preview image showing clarity and texture affects side by side

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is one of the best photo editing apps available. Its sliders are often the easiest way to make complex edits to your images. Some sliders, like “Exposure” and “Contrast,” are pretty self-explanatory. Others, like “Clarity” and “Texture,” are a little harder to understand.

When you first try them out, the Clarity and Texture sliders can seem pretty similar. Both add contrast, sharpness, and, well, texture to your image. They do it, however, in totally different ways. Let me explain.

What Does Clarity Do?

original photo and clarity set to 100
The original photo and Clarity set to +100. Note the dramatic details added to the sky. Harry Guinness

The Clarity slider targets mid-tone contrast. If you increase it, you’ll darken the darker middle tones of your image and brighten the brighter ones without affecting the deeper shadows or brighter highlights too much. This has the effect of making small details pop, and when dialed up a lot, it makes images look super dramatic.

Dialing Clarity down does the opposite. It flattens the mid-tones of your image, removes a lot of details, and, to be honest, tends to create a weird, ’70s, soft-focus vibe.

What Does Texture Do?

Texture started life as a skin-smoothing slider. The idea was that you’d use it to remove harsh details to make more flattering portraits. However, Adobe’s developers discovered that it was also great for increasing textural detail.

original image and texture dialled down
The original photo and Texture set to -100. Note that the skin is softened, but that low-frequency areas of the image are unaffected. Harry Guinness
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The Texture slider targets the high-frequency areas of your image. These are the places where there are lots of different, small details. It ignores low-frequency areas where things are broadly the same, like the sky or someone’s clothes.

Dialing the Texture slider up increases the prominence and contrast of the details. Dialing it down removes them.

Original and texture dialled up
The original photo and Texture set to +100. Harry Guinness

Which Should I Use?

Clarity and Texture are complementary tools. While they can produce similar results in some images, they do it in different ways. Clarity, in general, is a lot blunter and affects the overall colors and saturation of an image, so it can easily be pushed too far. Texture is more subtle.

clarity and texture compared
Clarity set to +100 and Texture set to +100. Note the differences in the way the sky, a low-frequency area, looks. Harry Guinness

Most of the time, use Clarity when you:

  • Want to increase the drama across your whole image.
  • Want to target low-frequency areas like the sky.
  • Aren’t concerned about affecting the colors in the photo, particularly if you’re working with black and white.
negative clarity and texture side by side
Clarity set to -100 and Texture set to -100. Harry Guinness

Use Texture when you:

  • Want to remove or emphasize small details without affecting the overall look of the image.
  • Want to make more natural-looking images, especially portraits.
  • Don’t want to affect the colors in your image.

Remember, you can always undo any edits you make in Lightroom. The best way to determine whether Clarity or Texture will work better for your images is to just grab the sliders and play around. As you get more experienced with the tools, you’ll start to learn what each works best for.

Also, you don’t just have to use Clarity and Texture globally. Use the local adjustment tools, like the radial filter and the adjustment brush, to apply them just to the areas of your image that need it.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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