Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sharpening vs Clarity

Thanks Gary!

I asked a similar question of a speaker at NECCC.  Here is a good explanation of the difference between Sharpening (the last thing you should probably do before saving an image you are finished post processing) and Clarity, which acts a bit like sharpening but is applied at the beginning of the RAW conversion process, in either ACR or LR........
Today's Question

I keep hearing you talk about sharpening a photo, but you always say "apply just a little bit" or "then just add a tiny bit of sharpening". I do a lot of landscape photography, and I find that applying sharpening in Lightroom has a really nice effect - it seems to improve the photo by bringing out details that might otherwise have been hidden or even sort of blurry. And when I apply it, I apply a bunch, but frankly it doesn't seem to make much difference whether I put on 20% or I put on 80%, so I tend to put it between 60-80%.

Am I causing any issues that maybe I'm not seeing?
Tim's Answer:
Actually, it sounds like the issue here isn't exactly sharpening, but rather the Clarity adjustment.

When I refer to sharpening "just a little bit", I'm referring to the actual Sharpening adjustment, which includes settings for Amount, Radius, Detail, and Masking. The most important consideration when it comes to not applying too much sharpening is to make sure the Radius isn't set too high. Lightroom (and by extension Adobe Camera Raw) help ensure you won't take this setting too high by limiting the adjustment to a maximum of three pixels. The second most important setting is Amount, which you will generally want to be kept at or below around 100, though the exact setting will vary based on the image and the Radius setting.

The primary risk of over-sharpening (besides an image that looks over-sharpened in general) is the appearance of halos along contrast edges in the photo. Those halos are an obvious indication that too much sharpening was applied, and generally cause the image to stand out as lacking in overall quality.

The Clarity adjustment is similar in overall concept to sharpening, but different in some very important ways. You can think of Clarity as producing an effect similar to sharpening with a very low Amount value and a high Radius setting (assuming a positive value for Clarity, of course). In other words, you are enhancing overall contrast and detail in the image without much (if any) risk of creating halos. The result is a reduction of haze in the photo, as well as an improvement in overall perceived detail, contrast, and sharpness.

The primary risk of using a value for Clarity that is too high is an image that appears to have too much overall contrast and a look that is perhaps a little too "moody". At times you may find that you get a little acclimated to the look of an image with a high Clarity adjustment applied, causing you to tend toward a value that is too high. This is similar to the issue many photographers face when applying a Saturation adjustment that is too strong.

The bottom line is that I don't consider there to be much risk of using a strong Clarity adjustment, provided you're happy with the way the image looks after applying that adjustment. So, carefully evaluate the result, but if you're happy with that adjustment there's no reason not to apply it. Make sure the image looks the way you want it too, and that there aren't any areas of excessive contrast or perceived halos, and otherwise you're in good shape.

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