How to Fix Blurry Photographs in Lightroom

This article describes how you to fix blurry photographs in Lightroom, using the sharpening tools found in the Develop module.

It happens to us all at some time when we pursue our photography. Perhaps we rush a shot, use too slow a shutter speed or simply drank too much coffee and have the shakes. Whatever the reason, there will be a time when you capture a great image but it’s blurry. But before we look at how you might go about trying to fix this in Lightroom, we need to look at a few basics.

The best way to fix blurry photographs is to avoid the blur in the first place. This isn’t always possible but there are a lot of things you can do. For example, matching the shutter speed to the focal length of the lens. Using a shutter speed to match your subject if it’s moving. Using a support (properly). Using the correct shooting technique to hold your camera. If you’re not sure about all or even some of these points, take a look at my book “Beginning Photography the Right Way”.

Before Lightroom

Before we start editing our image we should consider its current size as well as the intended use. Let’s look at an example.

Fig01 - Starting image prior to sharpening

Fig01 - Starting image prior to sharpening

I’m sure you will agree that this image of a mountain is blurred, but if it’s the only photograph I have, I might have no choice other than to use it. But before you cringe, what I haven’t said is that the image is only destined for use on the internet. The other important factor your missing is that the image is shot on a 36Mpixel camera of which the section above is only a small crop. Here is what the full image looks like.

Fig02 - Unsharpened image downsized for internet viewing

Fig02 - Unsharpened image downsized for internet viewing

At this resolution you just can’t tell that the image is blurred.

So, before diving into Lightroom sharpening, one of the most important things to do is determine how large your image needs to be. An internet image might be under 1000 pixels on the longest edge. Producing an A4 print or even an A3 print may allow you to down sample your image enough to hide the blurring.

Lightroom Sharpening Tools

The Lightroom Sharpening Tools are found in two locations, the Print module and the Develop module. The Print module sharpening tools are intended as a final output sharpening for use with your finished image. The tools in the Develop module enable you to apply both capture sharpening (to counter the softening effect of the camera capture) and creative sharpening (used to emphasize areas of the image). For this tutorial we will ignore the output sharpening in the Print module.

I also need to set your expectations, a blurry image is blurred and the tools in Lightroom can’t correct this. They can only allow you to emphasize other elements of the image such as edges and larger features, to persuade the eye that the blur is not as bad as it might otherwise appear. In short, don’t expect miracles.

Here is a section of the image at 100% with no sharpening applied

Fig03 - Image at 100% magnification with no sharpening

Fig03 - Image at 100% magnification with no sharpening

When sharpening a blurry photograph, we will probably need to apply a large amount of sharpening as well as use a relatively large sharpening radius this will of course depend on the actual image we are working on). The tools we have available with which sharpen the image are found in the Details panel as shown below.

 

Fig04 - Detail panel in the Lightroom Develop module

Fig04 - Detail panel in the Lightroom Develop module

You will notice that I have also shown the Noise Reduction tools. This is important as Noise Reduction is really the inverse of sharpening in that it applies selective blurring to noise. These tools blur your image further. You can also see in this screenshot that the Sharpening settings are currently set to the default for Lightroom.

As a starting point for this image I will set the Amount and Radius sliders to their maximum values. At the same time, I will set Detail and Masking sliders to 0 as well as the two noise reduction sliders. This produces an image as shown below.

Fig05 -Limited sharpening with the Amount and Radius sliders only

Fig05 -Limited sharpening with the Amount and Radius sliders only

This is a moderate improvement but not as much as I would like.

The next step is to adjust the masks to control the sharpening. If you are wondering what masks I am talking about, it’s the masks created by the Detail and Masking sliders. At the moment both sliders are set to 0 which means Masking slider is allowing sharpening to be applied everywhere whilst at the same time the Detail slider is only allowing a very small amount of sharpening to be applied to the image details.

If you hold down the Alt key on your keyboard as you move either of these sliders, you will see the masks they create in real time. This can be quite instructive.

By setting the Detail slider to 25 (the default) I can improve the appearance of the image sharpness.

Fig06 - Introducing the Detail slider

Fig06 - Introducing the Detail slider

One of the problems with this result though is that it looks very artificial. This is being caused by the Radius slider being too high and possibly also the Amount slider. Reducing both of these should improve the appearance. In the end I settle on a Radius of 1.6 and an Amount of 130. I also adjust the Detail slider down to 15. This produces the image below.

Fig07 - Further adjustments to the Amount, Radius and Detail slider

Fig07 - Further adjustments to the Amount, Radius and Detail slider

This is a little more natural without losing the sharpness. Now I can use the Masking slider to limit the sharpening to the edges in the image. All I need to do is gradually increase the Masking slider until I’m happy with the result.

In the next image I have increased the Masking to 40 and this has also allowed me to increase the Detail slider to 30.

Fig08 - Introducing the Masking slider

Fig08 - Introducing the Masking slider

The only thing that I don’t like about this now is that the blurring feels a little “gritty”. Part of this is due to the camera being 36Mpixels, the lens being exceptionally sharp and the camera sensor not having any anti-aliasing filter. This tends to show up and emphasize any blurring at all (unfortunately).

To counter this, I will use a little Luminance noise reduction to soften the very fine details. Setting the Luminance slider to 10 and the Details slider to 30 produces the following result.

Fig09 - Sharpened image at 100% magnification

Fig09 - Sharpened image at 100% magnification

Compare this against the unsharpened version below.

Fig10 - Unsharpened image at 100% magnification

Fig10 - Unsharpened image at 100% magnification

And here is how the full image looks.

Fig11 - View of the full image following sharpening

Fig11 - View of the full image following sharpening

Finally, let’s look at some down sized versions.

A 16” 300dpi print when sharpened for viewing at a distance of 2-5 feet would look like this.

Fig12 - Soft proof of 16” print simulating a viewing distance of 2-5 feet

Fig12 - Soft proof of 16” print simulating a viewing distance of 2-5 feet

Not too bad. You couldn’t pass it off as a fine art print but you would probably be happy to hang it on your wall. If the print size were A4, the image appears better still.

Fig13 - Soft proof of A4 11” print simulating a viewing distance of 2-5 feet

Fig13 - Soft proof of A4 11” print simulating a viewing distance of 2-5 feet

And finally, how does a 1200-pixel image for the internet look?

Fig14 - Finished example at 1200pixels

Fig14 - Finished example at 1200pixels

Summary

If handled sensibly, with the final output medium and size in mind, there is quite a lot you can do to fix a blurry image in Lightroom.

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