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Solutions: Vibrance

Often thought of as nearly identical to Saturation, this control can be much more useful for nature photographers
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Original Straight

+ 70 % Saturation

+ 90 % Vibrance

Vibrance is grouped along with Clarity and Saturation in Lightroom. These three controls are among the most useful for enhancing digital images. Like Clarity, pinning down exactly what Vibrance does isn’t well understood by most photographers. It falls somewhere between technology and magic.

When it comes to image correction, of course, every photo will be different. Some will require a white balance adjustment, but not always. Other photos may require exposure and contrast adjustments. The mix is always different, and until you sit down to begin evaluating each individual exposure, it’s impossible to know what adjustments you may need to bring out the best in the shoot. But one thing is certain. I will always—and I do mean always—try Clarity and Vibrance on every single photo that I correct.

This isn’t to say that every photo needs Clarity and Vibrance. But out of all of the controls in the Basic panel, I think of Clarity and Vibrance as being the creative/subjective tools. Just looking at any photo right out of the camera, I can pretty much tell you what I’m going to do with it. More exposure, less contrast, whatever. But the Presence controls are always a bit of a mystery. Clarity and Vibrance have an effect that’s very much image-dependent, and you simply have to try each one to know what it’s going to do for any given photo. But the one thing that I can count on is that a bit of Vibrance almost always will improve any photo, and especially landscapes. This is because of the way it works.

Low Saturation

Low Saturation + 80% Saturation

Low Saturation + 100% Vibrance

Vibrance is the close cousin of Saturation, and at first, they may seem to be almost the same. But Vibrance is different in two important ways. First, the Saturation control moves all the colors in the spectrum up or down in saturation, more or less together. Vibrance, on the other hand, is a lot more selective about the way it saturates colors. The original developer of the feature describes Vibrance by saying that it only saturates colors that need it, which means it doesn’t oversaturate colors that are already very saturated or colors of very low saturation.

Vibrance also doesn’t oversaturate reds and oranges, and there’s a very good reason for this. Most skin tones fall into this range, and skin tones are generally the one thing that you never want to increase in saturation.

The other way that Vibrance is different is that it darkens blue and purple colors. This means most skies get darker, as they saturate, which only makes sense.

A quick peek at the shape of the ProPhoto color space (or nearly any other RGB working space) plotted in Lab reveals that there simply aren’t any highly saturated light blue or purple colors. So to make a medium sky-blue color more saturated, it has to get darker!

For landscapes, Vibrance gives a nice boost to cyans, greens and yellows, without touching orange and red colors very much. This is what lets you enhance outdoor family pictures or environmental portraits, when you want to avoid oversaturating the skin tones. And, of course, Vibrance gives you those incredibly saturated blue skies, with the slightly lower luminance. All of which makes landscapes—to my eye, anyway—simply appear all that much more natural.

You can find George Jardine‘s comprehensive Lightroom tutorials and his insightful blog at