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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Solutions: Clarity

This incredibly useful control helps close the gap between actual global contrast and apparent contrast in a photo

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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Figure 2a, Storm with 50% Clarity.

One of the more interesting challenges that the digital revolution brought home to nearly every photographer, both amateur and professional alike, is that with digital, you're now in control of your own image processing. And with power, comes responsibility!

Figure 2b, Storm with 0 Clarity.
Back in the days of film, the only control you had over the look of the finished product (when shooting in color, anyway) was in your choice of film type. Even then, you still had very little control over how contrast in the scene was rendered. Contrast in a color photograph could be modified using lighting (such as adding a fill light), but the actual contrast of the film was all but baked in during processing.

Photoshop has had a basic Contrast control from the beginning. But now we have much more sophisticated processing controls. Here, we look at one of those controls: Clarity in Lightroom and Camera Raw.

The Clarity control grew out of the fact that digital captures frequently lack "apparent" contrast. A digital photo can have perfectly respectable global contrast and still appear flat on the computer screen or in print, relative to the way our eye might respond to the scene in real life. The Clarity control closes this gap, by increasing (or decreasing) midtone contrast and edge definition.

What is edge definition? Edge definition is sometimes also called local contrast, so in many ways it's related to sharpening. Pushing up Clarity has the effect of enhancing overall apparent contrast, by increasing the contrast of image contours, or edges. This can be seen very clearly by creating a simple grayscale in Lightroom or Camera Raw, and pushing the Clarity control up and down.


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