When and How to Use Texture vs Clarity in Lightroom / ACR

Adobe just added the first new slider to Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW in years, the “texture” slider. It’s an incredible new tool for enhancing small details and apparent sharpness in your images, with minimal halos or other drawbacks. In this tutorial, you’ll see an in-depth overview of what it can do for your photos and how it compares to the clarity slider.

If you’d like to experiment a bit further with the test pattern used in this tutorial, you can download it here.

 

Texture

This tool does a pretty good job of doing what you would expect: enhancing or diminishing texture (since you can make positive or negative adjustments). When you slide right to increase texture, it can be great for enhancing small details like grains of sand, leaves on trees, or the edges of windows on buildings. When you slide it to the left to decrease texture, it can be used diminish the same sorts of textures when they are distracting. It could be used to diminish unwanted textures on smooth surfaces like a metal building. And it appears to be a great tool for smoothing skin when used this way (professional retouchers should continue using more complicated techniques in Photoshop for the ultimate results, but this is an awesome new way to smooth skin quickly right inside Lightroom and I’m sure will be greatly appreciated by many wedding and family photographers who shoot a large number of images).
The texture slider works by increasing contrast of relatively small-sized (relatively high-frequency) details. But unlike sharpening, it avoids sharpening the edges of larger subjects or noise. This helps avoid creating halos and minimizes unwanted noise (both are still possible, just much less problematic). And unlike clarity, it does not wash out bright colors.
Tips to get the most out of the texture slider:
  • It works best when applied locally with an adjustment brush in LR or a layer mask in Photoshop. If noise is a concern, check the details when using around smooth subjects like flat water or blue sky.
  • Try using 20 luminance noise reduction if you need to offset any unwanted noise created by the texture slider.
  • It also adds a bit of saturation, so you may wish to use -5 to -10 saturation or use it on a separate layer set to luminosity blend mode if you prefer more neutral color treatment in the image.
  • Just like deconvolution sharpening, it is best applied on the original file before enlarging or shrinking it to avoid unwanted artifacts. There are some minor differences in the results when texture is applied at the RAW stage vs later, so you may wish to do this on the RAW file (though the differences are pretty small and I wouldn’t worry about this much).
  • If you are using negative texture for skin smoothing, be sure to zoom in and check the details. It does a pretty good job of not softening hair, eye lashes and eyes – but it does have some softening effect that you need to avoid through local use of the tool.

 

Clarity

Clarity is one of the most used (and over-used) tools in Lightroom, yet also one of the least understood. It has the effect of increasing larger details than those affected by texture, which means that it is still very complimentary to the new texture slider. One does not replace the other. It helps to understand the tool a bit to know how they interact.

You may have heard that it works by “increasing midtone contrast”. While that is true, there is much more to it. It has a large effect on edge sharpness, which often causes unwanted halos such as when darker foreground elements like trees and buildings touch a bright sky. It tends to wash out bright colors quite a bit in the small details. It can push the shadows strongly towards black. And it can increase noise in smooth areas under many  conditions.

With all those potential issues, you ask why not just use the texture slider instead. They work on different sized details in the image, so clarity can enhance many details that texture may leave alone. And because clarity is different, sometimes it works better on the same areas that can be targeted with the texture slider. I recommend using both, and playing a bit to find the best combination of the two.

Tips to get the most out of the clarity slider:
  • Like texture, it works best when applied locally with an adjustment brush in LR or a layer mask in Photoshop. It is best to avoid using it on smooth subjects like flat water or blue sky, where the result is mostly the addition of noise. And be very careful around high contrast edges, where halos may occur.
  • Try using 20 luminance noise reduction if you need to offset any unwanted noise created by the clarity slider.
  • Try adding +20 to +50 shadows to offset dark shadows created by clarity.
  • If you see bright colors getting washed out, luminosity blend mode and saturation adjustments won’t help. Instead, try applying clarity on the RAW data rather than via the Camera RAW Filter, as this is less of an issue when working on the RAW data. Check out my tutorial on common misconceptions about RAW Smart Objects if you have any questions about the difference between working on RAW data and working with the RAW filter.
  • Check the details thoroughly around hard edges like trees and buildings to look for bright white halos. Because the appearance of this artifact can vary quite a bit, you should check the entire high contrast edge. You may find one set of buildings is fine, and then the next show halos.

 

Sharpening, Texture, and Clarity: Putting it all together

Sharpening, Texture, and Clarity are all designed to give your images enhanced detail. None is necessarily better than the others, they all play different and important roles. I recommend using LR/ACR for capture sharpening (see my deconvolution sharpening tutorial), and Photoshop for other forms of creative or output sharpening. If you are using that approach, then deconvolution sharpening should be used first to help offset sharpness lost during capture. Once you have done that, you may then apply texture and clarity. Because texture has fewer downsides, I would try applying that first and then adjust clarity as needed. Then you may finally make some small tweaks to any of these sliders if desired to optimize the results.


See the store page for Lumenzia and course info.
See licensing for Commercial and Creative Commons (Non-Commercial, Attribution) Licensing terms.
Join my affiliate program.
See my ethics and privacy statement.