The technical explanation of Lightroom’s Clarity slider is that it increases localised contrast to make objects, shapes and outlines stand out more clearly. The pictorial effect is that your images gain extra ‘punch’, but without pushing the overall contrast levels too high. It’s especially effective when the lighting is quite flat and lifeless, and I’m going to use it on this shot I took during an early-morning dog walk one autumn.
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The frost on the grass, the early morning light and the faint pink tinge in the sky made a wonderful picture… or at least they would have done if the camera had recorded the scene the way I saw it with the naked eye. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the image captured by the camera is a bit dull and lifeless.
01 Brightening the Shadows
I can see one problem coming straight away. The sky is a lot brighter than the frosty foreground, so I’ll start by pushing Lightroom 5’s Shadows slider to the right to brighten up the darker areas.
02 Toning down the Highlights
I’ll also push the Highlights slider to the left. This will reduce the brightness of the sky and help bring out the subtle pink tone of the original scene.
03 Increasing the Vibrance
The pink still isn’t very obvious, though, so I’ll push the Vibrance slider way over to the right. The Vibrance slider works slightly differently to the Saturation slider, boosting weaker colours first and applying less of a colour boost to strong colours to reduce the risk of colour ‘clipping’.
04 Increasing the Clarity
This is the key control. If I push the Clarity slider way over to the right, the objects in the picture become much more clearly defined. It’s not the same as simply increasing the overall contrast, since this would push the highlights and shadows in the picture off the scale and lose all that lovely detail. Increasing the Clarity does tend to reduce colour saturation, which is one reason why I increased the Vibrance beforehand. But this reduction in colour can be very effective for some subjects, such as gritty urban landscapes.
05 The end result
The colours in the final picture are slightly exaggerated just to make the difference clear, and if I was going to hang this picture on my wall I’d probably tone them down a little. But I’ve done it this way to demonstrate the strength and effectiveness of Lightroom’s Clarity tool, and just how much difference it can make to flat-looking pictures.
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