I get this question a lot, and so I thought I’d share how I think about the two; how they are different, and when to use them. NOTE: these same two sliders are in Photoshop’s Camera Raw as well).
Both of these sliders enhance or bring out detail in the image, but they do it in very different ways. One isn’t really better than the other, because depending on the image, Clarity might look better on one, and Texture might look better on the next, or maybe a mixture of the two. It’s great to have the flexibility of having both, but here’s a look at how using them can affect the overall tone of your image.
When I want to bring out the texture in my image, but I don’t want it to mess with the overall tone too much (or mess with the fine detail areas of the image), I reach for the Texture slider. For example purposes, here I’m cranking up the Texture amount up way higher than I normally would (to +100). In the image you see above, the ‘Before’ photo is on the left, and the ‘After’ photo on the right has the Texture cranked up to +100. You can see that even though I cranked the Texture all the way up, the overall tone of the image is fairly similar. The medium-sized detail has been enhanced throughout the image (a bit hard to see at this size, but very obvious when you see it full size on your own images). That enhanced detail is especially visible on the buildings in front. Everything has more definition and detail, but nothing looks too crazy.
When I want to bring out detail, and I want things like metal, glass, or water to really “pop” I grab the Clarity slider. Here’s the Clarity slider cranked up to +100, and you can see how contrasty the image has become. The dark areas are much darker and the brighter midtones are brighter, too. The overall tone and color saturation of the image has changed quite a bit, and that’s because the Clarity slider enhances Midtone contrast (well, it does if you drag it to the right, anyway). The glass on the buildings looks much shinier and it really “pops” but look at the road to its right, and the sky — they’re all pretty dark and a bit grungy. If I increased the Shadow slider by the same amount, you’d swear it was an HDR tone-mapped photo.
The big takeaway here is how much Clarity affects the overall tone of the image (great when you want to get a gritty effect, or make metal, glass, and water shinier), while Texture doesn’t tend to mess with the tone nearly as much, but does a great job bringing out detail. Look at them side-by-side just above.
I also find that I don’t need to add as much Texture amount to bring out detail as I would with the Clarity slider. I don’t want to say it’s more powerful — maybe it’s just more sensitive. I also often use the two together by dragging the Texture up and then adding about 1/2 as much Clarity (so, if I were to drag the Texture amount up to 50, I would only add 25 or so Clarity if even that much). They do work nicely together.
Hope you found that helpful, and here’s wishing you a relaxing, fun weekend. Stay safe (it’s COVID-y out there).
P.S. I am super psyched – I’m getting to speak in front of an in-person event again! Next month I’m one of the speakers at the big NECCC Photography Conference up in Amherst, MA. The conference is July 15-17, 2022, and I’m teaching all three days, and a pre-conference session as well. Lots of great speakers, and tons of classes and events. Here’s the link to sign up (hope I’ll see you there)!