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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 and it’s a perfect candidate for adding Clarity because Clarity brings out detail in your image (what it actually does is increases midtone contrast, but that has the effect of enhancing detail). So, when I see an image with lots of texture and detail I want to enhance, I grab the Clarity slider. Which kinds of shots work best with Clarity? Usually anything with wood (from churches to old country barns), landscape shots (because they generally have so much detail), cityscapes (buildings love clarity, so does anything glass or metal), or basically anything with lots of intricate detail (even an old man’s craggy face looks great with some Clarity). I don’t add Clarity to photos where you wouldn’t want to accentuate detail or texture (like a portrait of a mother and baby, or a close-up portrait of a woman).

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 +76 and you can really see the effect. Look at the added detail in the rocks and the ground. If you drag too far in some photos, you might start to see a black glow appear around the edges. If that happens, back it off a bit until the glow goes away.

Note: The 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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