Adding and removing contrast with the Clarity tool

The Clarity tool can be used to add or remove contrast to both large- and small-scale areas to either make images 'pop', or used to smooth-out textures, such as unwanted wrinkles and large pores from expanses of skin.

An overview of the clarity tool

The Clarity tool consists of four different methods and two adjustment sliders that can be used to add or remove what is termed collectively as local contrast in images. It is particularly useful for making contrast corrections after using the High Dynamic Range tool, and can also be used for more specialist applications such as diminishing the effect of lens diffraction and for softening skin.

The Clarity Tool has four styles or methods for applying local contrast: Natural, Punch, Neutral and Classic. The method selected affects both the Clarity and Structure sliders, however the difference on the latter can be particularly subtle depending on the image content.

The two sliders work similiarly by altering the appearance of the transition between light and dark edges, however they differ by the scale of the transition they affect. The difference in contrast of larger-scale transitions or regions can be altered using the Clarity slider. Positive values increase contrast and can be used to reduce the softening effect of haze in images, for example. Negative values can be selected to lower contrast and smooth out or soften unwanted detail that can be useful in portrait images.

The Structure slider is used to alter the contrast between increasingly smaller-scale areas, where transitions have only slightly different tonal values. Therefore, it has a particularly noticeable effect on images that feature very fine detail, such as fine branches, foliage, grass, fabric and textiles. This adjustment slider can also be used to mitigate the image softening effects from lens diffraction.

Although it is intended that you select the method first, and then adjust one or both of the sliders depending on the effect you want to achieve, there’s no reason why you can’t switch between methods after adjusting a slider to see the effect on the image. Care should be taken to avoid excessive adjustment, which can lead to clipping and to harsh and artificial-looking images. Fine-tuning with small adjustments and keeping to low values can greatly improve the look and percieved sharpness of the image.

Adjusting local contrast in images

  1. Go to the Exposure inspector.
  2. From the Clarity tool, go to Method and choose from one of the following:
    • Natural: This method applies milder local contrast than either the Punch or Neutral options and avoids false colors and clipped highlights. Low negative values may be used for softening portraits.
    • Punch: Adds higher values of local contrast than Natural or Classic methods and increases saturation slightly, however if applied heavily some highlight clipping may occur. Positive values using this method work well with landscapes.
    • Neutral: This method adds the same level of local contrast as Punch, however saturation remains unaltered. When applying heavy contrast corrections the Neutral method usually works best, resulting in a more realistic and pleasing effect. 
    • Classic: The Classic option introduced in Capture One Pro 6 applies the mildest local contrast without increasing saturation. This method preserves highlight detail better than the Punch and Neutral options. Positive values using the Classic setting work well with architecture and on images with a degree of haze. Low negative values of Clarity may be used for softening portraits.
  3. Adjust the Clarity amount slider as necessary. Positive values increase mid-tone contrast whereas negative values lower it, producing a progressively softer look.
  4. Zoom the image to 100% in the Viewer or the Focus window to help in choosing the preferred Clarity method type and whether the Structure adjustment is required.
  5. The Structure slider enhances texture when positive values are applied. Edging the slider to the left into negative values has a more moderate softening effect than the Clarity amount slider.

Removing haze from images

You can reduce the effects of atmospheric haze to significantly improve an image using the Clarity tool. When you want to preserve highlight detail select either the Natural or Classic modes initially, as these are the most effective. In addition, the Classic mode doesn’t increase saturation like the others.

Before using the Clarity tool, it is a good idea to make a white-balance correction or go to the Levels tool and perform an Auto Levels adjustment, preferably using the individual Red, Green and Blue Channel mode to set black and white points and perform a color correction.

The Structure slider is unlikely to make any enhancements, however it does depend on the severity of the haze. Enhancements may be visible in more detailed images with low levels of haze.

If you want to creatively add haze, move the Clarity slider (and Structure slider, as an option) to the left using small increments and keep to low values. 

  1. Select the image in the browser.
  2. Go to the Clarity tool.
  3. From the Method drop-down menu select either Natural or Classic.
  4. Drag the Clarity slider to the right, while observing the effect in the viewer. With more extreme adjustments zoom to 100% to check for haloing and other unwelcome artifacts in backgrounds, and enable the Exposure Warning and check highlights.
  5. Optional. Move the Structure slider to the right, while observing the effect in the viewer. With extreme adjustments, zoom to 100% and check both highlights and shadows for clipping.

Softening skin in portraits

The Clarity tool can be used to good effect when softening the texture of skin in portraits is required. To prevent the effect elsewhere in the image, particularly with backgrounds and highly textured clothing, brush the effect in using a layers adjustment. Some trial and error is required with the settings, depending on the desired effect. Natural or Classic method options are a good place to start, and although there may be some fine tuning to make using the Structure slider, it is the Clarity slider that has the most significant effect. Avoid excessive slider adjustment, otherwise the Clarity tool may produce skin texture with an unnaturally smooth and plasticky appearance.

When the desired balance has been achieved you can save the settings as a single User Preset. Note that, when using the Clarity tool it makes sense to create a small library of User Presets, as the fast rendering between them on-screen is well-suited to displaying the subtle differences between the different settings.

If a layer mask has been made on an image, set the sliders to desired values and then switch between the method options to gauge the effect of each. Use the clone variant option to make a variant group, then use the compare variant option as the favorite to compare each one before saving the tool’s settings as a user preset.

  1. Select the image in the browser.
  2. Go the Layers tool.
  3. Select the Draw Mask from the foot bar menu, or select the brush (B) and draw over the skin areas. Consider avoiding or removing the mask around eyes and lips.
  4. Go to the Clarity tool.
  5. From the Method drop-down menu select either Natural or Classic.
  6. Drag the Clarity slider to the left keeping to low values while observing the effect on skin texture in the viewer. Avoid extreme adjustments. Zoom to 100% to check for unwelcome artifacts in backgrounds and enable the Exposure Warning and check highlights.
  7. Optional. Drag the Structure slider to the left in small increments, keeping to low values, while observing the effect on detailed areas particularly eyelashes, eyebrows and the iris, if included in the layer mask. Avoid extreme adjustments and check both highlights and shadows for potential clipping.

Improving loss of sharpness from diffraction

Diffraction is a lens aberration that increases upon stopping down leading to a loss of definition, with at first a loss of contrast and then a loss of resolution. The Clarity tool can be used to reduce these effects by increasing contrast and the perceived sharpness.

The selection of the Method and Slider choice is determined by the image content and creative intent, however, in general terms, you can adopt the Natural method and Clarity slider combination for a low amount of large-scale contrast where diffraction is just visible at mid apertures, for example. With small apertures where the blurring effects of diffraction are more visible, use the Natural or Neutral and Structure slider combination to apply a higher amount of small-scale contrast.

  1. Select the image in the browser.
  2. Go to the Clarity tool.
  3. Select Natural method and Clarity slider combination when a slight loss of contrast is noticed (mild diffraction), or adopt Natural or Neutral and Structure combination when a more noticeable loss of sharpness is detected.
  4. Depending on the choice above, drag the Clarity/Structure slider to the right, keeping to low values initially, while observing the effect in the viewer. With more extreme adjustments zoom to 100% to check for haloing and other unwelcome artifacts in backgrounds, and enable the Exposure Warning and check highlight areas.

Adding user presets

When using the Clarity tool it makes sense to create a small library of User Presets, as the fast rendering between them on-screen is well-suited to displaying the subtle differences between the different settings. If a large library is required, create a folder for each of the four methods, and save the presets with incremental slider adjustments (and then, as they're in a flat-list, you can apply and see the effects quickly by scrolling over them). 

  1. Select an image from the Browser.
  2. Go to the Clarity tool and make the desired adjustments using the Method, and Clarity and Structure sliders.
  3. From the Clarity tool's Manage menu (hamburger icon) select Save User Preset... from the menu. The Save Preset dialog window opens.
  4. Add checkmarks next to Clarity and Structure, as desired, and select Save, or Cancel to dismiss.
  5. If you selected Save, a system dialog opens. 
  6. Give the preset a relevant Name, such as Neutral_Clarity_30_Structure_30 and select Save.
  7. Optional. If preparing a library, select New Folder and name it using the selected Method, such as Neutral, and then name the preset Clarity_30_Structure_30 and select Save.

Selecting user presets

Like all User Presets in Capture One, they’re accessed via the individual tools’ Manage Presets menu (hamburger icon) in the title bar, or from the Styles and Presets tool. User Presets made by the Clarity tool can also be applied from the Layers tool when localized application is required.