There are two tools in Lightroom for pushing colour, the first is Saturation, one I think we’re all pretty familiar with, the second is Vibrance. At first glance these two tools seem pretty similar, but use it a bit and you will see quite a difference in their affect on an image, so what is the difference?
In basic terms, we can think of saturation as how much colour there is in an image. If an image is completely de-saturated it will be black and white and have no colour information. On the other end, if you over saturated an image, every colour could be pushed to the maximum and look completely artificialwith fake colours.
The same image in Lightroom, on the left with saturation dragged to -100, in the middle at 0, and the right at +100. You can see how on the over saturated image, the pinks in the flower have become clipped and we lose definition and detail there, and even the green leaves have become to look artificial. Saturation is a powerful tool to push colour, when used appropriately of course.
Now we have the vibrance tool. Vibrance will also push and pull colours out of your image, but this is a smarter tool. What it does is compares how saturated part of an image is first, and then decides if that needs to be more saturated or not. If you have a very saturated colour, it will push or pull that colour less then a more muted colour. This means that you can never get a black and white image with the vibrance tool, and while you can still have your colours clipped when pushed, it’s much more likely to not push them beyond the 100% range of colour.
Now there are some very obvious differences right away, with the vibrance at -100 I still have colour in my image, i can still see green and pink and some brown in the tree behind, but it is very muted colour. Now compare the “as shot” image to the “+100” image, and my green leaves don’t look much different, yes they are a bit more saturated in the +100 image but not artificial looking. Compare that to the saturation image above and it still looks quite realistic.
Now in our flowers though, we are still pushing our pinks more then I would feel comfortable, this also has to do with the fact that pink/red are very tough colours for digital to handle properly, and will always clip faster then any other colour. With that said in our dying flowers, we see much more of the pink and brown in it, still looking quite real though.
There is one other main difference between these two tools, and that comes down to skin tones. Saturation does not care what colour it’s pushing, or how much, it just pushes it when we drag that slider, vibrance on the other hand will attempt to protect skin tones and not push them as much as another colour.
In our saturated image, we see we have lots of orange and reds in the skin, again making them look not very real and rather unpleasant colours for skin. In our vibrance image, we are still getting some reds and orange coming into our image, especially more so then the as shot image, but they are not pushed so far as to make them look like fake people. Keep in mind both sliders were slid all the way up to +100 for this image, and that is much farther then I would generally take either slider.
So there’s the differences between saturation and vibrance, I hope it makes sense and if you have any questions leave a comment below!
If you’d like hands on training, I have a Lightroom course coming up in October through Omnilargess, check here for more details