many pixels either side of that edge will be affected. The values range from 0.5 pixels to 3 pixels and holding down the ALT key exposes the radius halos around the edges.


This control—ranging from 0 to 100—tunes the halos in a sort-of-contrasty way. Maxing out the slider gives a result very similar in appearance to the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop; moving the slider to the left dampens the halos. Holding down ALT allows you to preview this more easily.detail


Camera Raw can create an edge mask on-the-fly, that reduces the sharpening of non-edge areas, concentrating it on the edges, and you can tune the mask with this control. Holding down ALT gives you a preview of the mask.masking

You can achieve some fantastic results with this filter, even if you don’t perform any other adjustments it’s a lot easier to preview than some of the other sharpening filters in Photoshop. If you have a smart object to start of with, you can also change the blending of the filter on the object. Try it out—it’s a great technique to have in the bag.

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