Recently in my one-on-one trainings in Capture One Pro 20 (CO20), I had a number of questions about adding contrast to a photograph that we were editing. Specifically, why is contrast important and how do you add it using the different tools in CO20?

For me, adding contrast to a photograph (with a focus on RAW files) is what begins to add life and impact to my photographs. What happens when I add contrast is that it changes the relationship between the dark and light parts of the image and at the same time the texture, the sharpness, and the saturation are changing as well.

In CO20, the primary tools to add contrast are with the Contrast slider, the Clarity slider and the Curves tool. And yes, other tools also add it, but in this article, I’ll focus on the Contrast slider and Clarity slider.

What’s the difference between contrast and clarity?

The simple answer is that the Contrast slider works across the entire range of the photograph from the darkest to the lightest areas and the Clarity slider focuses on the middle tones of the photograph. So what does that mean in practice? Let’s start with the image below. Here it is before using the Contrast or Clarity slider.

Adding contrast

Now let’s add contrast to this image. Here I’ve added as much contrast as I can without overexposing the sky.

One of the challenges with the Contrast slider is that an amount that works for the overall photograph often doesn’t provide enough contrast to the mid-tones of the image. If I push it too far to the right what happens is that it begins to overexpose or blow out the brightest and darkest parts of the image.

Knowing that means that we add just enough with the Contrast slider and then move on to the Clarity slider since it works on the mid-tones of the photograph.

Here’s the photograph using only the Contrast slider. I’d like to add more contrast to the mid-tones of the image, so let’s look at the Clarity slider.

Adding clarity

To add contrast to the mid-tones, we’ll use the Clarity slider. In using this slider it’s important to know that there are four kinds of clarity you can work with. They are Natural, Punch, Neutral and Classic. Each has a different look and when you add clarity, you’ll want to try each one to see how they look.

In the example below, I’m using the Contrast slider settings and the Natural Clarity Method. The important thing to notice here is how the mid-tones of the image change when I add clarity. There are more detail, texture and saturation than with the Contrast slider alone. Note that I’ve added a bit more clarity than I normally would so you can more easily see the differences.

In the examples below, I’ve combined the Contrast slider and the Clarity slider, showing you an example of each kind of clarity. Click on any image to see the larger version.

Structure slider

Since the Clarity tool also contains the Structure slider, I thought I include that here as well. This slider allows you to enhance fine details in things like fur, sand, leaves and rock, in a way that sharpening alone is unable to do. Just as with the Clarity slider, the Structure slider can be used to enhance or reduce fine detail. Moving the slider left of zero reduces or softens fine detail. Moving the slider right of zero sharpens or enhances fine detail in the image.

Here’s an example of the image above using the Natural Clarity method and a Structure setting of 55 out of 100. Again, I’ve pushed it a little further so you can more easily see it on the screen.


Now it’s time for you to explore these tools. One way to explore them is to create a number of variants and then try using different settings on each variant and then compare the variants, side-by-side. In this way, you’ll start to develop a feel for how they change the look and feel of your photographs.

Enjoy and have fun with your photography!

Be sure to check out this new version. You’ll find a 30-day free trial to Capture One Pro 20 here.