Recovering Color Detail


Today’s Question: Is there a way to use the HSL sliders [Hue, Saturation, and Luminance] in Lightroom Classic to bring back detail on over-saturated portions of an image? For example, a red or yellow flower lacks detail from over-saturation. If not HSL is there another way in Lightroom to correct the image? Reducing total saturation sometimes helps to bring out detail, but then all of the other colors are hurt by it and the red/yellow loses its richness.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Reducing saturation for an individual color can help improve perceived detail in that area of the image, if the colors have been over-saturated. If, however, detail was lost due to an over-exposure, reducing the overall exposure in post-processing may help, but it is also possible that there is not any recoverable detail in those areas if the image was over-exposed too much in the camera.

More Detail: Many photographers are in the habit of checking the histogram on their camera’s LCD display to confirm they have achieved a good exposure. However, it is important to keep in mind that detail can be lost even if only one color channel has lost detail, even if there are no areas of the image clipped to pure white, for example.

If you over-expose an image of a red rose, for example, you may lose detail on the red channel without actually having any areas of the image clipped to pure white. In this type of situation, you would not see a “blinkies” indication of clipped highlights, for example, while the red channel of the histogram would show that detail was lost on that channel.

With a raw capture it may be possible to pull back the exposure in post-processing to recover detail that had appeared to be lost in the original capture. And if the issue was a matter of over-saturation, reducing the saturation of individual colors can help. But in the case of saturation, the issue is more about making detail that is already there more visible. If the detail isn’t there in the first place, adjustments in post-processing won’t magically bring that detail back.