About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Negative Clarity for Landscape Photography

Let's talk about "Negative Clarity". This phrase sounds like it belongs in politics and not photography, but Clarity, both positive and negative, is actually a relatively new Photoshop tool that is remarkably powerful in affecting the contrast and mood and of your images

Mitch bathed in WAY too Much Negative Clarity

The clarity tool first appeared in Lightroom with version 1.1 and worked in a scale from 0-100, that is, only in the positive direction. In Version 3.3 the tool acquired negative values, ranging from -100 to + 100, and it is the effects of negative Clarity that I will focus on for this article. Clarity is also available in Adobe Camera RAW and, significantly, with Photoshop CC, it is found as part of the Camera Raw Filter menu.

Finding Clarity
The Clarity slider is found at the top of the list of the last three tools in the Basic Panel, above Vibrance and Saturation. Simply stated, Clarity has its effect on the mid-tone contrast of images. It adds
A little Positive Clarity
contrast without bringing out excess grain in the highlights and shadows, as might a general increase in contrast. It give a sense of sharpening without actually adding sharpness. Early versions of the Clarity adjustment tended to be bothered by Halos around areas of high contrast, but in the more recent editions of Lightroom and Photoshop this problem is much less noticeable. Increased Clarity works best when an image has a lot of detail in the mid-tones. I often use it to bring out the detail in my landscape images, but recently I have been impressed with how selective use of "negative" clarity can add a sense of depth to many of my images.

It should be no surprise that moving the Clarity slider into the negative range causes a decrease in mid-tone contrasts resulting in a softening effect. Applied generally, negative Clarity causes an increasingly prominent soft, watercolor-like appearance, but I have generally used it selectively to soften skin tones and blemishes. Taken too far it can create a plastic appearance, but used in moderation it can apply a beautiful soft air-brushing. Not that my beautiful daughter needs any air-brushing!

Abby Doesn't Need Negative Clarity

Selective Clarity
Selective application of either positive or negative Clarity can be applied in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW using the Adjustment Brush, but now that Clarity is available in Photoshop CC as part of the Camera Raw Filter it can be more easily controlled and finely adjusted. By using Clarity within a Smart Filter I can make adjustments in the intensity of the effect and control its application with a mask.

Early Spring Mist

A few weeks ago I was out shooting in the soft mist that so frequently develops as snow meets the warm air of our early spring. I love this barn nestled in a valley in Chesterfield, New Hampshire and on this day the distant tree-line was diffused by the hovering mist. Back home I felt that the image didn't accurately reflect the depth of the scene as I remembered. I wanted to
Fully Applied Negative Clarity
accentuate the contrast between the sharp detail in the foreground barn and the softness of the distant trees. I started by creating a smart filter and then experimented with the application of a moderate amount of negative Clarity. The whole image took on a softening reduction in mid-tone contrast, but then I applied a gradient mask to block the
Selective Negative Clarity in a Smart Filter
effect around the barn and fine tuned the mask by painting out the effect in the extreme foreground. The great thing about using the Smart Filter was that I was able to further adjust the amount and location of the negative Clarity effect. In this case, as I often do with other layer adjustments, I dialed up the negative Clarity a bit higher than I felt was optimal and then pulled back on the effect by adjusting the layers opacity. In this image, I liked the way the Gradient mask allowed a more gradual application of the negative Clarity, but in other situations a harder mask works well.


Sugaring season is upon us and I was recently shooting the buckets clinging to some truly majestic Sugar Maples in Dummerston Vermont. I wanted the tree to stand out against the pasture and the distant, mist shrouded, trees. I found that a touch of negative Clarity worked well. It was relatively easy to create a mask to
Negative Clarity Masked
shield the foreground tree and nearby snow piles from the softening effect and, here again, I was able to dial the negative Clarity slide up and down until I had what was just the touch of softness that I wanted. After reducing the size of the image for web use, I found that I needed to increase the negative clarity effect and the nice thing about using the Smart Filter was that it was no problem to make the adjustment. 

Is Photoshop great, or what!

Leaves with a Touch of Negative Clarity
There are other approaches to adding depth to images. Backgrounds can be softened with the addition of a selective
Gaussian Blur, or contrast reduced by decreasing the highlight and black setting in a levels layer. Each has its own unique effect, but I have enjoyed my recent discovery of the soft feel that results from subtle selective adjustments in negative Clarity. Like any photoshop adjustment, it is possible to overdo negative Clarity. It is all a matter of taste. Applied to excess it can lead to a an unnatural sense of viewing the scene through grounded glass, but subtle adjustments can add warmth and depth to an image. Give it a try, if for no other reason than it is a fun term to use especially when you can bathe a picture of your local senator or representative with well deserved veil of softly obfuscating "negative Clarity".


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