Selective sharpening with mask

Sharpening is an essential part of post-processing and can help your photos look their best. The in-focus areas in an image tend to draw the eye more than the out-of-focus areas, and while we do our best to get our images sharp in-camera, adding a small amount of sharpening in post-processing can go a long way.

But most often, when sharpening an image, you won’t want to sharpen every single pixel, especially when the photo has a large area of bokeh or blur. That’s when masking can be very useful, allowing you to selectively apply this adjustment only to specific areas of the frame.

The Details Enhancer tool

To sharpen your images in Luminar you will want to use the Details Enhancer Tool. This tool has four different types of sharpening, all with different purposes. You’ll want to experiment with each slider to see what works best with your images, as every photo will have different needs. I’ve listed out a short description below, along with an example of each type of sharpening. (Please note: I set each slider to 100 for the following examples to display an easy-to-see representation of each slider, but this setting is too high for nearly all sharpening circumstances.)

Small Details: Enhances details in small-sized details.

Medium Details: Enhances details in medium-sized details.

Large Details: Enhances details in large-sized details.

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Sharpen: Adds contrast to the edges of areas in your image to create a sharpening effect.

Masking your sharpening effect

There are also sliders within the Advanced Settings section that help you protect areas of the image you don’t want to be affected by the details and sharpening sliders. However, I find that masking is the best defense against having sharpening in areas where I don’t want it. In Luminar, masking a tool is simple. Here’s how:

Step 1: Make all adjustments to the Details Enhancer Tool that you want. Make sure you are zoomed in to at least 100% to the area you want to be sharpened so that you can see the area more clearly.

Step 2: At the bottom of the tool, click Edit Mask, and choose Brush from the drop-down list.

Step 3: In the options at the top, make sure that Paint is selected. You can also toggle the eyeball icon (or use the keyboard shortcut /) to preview the masked area as you brush. Once you have finished masking, click Done at the top and your image is now selectively masked.

Tips to improve your sharpening techniques

Zoom in to at least 100%: It is always a good idea to zoom in to the area at least 100%. This allows you to get a good idea of what the sharpened areas look like close up and can help you prevent from over-sharpening the photo.

Only sharpen the in-focus areas: When you have a photo with a lot of background or foreground blur, you will want to make sure that you avoid sharpening those areas. Some of the protection sliders in Luminar will help, but adding masking is a sure-fire way to ensure you only apply the sharpening effect to the in-focus areas you wish to highlight.

You can’t sharpen a blurry photo: If your image is blurry with no focal point, all the sharpening in the world cannot recover any sharpness. Sharpening—at its core—adds contrast to the edges of items in your photo, but it cannot actually recover sharpness.

Don’t over-sharpen: The sliders in Luminar go all the way to 100, but I strongly advise against pushing them that high. An over-sharpened image (especially one that is not masked) can look grainy and unflattering. It’s better to be slightly out-of-focus than to be over sharpened.

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