Clarity vs. Sharpening in Lightroom

Written by:

One of the last steps that we perform in post-processing is sharpening our photos. I find myself to be a greater fan of “clarity” when post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 (or Lightroom 3), and apply it with a more liberal hand than I apply sharpening. But what is the difference between clarity and sharpening?

I’ve written about sharpening before. In a nutshell, Lightroom and other post-processing programs determine the where the edge lines are in the photograph by looking at the demarcation between lines of light pixels and lines of dark pixels. Sharpening is achieved by lightening the pixels next to the light lines, and darkening the pixels next to the dark lines. This creates greater definition along the edges of the subjects and details in the photograph, which translate into a sharper images as seen by our eyes.

Clarity adds mid-tone contrast to the photograph, which results in an emphasis on textures and details. It also results in adding much less noise to the photo than would occur when using the sharpening slider. It’s easier to demonstrate than to explain, so take a look at these photos (click on any of them to view larger versions).

This is a photograph of MotoGP rider Jorge Lorenzo at the Indianapolis MotoGP this past August. This is SOOC, with the exception of some cropping.

LorenzoSOOC

Zoomed in, in Lightroom:

zeroclarity

This is the same photo, with the Clarity slider cranked up to 100:

Lorenzo100clarity

Zoomed in, and note the difference in the Histogram:

100clarity

Here’s before and after again, side-by-side – notice in particular the change in detail on the helmet and in the grass:

LorenzoSOOCLorenzo100clarity

The photos above demonstrate that a subtle effect can be achieved, even when clarity is “cranked up”, because there isn’t a lot of texture in the shot. The photos below of mountains in the Snowy Range of Wyoming have a lot of texture and therefore achieve a dramatic effect when clarity is applied. The first shot is straight-out-of-camera, and the second shot is with clarity at 100%:

snowyrangesoocsnowyrange100clarity

In both instances, I would probably use a clarity level of about 50 rather than slamming the slider all the way to the right. I do really like the effect, and I like having another option to add distinctness to my photos.

Do you have any questions or advice to share? Let us know in the comments below, or add a post on our Facebook Page.

All photos copyright Tiffany Joyce.

Previous Post:

  • Dennis

    Yes, dialing in a bit of contrast, however the method, can result in an improved image. I often use tonal contrast in Nik. It can be helpful to apply the contrast boost (or reduction) selectively to certain areas of the image to achieve a desire effect.

  • Dennis

    Yes, dialing in a bit of contrast, however the method, can result in an improved image. I often use tonal contrast in Nik. It can be helpful to apply the contrast boost (or reduction) selectively to certain areas of the image to achieve a desire effect.

  • http://www.robertlowdon.com/ Robert Lowdon

    I’m a big fan of the clarity slider in Raw. Is it just me or does CS6 just work that much better than previous versions?