The Clarity tool is a great addition to Lightroom 1.1. It’s become one of my favorite tools to use as it gives just the contrast bump that I’m typically looking for in an image. Most of the time, it gives just the right amount of pop and I’ve found that nearly all of my images benefit from some amount of its use. And, it’s surprising how many images I have that can tolerate a heavy application of the tool.
I’ve started running into a few cases, however, where the Clarity tool can give a bit too much pop or even the wrong kind of pop if used at too high a setting. So far, I’ve noticed this mostly on edges where there’s a very strong white edge against a medium toned background and the edge is very sharp. In these cases, I’ve found that it doesn’t take too much Clarity to produce an unnatural looking effect.
To illustrate this effect, here’s a crop of an image I ran into this on in the last few days. On the left hand side, the Clarity tool is set to 0. On the right, the tool is set to 100.
At intermediate settings, of course, the effect isn’t as pronounced, but even at reasonable Clarity settings of 30 or so, the effect is still overdone against this particular edge. What’s happening here is that Clarity works as a local contrast enhancement tool. When applied to images with certain high-contrast edges, the visual effect really goes into overdrive and throws a distinct shading against the bright white edge.
For these kinds of situations, the answer is to use very little Clarity, or even none at all. The Adobe Lightroom 1.1 Readme file says it best:
Clarity adds depth to an image by increasing local contrast. When using this setting, it is best to zoom in to 100% or greater. To maximize the effect, increase the setting until you see halos near the edge details of the image, and then reduce the setting slightly.
Of course, I had read that as I was downloading Lightroom 1.1, but it makes ever so much more sense now that I’ve seen a case where the tool can really produce interesting but unwanted effects.