June 05, 2007

Getting Punchy (or, What’s in a name?)

Sometimes finding the right words for a feature is a bit of a challenge.  "Unsharp Mask," for instance, is a perfect example: a classically trained photographer may immediately get the reference, while other users are left saying, "Sooo… To sharpen something, I choose ‘Unsharp…?’"  Working vocabularies vary by user.

We ran into a one of these cases with the local contrast enhancement control added to the just-released Camera Raw 4.1.  Figuring that "local contrast enhancement control" was a tad wordy, the team went looking for alternatives.  One candidate was "Acutance"–a term familiar to some photographers, but far from universally understood.  The candidate I really favored was "Punch": the slider tends to make an image look punchier.  Unfortunately, the prospect of translating this idiosyncratic term into French, German, Japanese, etc. made it lose ground.  The simpler "Clarity" ultimately prevailed.

In the course of the conversation, Camera Raw engineer Zalman Stern offered some good quips. "We could always translate "punch" to "Umami" in Japanese…," he wrote.  And later: "I was mostly joking in suggesting ‘Punch.’ But to take it to the next
level of impossible-to-translate, we obviously need two sliders, ‘l337’ and ‘Teh Suck.’ The latter only has negative values of course. The
documentation can link to urbandictionary.com." :-)

Bonus, unrelated Zalman quote, apropos of something totally different: "Writing a compiler in Visual Basic seems more the sort of thing one does to impress Jodie Foster than a sound technical decision…"

Posted by John Nack at 8:25 AM on June 05, 2007


  • Scott Valentine — 11:09 AM on June 05, 2007

    My preference is for technically accurate names, but I realize this is not always practical. After all, you couldn’t very well call it ‘Convolve LaPlacian transform with high-frequency fast Fourier’, now could you?
    [Heh–well, we *could*. Some part of me wants to tell people who complain about Photoshop being too techy or too complicated, “Oh yeah? *I’ll* give you something to cry about!” >;-) –J.]
    But I still think you need a single button called ‘Photoshop’. It would apply random menu operations. Then “to photoshop” really would be a verb…
    [Yes: we’ll call it the “i’Shop Shuffle.” –J.]

  • NikonMike — 12:16 PM on June 05, 2007

    I guess you meant “acutance”, right?
    [Yes; sorry about the typo; now fixed. –J.]

  • James Conner — 12:39 PM on June 05, 2007

    If the names for Photoshop’s functions are going to be limited to English words that can be translated into other languages unambiguously, there won’t be many English words from which to choose. “Punch” does a pretty good job of describing the emotional impact of increasing local contrast. “Clarity” does not. “Clarity” is a word suited best not for image processing but for wine snobbery. If photographic punch can’t be translated into other languages, let those languages learn punch.

  • BJ Nicholls — 1:21 PM on June 05, 2007

    “Clarity” is okay, but why is it grouped with saturation/vibrance controls rather than with contrast? I’ve played with the new control and it seems like it’s analogous in its relationship with the contrast control as vibrance is related to saturation.
    [I believe the thinking is that all three controls affect the “Presence” of an image. –J.]

  • Ted — 10:03 AM on June 06, 2007

    For some time, Paint Shop Pro has included a “Clarify” tool that (apparently) uses some flavor of local contrast enhancement. I suspect the fine folks at (pre-Corel) Jasc went through the same nomenclature struggle as you did, and arrived at a result that differs from yours by only one letter.

  • Johan Elzenga — 2:02 PM on June 06, 2007

    The translated name in the Dutch version is extremely confusing, because ‘Brightness’ and ‘Clarity’ are both translated into the same word: “Helderheid”. (Yes, I know, the Dutch version of CS3 is not available yet, but using a ‘hack’ I can run ACR in Dutch already). So now we have two ‘Helderheid’ sliders which have very different functions…
    [Hmm–thanks for the heads-up. I’ve let the ACR PM know. –J.]

  • Ken Gehle — 8:37 AM on June 07, 2007

    Having installed ACR 4.1 before reading indepth on the changes I was very confused to see “clarity” as a new feature. And now to read that “punch” was a term also considered, and IMO is a much better term for this function. Punch really says it all to me to what is happening with the use of this slider.

  • Stephen Haynes — 10:05 AM on June 09, 2007

    The outdoor photographer Charles Cramer was using the term “clarify” for midtone contrast enhancements using USM from at least 9/05.

  • Mark Rutherford — 7:25 PM on June 13, 2007

    Doesn’t matter to me. It’s a useful tool.
    I think of it as “Semi-Auto Contrast Enhancement”.
    No doubt that the same effect can be achieved through Curves but I appreciate the shortcut.
    That said, great images are ultimately achieved by a great eye. Software features enable the eye but will never replace it.
    –Mark Rutherford

  • Mark Rutherford — 7:51 PM on June 13, 2007

    Hey how about “Intensity”?
    It’s no more vague than ‘Clarity’.
    And perhaps equal in ambiguity to ‘Vibrance’.
    ‘Punch’ is perfect for us English speakers but for everyone else? Yikes.
    Geez, this nomenclature stuff is challenging.
    –Mark Rutherford

  • Stuart Wetherbe — 7:27 PM on July 29, 2007

    “Punch” seems a bit too aggressive a word for what the tool does. “Clarify” leave me scratching my head. I vote for “snap”.
    [I like the potential for then saying, “Awww, *snap*” whenever possible. –J.]
    Is there a prize for picking the best word descriptor?
    [Nah, though it would be cool if we could pass out Naming Tiaras or something. ;-) –J.]

  • Ted — 9:27 AM on July 30, 2007

    If you change it to “snap,” will you perhaps next be adding adjustments for “crackle” and “pop”?
    [Not wanting to incur the wrath of the Kellogg Co., I think not. :-) –J.]

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