There are three adjustment sliders in the “Presence” section of the “Basic” panel in the Development module (whew, did you get all of that?): Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation. There have been a few posts here on Inside Lightroom about Clarity and how it affects your images. That leaves two tools—err, more like one & a half—left to cover: Saturation and Vibrance.
Photoshop jockies and hobbyist photographers alike will recognize the saturation tool does and where to use it: bumping up the saturation of your image will intensify the colours in your image, bumping it down will take your image closer to monochrome. As always, the easiest explanation can be made by adjusting an image and comparing the before and after to see the effect; the version on the left is the original as imported by Lightroom, while the version on the right has had its Saturation increased. And, being humans, the eye will automatically pick out the fact that the skin tones are a little too saturated and appear orange, as a result.
So… what does the “Vibrance” adjustment do?
Upon first inspection, it would appear as though adjusting Vibrance has the same effect as an equivalent Saturation adjustment. But as you make your way out to the extremes (-100 and 100), you’ll see that, while the two adjustments are closely related, they’re not identical (obviously). According to Lightroom’s manual…
- Saturation adjusts the saturation of all image colors equally from -100 (monochrome) to +100 (double the saturation).
- Vibrance adjusts the saturation so that clipping is minimized as colors approach full saturation (it also prevents skintones from becoming over saturated).
In other words, bumping up the Vibrance has a greater effect on less–saturated colors than colors that are already somewhat–saturated; think of Vibrance as the socialist method of increasing color intensity, compared to capitalism’s Saturation adjustment. Skin tones are especially sensitive to saturation adjustments; the human brain is wired to identify human features and will quickly tell you when you’ve moved the sliders too far to the right. By amping up the less–saturated colours’s intensity with the Vibrance adjustment, you can achieve the same pop with your colours without blowing them out. Of course, you’re by no means required to use only one or the other; feel free to move them back and forth and see what happens to your colours; there’s no better way to learn than to experiment. You should find that in most cases you can get away with a bigger Vibrance adjustment compared to Saturation.
The image above is the same photo with a few spot, tonal and exposure adjustments to accompany the Vibrance correction—lookin’ good!