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Editing Photos In Lightroom Part 2: The Detail Tab

By David Fleet


editing photos in lightroom

I've now reached the final part of my workflow for editing photos in Lightroom. My image has been imported, organized, cropped, calibrated, corrected and received tweaks to exposure, white balance and contrast!

So it's very nearly the finished article - but not quite! What remains? Well at this stage the key steps are sharpening and noise reduction. Personally, I also like to revisit the contrast once more just before finishing up.

Tweaking the contrast

So, one last contrast adjustment. I go into the 'tone curve' drop-down menu and play around with the pre-set values it offers. These are often pretty good and produce a result that I'm happy with. But if not, I'll adjust the plots on the curve to gain more precise control over highlights, lights, darks and shadows. This process/tool is very intuitive. The best way to get the hang of it is simply to practice!

editing photos in lightroom

The 'Detail' tab

The work of sharpening and noise reduction that rounds of my Lightroom workflow is done under the 'detail' tab.

I also finish up by scanning for dust spots. There's nothing worse than forgetting to do this and then spotting a blemish on an otherwise perfect large format print!


Image sharpening gets quite a lot of attention, and sometimes advice can seem a bit contrasting, if not downright confusing! So how do you know when an image is sharpened correctly?

Well here's my method: I sharpen an image (for screen) by applying sharpening to the chosen areas, until I just begin to see little halos appearing. At that point I pull back the sharpening to the point where they just disappear again.

Now, the rest of this approach would normally be to not pull back on the sharpening if you intend to print the image. In other words, leaving the halos in place will actually result in a perfectly sharp print. But I don't do this when editing photos in Lightroom, because the software has the ability to automatically apply output sharpening to your images (and it does a pretty good job too!).

The process of sharpening

A really effective feature of image sharpening, which is defintiely a top tip to start using, is the 'masking' slider. Masking effectively allows you to determine how much of the image will be sharpened - ranging from only the sharpest edges to every space in the picture.

To make use of masking, simply hold down the Alt key and slide the masking slider to the right. The black areas that appear are not going to be sharpened and the white areas will be. So at the leftmost side of the slider everything will be sharpened, whilst by the time you've moved it all the way to the right, only the most defined edges will be.

editing photos in lightroom

In the image above, a setting of 63 means that only the foreground rock and the strongest edges of the clouds have been sharpened. Now, with sharpening only being applied to those areas, I zoom in on the rock and drag the sharpening slider to the right until I just start to see halos appear and then back off a touch until they disappear.

If the object I am sharpening has a lot of little edges and details, then I will often reduce the 'radius' slider to 0.6 or 0.8. What this does is to confine the sharpening to a smaller area around the sharpened pixel.

Here's the before and after for my example picture:

editing photos in lightroom


editing photos in lightroom

Noise reduction

Now if you have used high ISO settings, long exposures or lightened shadow areas (under the Lightroom 'Basic' menu) then you may have introduced noise to your image. Equally, when photographing large areas of sky there is often a certain amount of noise that you can't avoid, awhich also needs fixing.

Lightroom 3 has a particularly good algorithm to reduce noise. To use it, simply click on the area of your image that contains noise, zoom in close, then drag the luminance slider across to apply Lightroom's noise reduction.

Here you can see the effect it has had on my two images:

editing photos in lightroom
editing photos in lightroom

You can see the grainy texture (noise) that is often a problem for landscape skies. I have used the 'luminance' slider to smooth out this graininess. It hasn't completely disappeared, but is down to an acceptable level that will not be noticeable in print.

What about the colour slider? If you spot little red and green spots in your image (less common than graininess), drag this slider across and you'll see them disappear.

Dust spots

The final step in my workflow for editing photos in Lightroom is to scan for dust, which can often be found on digital sensors and shows as a blurry dark spot on your image.

I begin by zooming in on the top left corner of my image and then methodically scanning the whole picture. When I come across a dust speck, I use either the 'clone' or the 'heal' tool to delete it, depending on which gives the best result. In the section of an image below, I immediately noticed 3 dust specks:

editing photos in lightroom

That's it, your image is sharpened and readied for printing!

editing photos in lightroom

That brings me to the end of my workflow for editing photos in Lightroom. You might like to review one of the 5 stages I've taken you through below.

The Lightroom Series:

1. Lightroom Tutorials Home
2. Lightroom Review

1. Importing Photos to Lightroom
2. Organizing Photos in Lightroom
3. The Lightroom Develop Module
4. Editing Photos in Lightroom 1
5. Editing Photos in Lightroom 2

The creative and technical aspects of post-production are really nicely explained in this beginner-friendly guide from DPS.

Where Next?

How To Use Photoshop (For Beginners)

Improve Your Portraits In Photoshop

Resizing A Batch Of Photos

Return to Photography Art Cafe

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