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What Is Your Real Estate Photography Sharpening Workflow?

Published: 19/10/2009
By: larry

Last week I got a request from Karl Hoelscher, who would like to know what techniques people are using to sharpen real estate images.

So I'll start off by saying that I depend on Lightroom 2 for my sharpening needs. Before Lightroom 2 was released  for many years I used PhotoKit Sharpener, by PixelGenius. PhotoKit Sharpener is sharpening plugin for Photoshop. If you only use Photoshop it is one of the best sharpening plugins around. It was PhotoKit Sharpener that introduced me the concept of the three stages of sharpening:

  1. Capture sharpening - Where you compensate for the weaknesses of the capture equipment.
  2. Creative sharpening - Where you use sharpening to draw the eye to the subject of the image.
  3. Output sharpening - Where you optimize the image for the output media.

In real estate photography you need primarily 1 and 3 where the output media is primarily the screen. For those that use Lightroom the sharpening sliders in the Develop module Sharpening sliders are everything you need for capture sharpening. I have to say that even though technically not sharpening my favorite feature of Lightroom and Camera RAW is the Clarity slider. It is fantastic and I use it on almost every image. I can't live without it!

For output screen sharpening the export feature of Lightroom there is a export option to sharpen for the screen (online image display). Adobe actually licensed the PhotoKit Sharpener from PixelGenius for use in Lightroom output sharpening, so it's PhotoKit that Lightroom users are using when they do output sharpening. For those that would like an in depth walk through of using Lightroom sharpening, there is a excellent two part series over at The first part is on Capture sharpening and the second part is on output sharpening.

What is your real estate photography sharpening workflow?

10 comments on “What Is Your Real Estate Photography Sharpening Workflow?”

  1. I use a similar workflow as you.

    I've found that Lightroom 2 sharpening tool is superior to ACR. When doing real estate photography I have gotten better results with LR2 because of the level of control it gave me with its sharpening tools options.

    I really enjoy using the feature where you can press ALT and get an instant grayscale of the image you are sharpening, giving you quick and extensive control over the sharpener. Plus the masking effects gives me yet another level of control that I haven't seen in ACR.

    Good stuff!

  2. Don't write off your PhotoKit Sharpener just yet. It seems that, to downsize very large image files for the Web, best results may be obtained by downsizing and sharpening in several steps. See this article:

    While Ms. Tucker works mainly with medium- and large-format digital capture, we can get some pretty large files from small format by stitching files together. I used this process for a panorama made up of about 5 exposures from a 21mp camera for my website, and it did seem to work better than just outputting straight from Lightroom in one step. I used the exact process Ms. Tucker recommends (i.e. sharpening with the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop). However, I think using PhotoKit Sharpener warrants some investigation for this process.

    Also, with Lightroom experiment with using the print sharpening for web output. I seem to get better results with this for some images (usually with the standard or low settings). However, this may depend on the equipment and processing one is using.

  3. I just apply a mild unsharp mask via step(s) in my Photoshop action that all RE images get run through. Quick, simple, effective.

  4. My normal process has always be a 2 step USM - one high radius low amount, then low radius and higher amount. Works very well, except that it can darken the darks a bit. The High Pass method works well with no darkening, but more steps involved. But still easy enough as an export droplet. To date, I myself have found the LR sharpening to be rather lacking. Maybe I am not doing it right.

  5. I technique within Photoshop I prefer over Unsharp Mask is to apply Filter/Other/Highpass of 3.0 pixels (number of pixels will vary depending on photo size). Then change Blend mode to Soft Light.

  6. What numbers do you guys use when sharpening in LR2? Is there a standard you use like in PShop? I PShop, I use 120, 1, 3. Lightroom has different parameters, so I haven't used it yet.... but would like to!

  7. I have tried various different things in LR and appied the export sharpen as well and when compared side by side with a 2 pass USM method, or a high pass sharpen method... just don't hold up

    i did down the trial of the Photokit sharpener, impressive results for one click processing. (so many options though)

    I think my fav method now is becoming the High Pass method, with a USM (radius about 1-1.5 amount from about 50-100) applied to the High Pass, then mix set to Hard Light at about 55-65%. I can action it and stop to tweak the settings as it goes. Not as fast as the Photokit, but produces really sharp web photos and no darkening like the USM method does

  8. Larry

    A pea in the pod. I do exactly what you do. I did pick up the Nik Sharpener Pro LR plugin, which I will use in some detail shots, or if I have something that I am prepping for large print.

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