Lightroom Ultimate Guide – Detail Enhancement

Lightroom Details

The Detail Panel in Lightroom enables you to add sharpening to your images and to control the amount of noise. This article covers the controls in the detail panel to help sharpen and denoise your images like a pro.


Lightroom Details Panel

Lightroom Details Panel

The Lightroom Details Panel is accessed through the Develop Module. It contains three sets of functions. Firstly a Detail Zoom panel, which enables you to focus in on a specific area of your image. A Sharpening panel, and a Noise Reduction panel.

Details Zoom

The Details Zoom is a useful tool when using either the Sharpening or Noise Reduction filters. It enables you to remain in the image Loupe View in the main window, but at the same time, focus in on any specific areas that you are working on.

You can access the Details Zoom, by left-clicking the square cross-hairs at the top left of the Details Zoom panel. You then left-click anywhere on your image to bring that up in the Details Zoom window.

Lightroom Sharpening

Lightroom Sharpening

The Lightroom Sharpening panel consists of 4 sliders. A sharpening Amount slider, which when applied activates sliders for Radius, Detail, & Masking.

The first thing to recognise with the Sharpening tool is that this filter is not going to correct sharpness in your images. What it does, is create the illusion of sharpness and detail. Lightroom achieves this by identifying the edges in your image and then increases the edge contrast. For this reason, Sharpening needs to be applied sympathetically to your images to avoid transitions/edges looking unrealistic.

The amount of Sharpening you can apply, and need to apply also depends on a number of factors. The first being the subject of your image. So, for instance, a pure landscape shot of rolling hills and sky, you generally don’t want to harden the edges of the transitions, as it looks unnatural. Conversely, Sharpening a cityscape works very well, as contrasty edges help to make the subject stand out.

The other thing to bear in mind is what type of image you are sharpening. RAW images are generally larger/have more pixels, so can be processed with the Sharpening tool more than a JPEG, which has already had sharpening applied by your camera.

For this reason, by default, Lightroom applies 0 Sharpening to JPEGs and 40 to RAW files.

The final factor to consider is the quality of the RAW or JPEG file.


I have known several tutors describe predefined criteria, like always set sharpening to 75. In practice, I have found that images from e.g. my Canon EOS 5D IV can be sharpened significantly more than an image from a Canon EOS 7D. Therefore practically, the settings you use, very much depend on all of the above factors.

Sharpening Tips

By default, Lightroom applies 0 Sharpening to JPEGs and 40 to RAW files. When refining this, always set the view-mode to 100% to give a visually representative idea of the effect. You can also use the Details Zoom view at the top of the Details panel, by left-clicking the square cross-hair box at the top left of the panel and then clicking on an element in your image you want to focus on.

Lightroom Zoom Window

Moving the Amount slider to the right increases the sharpening, and to the left it reduces.

The Amount slider has a coloured red zone to the right hand edge of the adjustment area. This indicates the region that you are highly likely to see unsightly edges in your image, so as a general rule, avoid this extreme.

A useful tip when using the Amount slider, is to press the Option key (on a MAC) or ALT (on a PC), which presents you with a desaturated image, which is much easier to determine the sharpening effect.

When sharpening RAW images taken on my Canon 5D IV, I often set the sharpening to around 90-100 as I have found this to be an optimal zone for this camera. But, there are normally areas in an image that you don’t want sharpening, for example, the sky portions. A useful feature in Lightroom is the Masking slider. Pressing Option (on a MAC) or ALT (on a PC) whilst moving the slider brings up a temporary mask.

The black areas on the mask are areas that won’t have any sharpening applied, and the white areas are areas that will. So, by moving the slider, you can fine tune areas that should be sharpened and those that shouldn’t.

Worked Example

Here is a very short demonstration of the technique I use to sharpen an image.

You can see from this, that I first set the view mode to 100%. Then set a zoom focal point on an area I wanted to be sharpened. Following this, I used the desaturated mask to fine-tune the sharpening Amount. Finally, I used the Masking slider with the mask view ensuring the sky portions of the image are not sharpened.

Radius & Details Sliders

The Radius and Details sliders are two effects that I have personally never really needed to use, as I have found the default settings to be adequate for all images I have ever optimised. However, the Radius slider controls the thickness of the edge where contrast has been applied. Moving the slider to the right increases the thickness of the edges, and to the left reduces them.

To get a visual indication of the effect being applied, press the Option key (on a Mac) or ALT key (on a PC), and you get a grey screen view with just the thickness of the sharpening lines applied.

The Details slider controls the amount of sharpening effect which is applied to the details in your image. A low value only applies the effect to very large edges, and a high value applies the sharpening to even the smallest of edges.

Lightroom Noise Reduction

Noise in digital images often occurs as a result of:

  • The use of high ISO settings In-camera
  • Long exposure photographs, most noticeable in low light
  • During processing due to extensive edits, often with non-RAW images and/or correction of under-exposure
  • Because the sensor in your camera is a lower spec, most noticeable in low light
  • Heat in the camera affecting the sensor, most noticeable in hot weather
Lightroom Noise Reduction

The Noise Reduction controls are split into two groups of noise reduction; Luminance and Color. To understand what the sliders in these panels do, we first need to understand exactly what types of noise they target.

Luminance Noise

In modern digital photography, Luminance noise is predominantly caused when there is either a lack of available light, when the image was captured, or that the image was under-exposed. It os often referred to as hot-pixels of light or graininess in an image.

In Lightroom, using the Luminance slider, you can smooth the pixels in your image to help eliminate the problem pixels. However, you need to avoid over-doing the effect to avoid too much loss of detail and sharpness, which can render your image almost plastic looking in appearance.

Luminosity Noise
Luminosity Noise – Source Wikipedia

Luminance Denoise Tips

The trick when using Luminance denoise in Lightroom is not to try and remove all noise from your image. But more to determine an acceptable compromise between the amount of noise and the amount of sharpness and detail.

The other trick to use when applying noise reduction, is to ensure that the view-mode is at 100%. This gives you the visually representative idea of the effect compared to how the eye would see a printed image.

The Luminance slider starts at zero, moving the slider to the right increases the amout of smoothing applied to your image.

As soon as you apply Luminance denoise, two more sliders become available to you. These are Detail and Contrast. These sliders help you counteract the negative effects of Luminance de-noise, by increasing edge sharpness and contrast. As far as how much of these to apply, there is no set formula and depends very much on your image. The best thing is to experiment with the three sliders at 100% view-mode and get the most visually appealing effect. As a rule of thumb, however, I generally start at about 10% Luminance de-noise and then work from there. You will find that you can apply more of the effect on RAW images than you can JPEG. This is basically because you typically have more pixels within a RAW image, as it is uncompressed.

A final tip when using Luminance de-noise, is to click the Option key (on a MAC) or ALT (on Windows), as you move the slider. This brings up a temporary desaturated version of your image, and is often easier to work with than colour.

Color Noise

Color Noise
Color Noise – Source Wikipedia

You can identify Colour Noise in an image as random variations in the pixels. The Color slider helps to remove this by smoothing the colour variations. The effect is not as destructive in terms of sharpness and contrast loss, but once again, care is needed to avoid over-processing your image.

Color Noise Tips

Further, as with the Luminance slider, the Color slider once applied, gives you further sliders to recover any Detail & Contrast lost. As a rule of thumb, I start with about 20% Color denoise and work from there.


Whilst there is no exact formula to sharpen and denoise your image, with the use of the techniques described in this article, and with a little trial and error, you should easily be able to apply the effects to your own images.

If you enjoyed this Lightroom article, please check out some more of our Lightroom How-To Guides. Here are some articles which may interest you.

Lightroom Color Grading
Mastering Color Grading

The Color Grading panel is a great tool to perform targeted hue adjustments to Highlights, Shadows and Midtones.

Mastering HSL & Color

The HSL & Color Panels allow you to perform targeted adjustments to specific areas in your photograph for Hue, Saturation & Color optimisation.

White Balance
Master White Balance

White Balance is a scale of the primary colour intensities. When post-processing it is important to render neutral colours correctly.


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