We’ve all been there — a photo looks great on the back of the camera, but when you load it on a larger screen, you discover it is just a hair out-of-focus. There are several tools out there to sharpen images and bring back the appearance of detail, but in my opinion, none of them work as well as Topaz Sharpen AI.
Using Topaz Sharpen AI as a Lightroom Classic plugin
Lightroom Classic is my home base, and the tool I use most often for opening and editing raw files. I do as much work as possible in Lightroom and branch out to Photoshop or other plugins when necessary for creative editing and/or problem-solving.
For this photo, I made tonal and color adjustments in Lightroom and am happy with the overall results, but when I zoom in for a closer look, the details are soft and undefined.
PRO TIP: Turn off Sharpening in Lightroom before invoking the Topaz Sharpen AI Plugin. Sharpening twice (i.e. in Lightroom and again in Topaz Sharpen AI) can cause undesirable artifacts.
In Lightroom Classic, go to Photo > Edit In > Topaz Sharpen AI.
Select Edit a copy with Lightroom adjustments along with the following settings:
- File Format: TIFF
- Color Space: Pro Photo RGB
- Bit Depth: 16 bits
- Resolution: 300
- Compression: None
When Topaz Sharpen AI launches, ensure that the auto AI settings are enabled and take a close look at the before/after results at a minimum of 100% zoom.
While the initial results are a marked improvement, they go a bit too far for my taste. Open up the Sharpen Model menu and audition a few other options. Topaz Sharpen AI typically does a good job at selecting the right type of blur, but I usually prefer a less-extreme version. For this photo, Motion Blur – Normal looks more natural and realistic than the automatically selected Motion Blur – Very Blurry.
Next, we’ll refine the results by expanding the Model Parameters menu. Increasing the Remove Blur and Suppress Noise sliders, makes a substantial improvement in the overall clarity.
Select and Post Processing options
Topaz Sharpen AI offers a few other options to ensure the best possible results. Select allows you to apply the sharpening effect to a localized area of the photograph and Post Processing gives the option to add back in grain. I rarely use either of these options, but they can be helpful from time to time.
PRO TIP: Before clicking the Apply button, pan around the image to ensure that there are no visible artifacts from over-sharpening. If you locate issues, use the Select tool to reduce or remove the sharpening from the affected area.
Apply Topaz Sharpen AI and examine the results
Once you’re satisfied with the sharpness, click the Apply button to return to Lightroom Classic.
From Lightroom’s Library view, select the before and after images, then click the X/Y Comparison view, and zoom in the examine the details. The details in the “after” image are well defined and pleasing.
The key to effectively using Topaz Sharpen AI is to allow time to refine the results. The AI-suggested initial settings made a big difference but were too aggressive and when examined closely, looked artificial. Getting natural sharpening, without artifacts is worth the extra time to try a few different settings.
Topaz Sharpen AI is an invaluable addition to my processing toolbox. I don’t need it for every photo, but it does an amazing job for those cases that require a little extra attention.