Lightroom’s vibrance adjustment is loved by photographers for its ability to intelligently saturate colors in an image. I too love this adjustment and agree Lightroom’s vibrance definitely gives images “pop”.   But just how good is Lightroom’s Vibrance? 

Note:  All comparison images below do not adequately illustrate the effects I am about to discuss due to the color compression of images which is  inherent in WordPress.  Please trust me when I describe the color issues below.

How Lightroom Vibrance Works:

Before I answer how good I think vibrance is,  let’s take a quick look at how vibrance works and also compare it to the saturation adjustment.

  • Vibrance works by targeting the non skin tone colors in an image which is great for portrait photographers.  
  • Also vibrance strategically applies most of it’s saturation to undersaturated colors in an image.Hey, this too is great for preventing oversaturated and blown out colors.  
  • Lastly, it helps the blues and greens in an image pop since they receive some of vibrance’s greatest saturation levels.  

So How Does Lightroom’s Vibrance Compare To Saturation?  

Unlike the intelligent vibrance, the saturation adjustment applies equal amounts of saturation to every color in an image. So, unless an image is so dull that every color needs to be saturated, I can’t image choosing saturation over vibrance.  

To illustrate the differences, let’s look at the following image comparison. 

Image Saturated  by 50:

Image with Vibrance of 50

The images say it all.  In this first image, the shore and rocks have taken on an unnatural orange hue due to being overly saturated while the shore in the second image remains a natural tan color.  Also notice that the blues in the sky and water have a deeper and richer tone in the image with the vibrance adjustment.

Lightroom Vibrance Impact on Whites:

So we know that vibrance affects blues and greens in an image while leaving skin tone colors such as tans alone.  But how does an adjustment to vibrance impact the whites in an image?  To find out, I will next compare the original image to images adjusted by 50, one by vibrance and one by saturation.

Original Beargrass Image

Beargrass with Vibrance Adjustment of 50.

Beargrass Adjustment for Saturation of 50

The whites in both the vibrance and saturation images have taken on a bit of a yellow to mustard cast as well as the greens in the above image. Therefore be aware of the impact on any white objects in an image when making any significant adjustment as both vibrance and saturation appear to have equal impacts on whites.

Now let’s look at an image with yellows, oranges and reds and take a look at where colors change in the vibrance adjusted image.

Bear River Wildlife Refuge

Original Image

Image with Vibrance added at 50

Look closely at clouds and you will see the yellow cast in the whites as previously discussed.  I realize the changes are hard to see in a blog but if you look carefully, it is noticeable. Also note the light yellow and orange vegetation no longer appears natural.  I should point out that I have added a vibrance adjustment of 50 so that the changes would hopefully show in WordPress but in reality a smaller change would also produce a similar result in a printed image.  

So how does on make colors pop without producing the unnatural effects of vibrance?

Comparison of Hue, Saturation and Luminosity to Vibrance:

To further illustrate my point, below are 3 images that I processed in two different manners.

In the first image I applied vibrance at 50.

In the second image, I applied Hue, Saturation and Luminosity (HSL) and targeting only the colors I wanted to saturate.

So you tell me which type of adjustment produced the most realistic image?

Red Rocks of Utah

 

The comparison is subtle however the sky in the first image has a bit of an unnatural purple shade.  Additionally the rocks have an unrealistic orange tint to them.  I should point out that my goal in processing images is to have an image pop while retaining colors that one could realistically expect to find when viewing a scene in person.  And yes, this may not garner as many Facebook likes. 

Another look at Hue and Saturation versus Vibrance

Smoky Mountain Boulders

Tremont Boulders 3241

The first image was saturated by adjustments to Hue, Saturation and Luminosity.  The second image was saturated with vibrance and here again the yellows in the image take on a slight mustard yellow. The top right boulder has also taken on a yellow cast and no longer has the natural tan colored one would expect to see in nature.  Although, the greens on the rocks definitely are lighter and have more pop than the first image, the bright color actual competes with the water.

Cypress Trees

Image processed with Hue, Saturation, and Lumonisity

Image processed with vibrance.

In this image of cypress trees my goal was to darken the sky by increasing the saturation of the blues and lowering the luminosity.  To achieve this result with vibrance, I had to increase vibrance to a level where the oranges in the trees no longer appeared realistic.  In the first image using HSL, I was able to darken the sky without negatively impacting the oranges.

Takeaway:

  • Vibrance is a great saturation tool for giving images an addition “pop” and much better thanLightroom’s saturation adjustment.
  • Vibrance should be used with an understanding of how vibrance adjustments impacts colors in an image.
  • Always be alert for unnatural color shifts in an image and back off the vibrance adjustment when color shifts occur. Believe me, most photo buyers will be on the lookout for this.
  • Finish adjustments using HSL. By combining vibrance and HSL you will have much greater control over what is being saturated in an image.
  • Always have a game plan for what you are trying to accomplish and select your adjustment tools accordingly. By this I mean understand the colors in each image and what is important to highlight.  As seen in the Smoky Mountain boulder image, over saturating the greens took the viewer’s eye away from the water.
  • A great way to separate your photography from amateurs is to produce images that pop but remain beautiful and natural looking.  I see too many images today where I can immediately see too much vibrance was applied and those images scream amateur.
  • Despite everything I had written, in the end, it is your image to create in whatever manner you choose. If you don’t mind the colorcast impact and love saturated images, go for it.  Just do so with an awareness of the tradeoffs.

Thanks for joining me on this vibrance exploration and I will see you in a couple weeks with another Technical Tuesday subject.

 

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