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Adding “Punch” to Your Images Using Clarity

When Adobe was developing the Clarity control, they had actually considered calling the slider “Punch,” because it adds midtone contrast to your photo, which makes it look, well...more punchy. It’s great for bringing out detail and texture, and as of Lightroom 4, you can use a lot more Clarity than you could in the past. If you used a lot before, you’d often get little dark halos around edge areas, but now you can crank it up, bringing in detail galore, without the ugly halos. Plus, the Clarity effect just plain looks better now in Lightroom!

Step One: Here’s the original photo, without any Clarity applied. This image is a perfect candidate for a lot of Clarity, because it works best on things that have a lot of texture and detail, and this image, with lots of detail in the building, is just begging for some Clarity. I apply between +25 and +50 Clarity to nearly every photo I process. For cityscapes, landscape photos, and anything with lots of detail, I crank it up even more. The only photos I don’t add Clarity to are ones you wouldn’t want to be punchy, or ones where you don’t want to accentuate the detail or texture (so, for a portrait of a mother and baby, or a close-up portrait of a woman, I don’t add any Clarity at all).

Step Two: To add more punch and midtone contrast to our image here, drag the Clarity slider quite a bit to the right (here, I dragged it to +80, which is higher than I could usually get away with back in Lightroom 3. But, like I said up top, you can now get away with a lot more). You can really see the effect of Clarity in the example here. Look at the sky and the added detail in the clouds, then look at the building—the detail is pumped up in all those areas.

Note: The improved Clarity slider does have one side effect (which I happen to like) and that is that it tends to brighten the areas it affects a bit, as well as just enhancing the detail.

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