Photo Editing: The Difference Between Clarity and Vibrance

Photo editing is a craft in itself. There's a huge debate in the photography community over the validity of touching up digital images. Some of the old school film photographers believe that that is cheating. Others believe that altering digital images is no different than a film photographer developing his negatives in chemicals for a different film stock to create an effect.

Whether you're a purest or a Photoshop guru, everyone can agree that even the best photos could gain a little improvement from photo editing. If you're new to this process, then you might find yourself stumbling upon some unfamiliar terms, like clarity and vibrance. They both deal with altering colors but in different ways.


In order to understand what clarity and vibrance exactly are, you first need to know what saturation is. Saturation deals with the overall color scheme of your image. When you increase the image's saturation, you brighten and deepen the colors in the photo all over. When you decrease the saturation, you remove the depth and deepness of the colors. Dragging the image's saturation bar all the way to the left for a value of negative one hundred will cause the image to become black and white.

That's saturation in a nutshell. The important thing to remember is that it affects every single pixel in the image. If you have colors that are already highly saturated, then using this tool will make them more saturated than desired.


Vibrance is saturation light. Unlike saturation, vibrance is more careful about what it affects. Increasing a photo's vibrance will bring up the colors in areas that have weak saturation, while areas that have high saturation levels remain unaffected. Vibrance is especially useful for bringing up the colors in photos of people. It is very kind on skin tones because it will not over saturate them, causing the colors to be unrealistically bright. Most of the time, you will find the results you're looking for by changing the vibrance instead of the saturation because it does not affect every pixel in the image.


Clarity also deals with changing the saturation levels in the image, but unlike the saturation tool, clarity only affects the image's mid tone colors. When you increase the clarity in the image, the edge of you midtones will become more distinct, which also adds more sharpness to your photo. Think of clarity as saturation very light. It's a nice and subtle way to increase the details found in your photo.