Workflow: Less noise through sharpening with the adjustment brush tool


In the past I almost always sharpened the entire image. Sometimes right in Sigma Photo Pro (SPP), sometimes also in Lightroom after I’d developed the X3Fs and exported them as 16 bit TIFFs. However, since I started taking pictures of birds with the 150-600mm Contemporary lens, I’ve been sharpening increasingly with the adjustment brush tool in Lightroom. The reason for this is the short exposure times that are essential for shooting fast moving motifs without motion blur. Short exposure times also require higher sensitivity ranges, especially if the lens is relatively slow.

Ideally you’d want to use ISO100 with the SD1 Merrill in order to get a razor-sharp and noiseless picture. But as you often have to use ISO200 and ISO400, you want to avoid increasing noise any further with the sharpening at all costs. And this is exactly where the adjustment brush tool comes into play; by using it you can limit the sharpening to the image areas that will benefit from additional sharpness.

Now I would like to explain my workflow to you on the basis of the following image – which belongs to the sharper ones I’ve taken with the 150-600 C and the SD1M.

Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary & Sigma SD1 Merrill (volle Auflösung - full resolution)

First, I adjust the sharpness in SPP to the value -2.


After exporting the X3F as a 16 bit TIFF and importing it to Lightroom, I select the adjustment brush tool and paint over the bird or the image detail, respectively, that needs to be sharpened. You can click on the small button to have the repainted areas displayed in red.


However, I find it easier to increase the exposure value to, let’s say, +2, as the annoying click is no longer necessary and I can see each brush stroke right away. Once I’m done, I reset the exposure value to 0.


I’m using a sharpness value of 25, which, in my point of view, corresponds to the sharpness value of 0 in SPP.

Let’s now have a look at some 100% crops from the same photo which has been developed differently twice. On the left is the image file that was only sharpened with the adjustment brush tool in Lightroom (sharpness value: 25), on the right is the one only sharpened in SPP (sharpness value: 0).Vergleich-1


For a long time I’ve been looking at both images and wasn’t able to detect any difference with regards to sharpness. In both images the sparrow looks equally sharp. But in the second set of crops you can see the advantage of targeted sharpening. In the image file sharpened in SPP the sky is only a tiny little bit grainier, but the difference is more obvious in the darker areas of the image. That’s not “two worlds” apart, but why increase noise if it can be avoided? 😉

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