As I wrote in my recent post on sharpening in Lightroom , occasionally when I go to a photography show at a gallery, my first reaction isn’t “What great/horrible photographs!”, but rather “Wow, too much sharpening!” Sharpening has always been a tool that is easy to go to far with.
Unfortunately, with all the new powerful tools available to us, there are now even more ways to get a “Wow, you need to back off on that Lightroom slider!” reaction during your photography exhibition. The clarity slider in the Basics panel is the next-most commonly over-used tool, in my experience. [UPDATE: Clarity was improved in Lightroom 4+ – the shadows I write about here are much less frequent.]
As I wrote about in my blog post on clarity in Lightroom, clarity makes your subject look more three dimensional, by adding contrast to edges (in a much broader way than sharpening). The bright side of edges gets brighter, the dark side, darker. Too much clarity can add ugly and obvious shadows and halos around edges.
Here’s an example, before and after the application of +100 clarity:
Zoomed out this far, the scrub brush looks somewhat heavy-handed, but not that bad — but the edge of the mountain against the sky has a terrible shadow that just screams out “Too much clarity!!” You could reduce the clarity slider to get the amount that works best for both, or instead of using the slider in the Basics panel, you could apply clarity just to the foreground using the graduated filter tool. (Here is a video on how to use the graduated filter tool.)
Here is another example. In this case I am zoomed in:
The dark shadow along the edge of the building isn’t as obvious in this case, but there is a terrible bright halo along the edge of the sky, making it look like the building is glowing. Backing off on the Basics panel clarity slider is what I would do in this case. You could also just apply clarity to the inside of the building with the adjustment brush. (Here’s a link to a video on the adjustment brush.)
Obviously I have pushed things very far here, to ensure that you can see the consequences. Your decisions will most-likely involve more subtlety. Now you know what to look out for — and if in doubt, be conservative… a little is usually better than none, and too much is a disaster!
Stay tuned for more posts on other things in Lightroom that friends don’t let friends do, and do consider checking out my Lightroom DVD, which covers all this and more.