Most photographers tend to use the clarity slider to make images look sharper, but they rarely bring it the opposite direction. Clarity can make images appear sharper by boosting the mid tones and making the micro-levels of blacks in the scene look deeper. Therefore, it tricks your eyes into thinking the scene is sharper than it really is. We’ve written about this previously. However, doing the reverse can also make skin look softer than the camera has made it look before. We’d know; we’ve tested it!
For reference, we do this in Capture One. Lightroom is fun, but Capture One is the superior editing software.
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The Clarity Slider vs. The Sharpness Slider
Lots of folks don’t necessarily know what the clarity slider is and how it differentiates from the sharpness slider. One controls details and the other controls tonal areas. The sharpness slider makes images look sharper by increasing the details of what you see in the scene. But the clarity slider does it by manipulating the mid-tone area. In film photography, it’s the difference between Kodak Tri-X and Lomography’s Lady Gray Film. Not to mention that your lenses will help with this too. Some of the lenses are more high contrast, and therefore look sharper. It’s one of reasons why folks like the look of older lenses.
If you’re a Fujifilm X series shooter, consider how the classic Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 R renders photos compared to the Fujifilm 33mm f1.4 R WR.
Increasing the clarity in an image increases the mid-tones. Decreasing it decreases those more pronounced mid-tones and therefore makes skin look softer. This is a huge help when it comes to working with Sony or Sigma’s very clinical lenses. But it can also help when shooting with something like Canon L lenses and an off-camera flash. Off-camera flash delivers specular highlights and details you haven’t seen before.
Bring Back Details Using Color Sliders and Contrast
One of the problems that decreasing clarity creates is a loss of detail and sometimes skin not look so great. You can bring those details back by working with the color channels and contrast in the scene. This also means that you need to tweak the white balance because it affects so many global parameters. It can be the difference between whether your blue slider will be effective or not.
Of course, all this can be done with masks as well. But why bother? If you’ve got great white balance settings, you can just work with the sliders and do minimal post-production.
The In-Camera Alternative
Does all this sound too complicated? Well, there are in-camera alternatives. There are Pro Mist Filters from Tiffen, Glimmer Glass, and a bunch of other lens filters that provide halation and softening effects.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t mind the fact that our pores are visible in the photos we make. That’s one of the reasons why so many photographers love the look of film. While film can be very detailed, it’s often not from the combination of resolution, science of how light hits film, and the lenses used.
What you should also know is that a lot of cameras have an in-camera skin softening effect. Lots of Fujifilm and Sony cameras have it. This also makes shooting portraits a easier because it’s a major complaint of lots of clients. What’s more, Fujifilm does this while applying the skin softening to the RAW files.
Consider whether you want to mess with the clarity much or if you think you can just deal with that problem in-camera. And most of all, don’t lose your creative vision.