Last Updated: July 8, 2014
When it comes to sharpening and improving contrast in your images to give them a little more ‘pop’, there are a number of options available to us. Once of those is the Clarity slider in Lightroom. I use this on quite a few of my images, but it can be a misunderstood tool, so hopefully this tutorial will clear a few things up.
What is the clarity slider?
The clarity slider in Lightroom primarily boosts local contrast and detail in the midtones of your image. It is more of a detail enhancer, as opposed to a more traditional sharpening tool. As such, it benefits some types of images more than others (depending on how much detail you have in your image).
To clarify (pardon the pun), I use the clarity slider a lot as I mainly shoot landscapes and urban photography; generally scenes with a lot of detail. If I was a portrait photographer, I wouldn’t use the clarity slider so much, as it can be a little harsh and unforgiving on faces and flat backgrounds, so you’d probably be better off using regular sharpening tools.
Where is the clarity slider?
The clarity slider is located in the basic adjustments panel in Lightroom, right above the Vibrance and Saturation sliders in the Presence area (shown and highlighted in red below).
The clarity slider in practice
In this first example is a seascape shot I captured at golden hour in Cornwall, England this year. This was a 1.6 second exposure, which gives some movement and a little drama to the water. Below is the shot with no clarity applied at all (set at 0).
Next is the image with the clarity slider maxed out to 100, you can see the detail and drama is greatly increased in the sea and rocks, and also note the impact it’s given areas of the sky.
Please note that I would never use the slider all the way to 100, I’m just showing exactly what the effects are of this tool are. In general I never go beyond around +60, as edges can become too harsh, and you can suffer from halos around certain objects in your image (particularly if they have a plain/flat background).
In this second example is a street scene I captured in Shoreditch, East London. Below is the image with no clarity applied.
Then below is with +50 clarity applied, you can see nice details in the bricks in the wall, particularly in the edges — and the whole shot just has a little more impact.
I should point out that you can input negative values with the clarity slider, this of course reduces local detail and contrast, and produces a watercolor-like effect, I don’t particularly like this style, so I very rarely use any negative values.
You also don’t have to apply the clarity slider globally (across your entire image), you can use it via the adjustment brush or radial filter for more localised adjustments.
I really like the Clarity Slider in Lightroom, I gives an effect pretty similar to the Tonal Contrast Filter in Color Efex Pro, maybe it isn’t quite as good as that, but it is a lot faster to use, so for quick global edits I now use it all the time.