Apr 042017

The Vibrance and Saturation sliders in Lightroom’s Basic panel will both intensify colors in your photos. Saturation is an equal-opportunity, non-discrimatory control – it will saturate all colors in your photo equally, even if they start out at different levels of intensity. This is a great control to use if you want to give a quick and equal boost to all colors in your photo.

However, when some colors start out more intense than others, you may find that Saturation takes them over the edge into garishness before less-intense colors get to where you want them to be. In addition, using Saturation with photos of people is often a bad idea because in being non-discriminatory it will saturate skin tones, often producing less than pleasing results.

Consider the photo below. The first image is before adjustments. My goal is to increase the saturation of the colors in the hat.



When I increase Saturation, as shown in the second image, it not only increases the saturation of colors in the hat, but the skin gets yellow as well. In addition, the reds in the hat have started to go over the edge into garishness and where I lose detail in the yarn because the reds were more saturated than the blues to start with.

Increase Saturation by 50 (on scale of 0 to 100)

Increase Saturation by 50 (on scale of 0 to 100)

Let’s consider Vibrance, which is discriminatory – it will saturate less-saturated colors more than more-saturated ones – in other words, it focuses on the colors that are more faded-out. It also is designed to protect skin tones, so it’s an excellent tool to use with portraits.

Below I use Vibrance – notice that the skin color is pretty well preserved, and that I am able to get more saturated blues without the reds going over the edge.

Increase Vibrance by 80 (on scale of 0 to 100)

Increase Vibrance by 80 (on scale of 0 to 100)

Give it a try with your own images, comparing what you get with Saturation and with Vibrance.


  10 Responses to “Intensifying Colors in Lightroom: Vibrance vs. Saturation”

  1. Great advice, Laura! Thanks for sharing. I hate looking at my photos and seeing that ‘overdone’ look!

  2. Thank you for this Laura. I had never really understood the difference between these two tools and I know that this will make a huge difference to how my images look.

  3. Could you not have easily used the radial filter or adjustment brush on the hat only with saturation?

    • Hi Ross,

      I applied it globally to show that saturation is not a good idea with skin tones. Aside from this, since I wanted to affect the blue more than the red since the blue was more faded, saturation applied just to the cap wouldn’t have worked – it would have intensified the red and blue equally – I would have had to carefully paint just the blue yarn. Using vibrance globally achieves my goal much more quickly.

  4. Laura Shoe,

    You certainly have the ability to teach and make understandable. Many have the knowledge, few the ability to transfer it to others. Your teaching ability makes it possible for others to use your knowledge and make your knowledge part of their own, a true talent in it self. That is what make your tutorials to me something above and beyond.

  5. Another alternative may be to use the HSL sliders to bring up the blue without affecting anything else, but again, these are not discriminatory either, as they will affect all blues (or whatever color) in the photo.

    Thanks for the tip!

    • Very true, Don. I didn’t really state it as broadly as I intended, but my goal really was to boost any and all colors that were more washed out, including the blue. Vibrance is such a quick and intelligent tool for this.

  6. You don’t see that vibrance slider change true colors? It’s very bad idea for color accuracy (but who needs this in this times of “looking good” photos). Vibrance adds yellow instead of red, saturate blue and magenta more, darken blue in shadows and that’s change every color in the photo.

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