The Lightroom Clarity slider adds a powerful localised contrast effect that can work well on colour shots, but really comes into its own with black and white. It recaptures the some of the punchiness of old black and white films without pushing the overall contrast out of control.

Lightroom Clarity slider

Here’s an example. I took this black and white shot on the coast where I live and the original shot is a little underexposed and flat-looking. That’s not a problem – at least I’ve got a full range of tones to work with.

Lightroom Clarity slider

Now I’ve done everything possible to give it some grit and drama in Lightroom. I’ve increased the contrast, added a graduated filter effect to darken the sky and adjusted the exposure to maximise the range of tones… but it’s still not quite enough.

Lightroom Clarity slider

This is where the Clarity slider makes all the difference. You can use intermediate values if you want a little more subtlety, but I’ve gone straight up to 100%.

Lightroom Clarity slider

Here’s a side-by-side comparison. It’s not so obvious at this size, but if you click this image you’ll see a larger version. Better still, try it out on some of your own images.

So why did old black and white film have this ‘look’ when digital images don’t? I think it may be the way film developers used to work. You’d normally agitate your development tank every thirty seconds or so, but in between the developer will become exhausted more quickly in heavily exposed areas than in less exposed areas alongside. This produces its own localised contrast effect which Lightroom is now able to replicate.

Of course, that’s just a theory.

See also