How to sharpen images and achieve incredible details in Lightroom mobile app

Sharp macro close up image of a dragonfly captured and edited on a smartphone - photography training

Achieve sharp focus at photo capture

Automatic focus works well in most circumstances. If a sharp focus is critical and I have the time to prepare the photo I will opt for the Lightroom camera. Access the camera by tapping the camera icon then tap on Auto camera mode to select Professional. Look for [+] Auto to change the focus mode to manual. Swipe up/down or left/right depending on the orientation of the phone to change the distance at which the camera is focussing.

 

You will notice something really cool happening now! The green overlay appears on the screen showing you exactly what will be in focus in the image. Point your phone at a scene including a close-up and distant object and swipe the image to see how it focusses on one or the other. This feature is particularly helpful if you are capturing extreme close up photos using a Struman Optics macro lens.

Related article: Close up macro photography on your smartphone

Lightroom mobile camera app displays focus overlay to sharpen images

Why do some of your images look sharper than others?

Lighting conditions - The image quality of your images can vary even on your own phone. This is mostly affected by lighting conditions. Shooting in bright light conditions provides yourself with the best chance of capturing a sharp image. This lowers the camera sensitivity and takes a faster image reducing any blur.

 

File format - Each camera manufacturer automatically applies image sharpening when it is saved in the default JPEG file format. Historically I have perceived the Samsung image to have more vibrant colours and sharper details than what I capture on the iPhone. To completely edit your own image from scratch, you will need to change the file format to RAW or DNG on most phones. On Androids and within the Lightroom app itself you can do this by selecting Pro mode. The iPhone requires a camera replacement app like ProCamera or Camera+2. Personally, I prefer to capture JPEG images because it reduces the amount of basic image editing that I need to apply.

Close up bee image taken on a smartphone using the struman optics macro lens attachment. Sharpen details

Image sharpening issues

Tack sharp, detailed images look amazing in the right areas of an image. Imagine a sky scene full of soft flat stratus clouds that look like a gloomy, dramatic overcast day. Wouldn’t those clouds look weird and unnatural if they were sharpened? We very quickly and subconsciously determine what looks ‘wrong’ or over sharpened.

Before image: sharpen images without excessive noise in the sky Before image: sharpen images without excessive noise in the sky

If you sharpen images excessively or use the tools incorrectly, it can reveal or increase any existing image noise (grainy white speckles) and create white lines around objects referred to as halos.

smartphone food photography - edited to sharpen images and enhance side lighting

How does sharpening work?

Edges in lines or shapes in an image are defined by bright and dark tones coming together. The difference between these tones is referred to as contrast. Increasing the contrast at these edges makes the darks darker and light tones lighter. This is why excessive sharpening can introduce the bright halo effect around edges. Done correctly, sharpening can make these edges appear sharper and more defined.

 

For example, look at the text below.  How much shaper does the black text look on a crisp white background? It is the higher contrast - the larger difference between the colours.

image sharpen example using black on grey and white background to display contrast

Do you need an Adobe subscription?

No, simply sign up for a free Adobe ID account within the app using either an email address, Facebook or Google ID. The subscription does offer extra features. You get access to all the sharpening features on a free account. You can download the app on either Google Play or the App Store.

Learn more about Adobe Lightroom mobile here.

Benefits of using Lightroom mobile app

One of the advantages of using Lightroom to sharpen images is the ability to return and adjust the original adjustments without applying more adjustments after subsequent editing. To explain this non-destructive process, let’s explore what destructive means! Imagine sharpening an image, applying some blur and then trying to sharpen a blurred image. Lightroom lets you go back and either delete the blur or re-adjust the sharpening before the blur step.

 

The main benefits of Lightroom mobile app is the tools available. Let’s explore the what, how and when to use each of them in detail. To access the tools, open the image in Lightroom then tap on the Details menu.

 

An alternative app Snapseed also has a sharpening feature. However, as you will discover Lightroom mobile app has a lot more control.

The next step is photo editing on your smartphone. This course is made up of 30 lessons, structured and delivered in a way to empower you to become more creative and get the most out of photo editing.

Lightroom sharpening tool navigation

  • Pinch and zoom using two fingers to get in nice and close to see the effect of your adjustments
  • Tap on the preview window outside of the actual image to fill the screen without distracting menus. Tap on the image to return to the editing view
  • Tap and hold your finger on the image to preview the image before making all the Detail adjustments
  • Swipe your finger on the zoom in image to navigate to another area of the image

Number one hidden feature

Even the savviest of Adobe users do not know about this tip. You can impress all your ‘big’ camera friends with this one! When we make the below adjustments we can zoom in to see the changes, however, it can still be quite difficult to see what is actually happening to the image.

 

Push the marker along any of the below-mentioned sliders, pause and hold that finger on the marker then hold a second finger anywhere on the screen. Keeping that second finger in place, slide the first finger across the slider and pause for a second to reveal a greyscale version of the image. This can take a little bit of practice. The greyscale removes the distraction of colour. Swipe your finger and pause between previews to see a much clearer view of what each tool is doing.

Adobe Lightroom CC mobile app - sharpen images using the details radius threshold masking sliders

Lightroom sharpening tools explained:

  1. Sharpening

This adjusts the amount of sharpening applied to the whole image. Zero is none and 150 is too much bringing out poor resolution ussies and noise. My preference is to start at 90 and increase it after using the following tools to determine how the sharpening is applied.

 

  1. Radius

This determines how far from the edge the contrast (sharpness) will be increased. This number is actually the number of pixles (dots). My preference is to start at 2.0. If you notice the halo effect around the edges, reduce the radius to bring the sharpening closer to the edges.

 

  1. Detail

In the specified radius around the edges, this adjustment will determine what areas are affected. Values closer to 0 affect the larger edges and 100 adjusts all the finer edges. This is the difference between sharpening the edges of a leaf and sharpening the finer textures in the leaf. My preference is to start at 40.

 

  1. Masking

This is one of the best tools and the amount depends on your image! At 0, the above adjustments are applied to the whole image. As you slide to the right toward 100, only the strongest and most prominent lines in the image will be affected. I typically start at 80.

Adobe Lightroom CC mobile app - sharpen images using the details radius threshold masking sliders

When you hold a second finger on the screen as you make the adjustment, the areas in black are not affected by the sharpening. White areas are the sharpened areas that apply all the adjustments. This tool allows you to excessively sharpen existing lines and ensure it does not affect smooth areas like interior walls or clouds in landscape images.

Adobe Lightroom CC mobile app - sharpen images using the details radius threshold masking sliders

Mike James hosts regular group workshops, workplace training and is a sought after speaker at photography clubs and social media training events. Get in touch with Mike here.

These articles are great to learn a mobile photography specific technique or tip. The fastest transition into the confident and creative smartphone photographer is this structured course 'Strategically edit WOW images on your smartphone'
 
The Smartphone Photography Club is where you can hang out with like-minded photographers. Club members take part in weekly photo themes in our closed Facebook group. You also get the full course, tutorials,  photo critiques and club sponsor discounts.
 
Creating a sharp image requires techniques at capture and correctly applying the Adobe Lightroom sharpening tool. In this article, I share the number one hidden detail masking feature.