Not fully understanding vibrance vs saturation in Lightroom, Photoshop or any other application is a common mistake made by many photographers.
You might be thinking, “I need bright bold colors to help make my image jump out at potential viewers.”and so you give your image a big bad saturation boost.
Most likely, all you have done is blown out the color details of the image. Your photo is now border lining on being nothing more than a tacky mobile app effect.
Vibrance vs Saturation
This is basically like saying Smart vs Stupid. Your vibrance adjustment takes all the little details into consideration. Vibrance looks at what colors are washed out and which ones are more saturated. When you increase the Vibrance setting in Lightroom it pays more attention to the muted colors because they need more help. The already saturated colors get less attention. Makes sense.
The Saturation adjustment is nowhere near as smart as its vibrant sibling. Saturation just blindly does as it’s told and makes an equal boost to every single color without taking anything into consideration. Over-Saturation in certain colors is what occurs from this method. When this happens you begin to lose the detail within those colors.
Think of it this way, when you over or underexpose an image you either clip your shadows or you blow out your highlights. You lose all the detail in those highlights and shadows of the frame. When you over-saturate a color, you loose the detail within that range of colors. Basically, you’re blowing out your colors.
Retaining detail makes a huge difference in the quality of your photos. Color detail becomes an even larger issue when taking portraits. Saturation destroys skin tones – pure and simple.
Vibrance vs Saturation Comparison
Let’s take a look at a real world comparison of vibrance vs saturation using the portrait above. The colors are a bit washed out and need to be popped in both my model and the background. The graffiti background is perfect for this Lightroom tutorial because it represents a situation that leads many photographers to over-saturation. Focus on your subject. The rookie mistake is to get so sidetracked popping the colors in an interesting background that you overlook what is happening to the real subject.
Saturation in Lightroom
First, let’s test a saturation adjustment and see what happens. I’m going to increase the Saturation in Lightroom to +80. For those of you who are new to photo editing, this is a ridiculous amount of saturation and more than you will probably ever apply to an image.
We see people post images like this on social media all the time. Yeah, those colors are popping all right and they’re screaming “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing!”. As a result of the over-saturation, the oranges and reds are close to clipping and her skin has been destroyed. Even if we pull back a bit she’s still going to look like she passed out in the tanning booth. Your model should never be orange!
Vibrance in Lightroom
Now let’s adjust the vibrance in Lightroom and see what happens. For the purpose of this Lightroom tutorial, I’m going to use the same setting of +80. This should give us the color pop that we were wanting – vibrant but natural.
It should be pretty obvious which technique produces the most professional results. While the saturation gave a bigger color boost, it also did way more damage than good. It killed the image. If you only need to apply a single color boost to a set of images, vibrancy wins hands down in the battle of vibrance vs saturation in Lightroom.