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How to Use Clarity and Saturation to Change the Tone of Photos in Lightroom Classic

Let's take a look at a couple of adjustments you'll want to really understand when editing your photos in Adobe Lightroom Classic. Both the Clarity and Saturation adjustments offer a wide range of aesthetic looks to help you get the most out of your photo edit.

In this tutorial we're going to learn about how these two adjustments work, and teach you a few tricks that are built in to these Lightroom sliders. With this information, you'll be able to move forward with confidence in your next edit.

What is Clarity?

Lightroom has so many different options to deal with texture and contrast. Clarity, however, is unique in this department. It does affect contrast and texture, but it contains a built-in AI that isolates the adjustment to affect only the mid-tones of your image.

Here's an example of an image on the left with 0 Clarity, and then the same image with an adjustment of +60 Clarity on the right. Notice how the added texture & contrast is contained to the mid-tones. The whites in the sky are left almost entirely intact.

Left: RAW Image — Right: Clarity +60

Clarity also works in reverse! By making an adjustment with negative clarity values, you can decrease the texture & contrast in your image, and again, specifically targeted towards your mid-tones.

Here's an example of the same image on the left with 0 Clarity, and then an adjustment of -60 Clarity on the right.

Left: RAW Image — Right: Clarity -60

Notice here how the texture and contrast is reduced, creating a soft quality to the image. This look resembles old film stocks, and creates a soft, dreamy aesthetic.

As always, there are no rules for the 'right' way to use an adjustment, but understanding how and what it does can help you to make the right creative decision for your photo.

What is Saturation?

For our purposes, Saturation can be defined as the strength of the colours in an image. An increase of saturation will increase the strength of your colours, and decreasing saturation will bring down the strength of colours.

A little can go a long way with this adjustment, so let's take a look at the effect on our image.

Left: RAW Image — Right: Saturation +60

Here's our same original image on the left, and then an adjustment of +60 Saturation on the right. You can see the colours really come to life and pop off the screen.

With the power of the saturation adjustment it can be easy to create colours that are hyperreal, which is a look you might be looking for.

And of course, the saturation adjustment works the other way, with negative values.

Left: RAW Image — Right: Saturation -60

Our original is on the left, and the right image has an adjustment of -60 Saturation. Our colour's strength has been decreased substantially, and has muted the colours in the image. This gives me the appearance or feeling that clouds rolled in, or it was an overcast day.

The Relationship Between Clarity & Saturation

Anytime we increase the contrast of an image, our colours will increase in saturation. The same is true the other way around — when we decrease the contrast of an image, our colours will decrease in saturation.

To apply that concept, when we increase the clarity in our image, the saturation will also increase (even without touching the saturation slider!). That means if we want to increase the clarity, but maintain the original saturation in our image, we'll need to decrease the saturation accordingly.

Here's the same photo with an adjustment of +70 Clarity, and -25 Saturation.

+70 Clarity, -25 Saturation

To my eye, these adjustments bring out all of the beautiful details in the waves, while maintaining the colour palette true to the landscape I photographed.

Get Creative With Clarity & Saturation

The most important thing to take away here is that you need to find what's right for your image. Are you going for hyperrealism? If so, cranking up the clarity and saturation is a good move for you. Do you prefer a moodier, nostalgic photo edit? Explore the negative values of clarity and saturation.

I hope this tutorial has allowed you to feel more confident in achieving your desired photo aesthetic. Most importantly, play around, and find what looks good to you.

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