Is Clarity the new HDR: Overdone and Abused?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by al_derickson, May 15, 2014.

  1. I was just looking at some wildlife photos posted by a professional on a blog about a travel seminar. It seemed like the clarity slider had been turned up to the point where feathers looked brittle, fur looked like wire and skin looked like sandpaper. I've even seen it overdone in news photos. Yeah, I can see enhancing micro-contrast a tad but it appears a lot of photographers are just automatically cranking it up. Feathers should look soft. Shadows should hide some detail. What do you think?
  2. I am seeing this on landscape work as well. On Facebook, I subscribe to various of bodies of work by local photographers, a lot of it being landscape. What I see are increasingly HDR and overtly sharpened images. Sometimes, it could be Jpeg artefacts but the guys whose work I see are excellent postprocessors in terms of using lightroom and photoshop.
  3. I am not sure that I would use the word "clarity." (Is there a "clarity" slider on PS?)
    I think that you are referring to "over-sharpening," which predates HDR and in any case is definitely not a new tendency. I think that the key to avoiding over-sharpening is not to use sharpening at all, including unsharp mask. If one must use unsharp mask, at least also reduce the radius and not merely the quantity.
    My default sharpening using unsharp mask has settings of quantity = 50, radius = 0.3, and threshold 0. If I have to turn it up more in terms of quantity, I can get away with it at radius = 0.3 better than I can with radius set at 1.
    I have seen good results where people use very different settings; but, if I can tell it's been sharpened, then it is too sharp for me.
  4. There is a 'clarity' slider in ACR
    The same old rule applies, as to every adjustment, unless you are trying for excess:
    If you can tell it's been done, it's been done too much.​
  5. pge


    (Is there a "clarity" slider on PS?)​
    There is a clarity slider in LightRoom and I believe that is what the OP is making reference to.
    edit- I typed this at the same time JDM was posting.
  6. We belong to a local photo club that has become well known for amazing wild bird photography, and I've noticed over the past few months that the sharpness meter on many of the photos is hard-pegged to the right - I agree with the "brittle" adjective from the OP. And if the photos aren't like that, the phrase "well its not quite tack-sharp" is an automatic criticism. Apparently it's now a requirement in wildlife photography if you want to be noticed.
  7. It's overdone, badly, on a lot of portraits also. Especially poor old men with wrinkles and gray beards. Adds to a pathetic quality people assume they need to provide to pictures of older folks.
  8. It appears to me that some people are trying to make up for inadequate quality lens that's or their technique has not been up to snuff. It sort of creates a dilemma, since it's pretty much impossible to re-create the one can with a landscape or architecture, folks resort to pp.
    If I recall Ron Gaubert (sp) from SmugMug...his wildlife shots were always on-target and without too much tweaking. One would think that we learn from others....their successes or failures. Hmmm, maybe not.
  9. Of course it's often overdone. It is really a local contrast boost that is sometimes effective in increasing the impact of the image, but of course too much of anything is probably bad.
  10. pge


    Perhaps the problem is that it is just too easy these days to make these kinds of adjustments, and therefore it is equallly easy to overuse them. It is our eye that is important, not our ability to move a slider. The endeavour has always been the same, the tools only make it possible.
  11. If it's someone's preference, then why not? I don't think there are rules on how spicy food should be.
  12. Clarity is an attempt to have something look better than it really is. Americans are obsessed with breast enlargement/reduction, tummy-tucks, Botox, butt-lifts and hair transplants. You expect them to not hop onto Clarity?
  13. >>> Clarity is an attempt to have something look better than it really is.

    You mean like dodging and burning?
  14. My clarity amplifier goes to 11. It's one clearer. Other blokes, their clarity goes to 10, and the viewers see 10, 10, 10, ho hum, all the same. So I give mine that little extra push over the cliff. Eleven.
  15. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Clarity is an attempt to have something look better than it really is.​

    A photo is an entity. It can "look better than it really is" because it is the entity. It can't look better than itself.
  16. It's not easy to tweak pictures objectively.
    The process is often to crank it up then back off until it looks right, but the problem is in the desensitization when it gets cranked up making our final decision look preferable when in reality it's overdone.
    Often letting it sit for a next-day review will change our mind, but sometimes the excess is just a phase some of us need to go through.
    This is why we have a critique forum.
  17. Ahhh, careful now. I like my "clarity" slider. It has been a welcome addition to the tools in the ACR shed. Not too much, of course.
  18. I crank the clarity to 11 in my Eartha Kitty pix, so the viewer can feel my pain. It's one sharper than yours.


    BTW, she's calmed down a bit now that she's nearly a year old. The skin grafts have taken nicely.
  19. Lex, can one contract cat-pox if bitten by a cat (unless the cat has been de-poxed before hand, I suppose)?
  20. Cats are a pox. A pox on cats and all their boxes.
    Semi-seriously, I'm very prone to cellulitis from cat bites and scratches. Had to go to the urgent care clinic several weeks ago after a different cat bit the crap out of me while I was trying to put her in a cat carrier. Infected both thumb joints. They billed me for $550. Most expensive meat I've ever eaten. Stringy and tough too. Boiled dog is better.
  21. Everything is overdone because it's so
    easy to so. It's easy to eat junk food so
    people do it.

    Have you noticed that some magazine
    covers have models who look like
    they're suffering from lead poisoning?
    Some people just want to fiddle with
    software filters because it makes them
    feel 'professional' and 'creative'.

    Another example: NR works best when
    the image has only a little noise. The
    more noise there is, the less you
    should use NR (unless you like yucky,
    plasticky results).

    The trick is thinking a bit before doing
    something. Buddhists talk about
    practising awareness. Let's practise
  22. Another example: NR works best when the image has only a little noise. The more noise there is, the less you should use NR (unless you like yucky, plasticky results).​
    I have one up on PN right now like that, except that it went beyond plasticky to Full Cartoon quality. I liked the light, and so I left it up, but others might need Dramamine before viewing. (Safe viewing distance > 1.5m)
    You've been warned: [link]

  23. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Have you noticed that some magazine covers have models who look like they're suffering from lead poisoning? Some people just want to fiddle with software filters because it makes them feel 'professional' and 'creative'.​

    That has no connection to why the magazine cover photos look that way. It's not clear how anyone would get an idea like that. The retouch shops do exactly what they are told to do. I realize to an amateur, it may sound funny to say that, but the quote above is not the way it works.
  24. Jeff is right--and I seldom say that. :)
  25. yup. guilty as charged. I do like the clarity slider. I try to be conscious of how much I tweak clarity and vibrance... but sometimes it just looks good :)
  26. This one of Lex's "Eartha Kitty pix"... my favorite not only for the cat's expression but also because it's a good example of the typical HDR effect that goes against the light source direction by taking note of the cat's paw in the back that appears to be top lit with no indication of a fill source that would be stronger than the obvious front key light.
    But here's the thing. It works and doesn't look offensive because Lex has applied a consistent stylization to the overall rendering through tasteful tone mapping that turns the image as Jeff points out into an entity or what I like to call image jewelry. It takes on a designed appearance to evoke a mood or attitude and when you do this to an image you need to be obvious about it but not over crank it unless it's to evoke an other worldly mood which again needs to be made obvious and fit the subject.
    Landscapes are not the ideal subject for this effect. In fact it's quite offensive to nature and downright stupid looking because there's no point to it's use because it doesn't fit with the idea and intent behind capturing a landscape.
    An Adobe article touting their new PV2012 processing engine describes what every one hates about what the old PV2003's Clarity and Fill sliders did to create this offensive look as "Solarized" the new process corrects. It is the same look that's similar to the high pass sharpening of old newsreel footage of the '50's & '60's transferred to film for distribution and can be replicated by applying High Pass sharpening on a layer set to Overlay in Photoshop like this example...
    Note the thick dark halo along the arm of the white shirted woman.
    I don't think you can spot any halos in Lex's use of Clarity which is an indication on how good a job he did on getting that type of stylized look.
  27. Perhaps the problem is that it is just too easy these days to make these kinds of adjustments, and therefore it is equallly easy to overuse them. It is our eye that is important, not our ability to move a slider. The endeavour has always been the same, the tools only make it possible.​
    Was thinking the same. And I'm guilty as charged as well because I'm still using PV2003 because LR's PV2012 takes getting used to where I keep going in a loop adjusting sliders that seem to put me back where I started. The abrupt changes to tone viewed on a transmissive display don't give my eyes time enough to catch up. The human optics system's stopping down with every change to luminance isn't designed to make pictures this way. Michelangelo would probably not kept up as well if he created his paintings on a transmissive display.
    My issues can be shown with the several iterations I went through tone mapping the white rose below because I was trying to communicate the stark clarity and definition I saw from the bright sunlight by showing all the texture and modeling in the petals but at the same time make it appear it's bathed in light.
    Note the unedited version isn't as bright as it seems due to a lack of contrast. It's this confusion that I have with the perception of contrast versus overall brightness while maintaining local and micro contrast fighting my eye's adaptive nature and knowing when it kicks in that leads me to just crank up the halos with Clarity and Fill slider. Clarity in the edits below was set at 100 using PV2003.
  28. Tim, you described my intent for the Eartha Kitty pix editing treatment perfectly. The series will eventually be made into calendars and novelty gifts for family and friends.
    I don't normally push the clarity filter in Lightroom higher than +25 or 33, and occasionally pull it back to -25 or so for some landscapes and people pix. But a heavy clarity filter solved this particular challenge perfectly. I also use heavier clarity, around +50 or so, for some of my stylized nighttime photos. Just depends on the mood I want to evoke. For the Eartha Kitty pix the clarity filter was usually cranked to +60 to +100, depending on the light/shadow effect. Too much can create halos against solid color/tone backgrounds, but that was never a problem with photos in this series. I also used a large radius in sharpening to emphasize local contrast. With cat fur the smaller radius isn't really necessary or effective for this exaggerated look. And the aliasing jaggies you see in online JPEGs don't show in print.
    There were a few reasons for the heavy clarity filter and overall punchy contrast and unsettling blue/beige duotoning:
    1. It suited the kitten's feisty temperament. I didn't want to portray her as cute and cuddly because, while she can be those things in the right mood, she's mostly a bundle of energy with hilariously frenetic acrobatics.

    2. Direct flash was essential to capturing action. I also wanted stark shadows and a film noir lighting style.

    3. We also have a jet black cat and a lighter particolored Siamese, both of which appear in many photos with Eartha Kitty. The contrast created some major challenges.

    4. I was using four different digital cameras and wanted a uniform overall look to the project.

    5. The duotoning effect helped even out the overall look among the four cameras, and helped to minimize the appearance of blown highlights in overexposed photos that were otherwise too good to discard.
    My main camera for the project was an older Ricoh GX100, a small digicam which I could easily manage in my right hand, while an off-camera flash in my left hand was triggered by the camera's built-in flash. Many of the photos were taken with the camera at odd angles and later corrected. The off-camera flash was positioned freely to suit the moment, ranging from very low for a 19th century theatrical footlighting effect, to a contre-jour effect. This helped create the seemingly improbable light and shadow effects you observed.
    For instant reaction shots as the kitten and grown cats romped, I mostly used manual flash or simple non-TTL auto flash, to avoid the slight preflash delay from TTL flash. TTL flash is great for relatively slower moving subjects but consistently failed to capture the peak action with the cats frolicking. The downside to the manual flash method was fluctuations in exposure. I would guesstimate the appropriate settings for a typical distance, but if the cats were too close the shots were overexposed; too far and they were underexposed.
    A faux-HDR/tonemapping approach was the most practical solution to these challenges. I had originally planned to use a true HDR program, but discovered Lightroom 4 had all the tools I needed for highlight recovery in Eartha Kitty's muzzle and our Siamese cat's lighter coat; getting shadow detail in the black cat's shiny coat; getting dense stark shadows while still retaining some texture in the floor or carpet; and, almost as important, vignetting and gradient filters to minimize background distractions. These were all taken in my living room, not a studio setting, and were mostly done while I was recovering from a bout of hypothyroidism late last year and spent most of my time on a sofa while recovering. Cropping, cloning and vignetting were easier than constantly trying to rearrange furniture or picking up stray cat toys.
    FWIW, my dSLR was almost useless for this project. Small teensy sensor P&S digicams rule for this type of stuff - set 'em to f/4-f/5.6, zone focus, and you get miles of DOF, so focus isn't critical. You can get as close as you dare to the furball - I have the scratches to show for it. My next best camera for this was the Nikon V1, but overall the little Ricoh GX100 with its gritty noisy sensor above ISO 100 was perfect for this stuff. Lightroom shows I put more than 3,000 shots on the GX100 between August and November 2013 just on these pix alone, and that doesn't even count the many in-camera deletions and deletions after importing. Probably closer to 5,000 overall.
    Here's the original straight from the Ricoh GX100 b&w JPEG. It's really good enough as-is. But not all of the other photos in the series were so well lit by my two-flash technique, so I applied the same stylized editing treatment to match the other photos.
    Eartha Kitty getting sassy.
    Ricoh GX100 with two-flash technique:
    1. Nikon SB-10 on-camera flash in simple non-TTL auto mode. This created the right-to-left shadow.
    2. Off-camera handheld Nikon SB-800 flash, in SU-4 optical trigger mode, held overhead and to the rear. I usually set the SB-800 focal length to around 85mm or so to throw a narrow beam at close range. This avoided spill onto my cluttered living room, and created the stylized light and heavy shadows I wanted.

      The diffused light on her right paw was due to the SB-800 flash being partially diffused through the cat tent she plays in. Note the harsher light behind her, visible through the tent opening. The white walls and ceilings created enough ambient light to handle the rest.
    BTW, Bruce Gilden's in-your-face off-camera flash technique inspired my choice of flash technique here. I wouldn't feel comfortable using this technique with strangers in public, but for pets and kids, it's fun.
  29. It does seem that HDR is getting way out of hand, with many images in magazines routinely subjected to over HDR. One wonders whether this is from photo editors who are too young to remember that a lack of shadows just looks wrong, or worse, whether this new look is becoming accepted. The irony, of course is that our eyes can see a far greater dynamic range than cameras, but HDR does not represent that range.
    As for cats.... as much as my allergies make me think Oven Mitts ( Ten Thousand Uses For a Dead Cat ) the video circulating of the cat that saved a boy from a dog attack is very cool!
  30. Personally, I rather use filters when it comes to landscapes than trying to mess with HDR. A simple graduated filter will solve most lighting problems when it comes to capturing details in a bright sky line. Without a filter, if you meter off the sky the foreground is too dark and if you meter off the foreground the sky is blown out. Blown out skies present a huge problem because they render the picture unnatural and often nothing short of cutting and pasting another sky will save the picture.
    I have nothing against HDR, if your camera has it or you know how to use the software you can get results that are superior to graduated filters, if used discreetly. The only problem it can be time consuming and tedious, but at least you don't have to juggle with a bunch of filters in your camera bag.
    These days "extreme-HDR" is a form of art, or a new way of looking at pictures. Nothing wrong with that either. I see plenty of advertisements in magazines even portrait work that use the HDR-look. I don't think it's a good idea to use it on landscapes though, especially when it comes to Nature shots.
    Yesterday I went through about 200 pictures that were sitting inside my camera. To my surprise I had to increase the sharpening and contrast on about 90% of the pictures ! This is after carefully using the focusing points on my camera, using a lens hood to increase contrast and using a relatively expensive lens and camera.
    Of course I could have bumped up the sharpening inside the camera a few notches, which I think is what many photographers do, but I did not want to overdo things. Un-sharpening a picture is much harder than sharpening a picure.
  31. (Is there a "clarity" slider on PS?)​
    There is one in Lightroom, and (correct me if I'm wrong) the Photoshop equivalent would be the Unsharp Mask filter with a fairly wide radius.
  32. As a sound engineer, this reminds me of the first all-digital jazz recordings. For the first time it was possible to get both clean and loud high frequencies, and hear all the subtlety of a cymbal hit, so of course, for a couple of years (around 1990~1991), a great deal of jazz albums had that overly crystaline sound that not necessarily fitted the music.
    All I'm saying is, it's a trend, due to the expected fascination any new toy brings at first... and it will pass.
  33. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    correct me if I'm wrong) the Photoshop equivalent would be the Unsharp Mask filter with a fairly wide radius.​

    The Clarity slider is in ACR if you are using Photoshop.

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