Vibrance versus Saturation


Today’s Question: Can you explain why you recommend increasing the value for Vibrance but then reduce the value for Saturation [in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom]? It seems to me that a negative value for Saturation would just negate the use of Vibrance.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key here is that the Vibrance and Saturation sliders operate in different ways. Increasing the value for Vibrance helps balance the overall saturation levels in the photo. A negative value for the Saturation slider helps tone down the overall intensity of colors. The result is more balanced saturation levels without colors that are too intense.

More Detail: I think it can be helpful to consider a theoretical example to better understand the relationship between the Vibrance and Saturation sliders available in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw.

Let’s assume a hypothetical situation where we have three areas of a photo that represent saturation levels of 20%, 50%, and 80%, respectively. If we then increase the value for the Vibrance slider, the colors with lower saturation levels will receive a stronger boost in intensity than the colors that have relatively high saturation levels to begin with.

So, let’s assume that after a given increase in the value for the Vibrance slider that the saturation levels noted above have increased to 50%, 70%, and 85%. In other words, the color that wasn’t very saturated received the strongest boost, the middle value received a more moderate boost, and the highest value received a relatively minor boost. The way I think about the net effect here is that the overall saturation levels have been “equalized” to some extent.

Another way to think of the Vibrance adjustment is that it applies a stronger effect to colors that “need” the most adjustment, while minimizing the effect on colors that don’t need much of a boost because they are already highly saturated.

Of course, while the Vibrance adjustment provides a “balanced” approach to adjusting the intensity of colors in a photo, once you’ve gotten the saturation levels balanced adequately the overall saturation may be too high. If so, a small reduction in the value for the Saturation slider can provide the solution.

Because the Saturation slider operates in a more “linear” way (compared to the Vibrance slider), it won’t completely negate the effect of increasing the value for Vibrance. So, you can apply a relatively strong increase in the value for Vibrance to equalize colors so they are more balanced relative to each other, and then use a negative value for the Saturation slider to help tone down the result so the colors in the image don’t appear too intense.