How To Use Lightroom Clarity For Enhancing Detail Or For Retouching Skin
Previously, we covered Clarity vs. Texture. Both are slightly different in how they apply "sharpening."
Today, I'd like to share more information about the Clarity slider in Lightroom Classic, Lightroom CC, or Adobe Camera Raw to emphasize details.
Oh, and how it appears to be adding sharpening and contrast. Plus, I’ve included a photo or two on how I use Clarity to retouch skin!
I've included some photos of what happens when Clarity is over-done and how I use Clarity sparingly for the best results.
Table of Contents
Lightroom Clarity Slider... What Does It Do?
Clarity sometimes gets confused with sharpening and contrast. This is due to what Clarity does to your image when applied.
It gives the impression that you're sharpening your image… in a way it is.
This also gives the illusion that contrast is being bumped too.
How Clarity is applied is different vs. the contrast slider and the sharpening tools in the Details Panel.
Both the contrast slider and sharpening tools affect the entire image.
Or the entire tonal range from the shadows, mid-tones, and highlights.
When it comes to Clarity it's not being applied to the entire tonal range. Instead, it's focusing only on the mid-tones of your image.
This gives an appearance of sharpening because it's adding that contrast along the edges of the tones.
By moving the Clarity slider to the right, you increase the contrast. To the left, it's decreased. Decreasing makes the image look softer.
Clarity Slider… To Use Or Not To Use?
Clarity is one of the most used tools in Lightroom. I'd also argue that it is over-used too!
Add too much, and your image will look fake. The same can be said for decreasing it too much.
How much I use Clarity depends on the image. I'll use it less for people vs. landscapes, for example.
Often I prefer to control precisely where it is applied by using an adjustment brush.
In the next few sections, I'll share some images to show how it can be overused, how I use it, and additional pro tips.
Clarity For Portraits
You can easily over-edit your images of people by adding too much Clarity. Or reducing too much trying to retouch skin.
I recommend using Clarity sparingly for either type of edit when it comes to people. Let's look at some extreme examples of what not to do.
Here's a prime example of adding too much Clarity...
When it comes to portraits, I tend to add, at most, +10 Clarity. Usually, I'll dial in between 3 to +7 if it’s a global edit. If any at all.
Most of the time, I'll use an adjustment brush to precisely control where I want detail and texture enhanced.
For example, in this next photo, the eyelashes were enhanced with a Clarity brush set at +39.
Then, I selected a “new” brush for the brows with +33 Clarity.
Too Much Clarity Reduction
Reducing Clarity too much to retouch skin will make people look like mannequins.
If I choose to smooth skin, I'll keep it minimal… around -5 to -30 and apply with a brush.
For this image, I applied -100 Clarity globally. Which is way too much! Wouldn't you agree?
This next image I smoothed only the skin by using an adjustment brush with Clarity set to -30.
An overlay mask is added automatically when you brush on an edit. It's hidden though. To view it, make sure the pin is selected and press the letter "O." Press again to hide it.
If you want to add a grunge effect to a photo, max out Clarity globally. You could also apply more Clarity with a brush adjustment.
This style works well on black and white photography, especially of older people. But, then again, it depends on your style preference.
For this image, it’s more of an antique finish vs. b&w. I applied a Clarity brush of +50 to emphasize the details of his face and beard.
Clarity For Landscapes
For landscape photography, I tend to add more Clarity vs. other types of photography.
It's a personal preference. You'll have to experiment with your photos to decide what's best for your photo (s).
Make It Pop
Adding contrast via Clarity can make a photo pop. Too much though might be overkill. It all depends on the image and your creative vision for the final edit.
Clarity is a useful tool for creating different styles, enhancing detail, or smoothing it for retouching.
But, as you saw in some photos, it can be overused with disastrous results. Experiment with Clarity on your photos to decide what levels of intensity you prefer.
Here are some more Lightroom articles to help you continue growing as an editor in Lightroom + ACR…
Lightroom Texture Slider
Lightroom for beginners
Photoshop for beginners
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