The Saturation and Vibrance sliders are well-known and used by photographers in all genres alike. But do you know the difference between them?
If not, then you’re not alone. In fact, the majority of us just play around with them until we find a combination that makes the image look good. For a more effective and professional workflow, though, I highly recommend taking two minutes to understand their differences.
To make things visual and easy to understand, we’ll be adjusting vibrance and saturation to the image below. The image has not been processed in any other way and the only adjustments made is either increasing the Saturation or Vibrance slider.
Perhaps one of the most debated tools across all photo editors, the Saturation slider adjusts the colors within the image. Colors are brightened and deepened when dragging the slider towards the right while pulling it to the left removes the colors and ultimately leads to a monochrome image.
But how’s this different from Vibrance? Isn’t that exactly what it does as well? Kind of…
The Saturation slider adjusts all the pixels in an image. That means that pixels with high saturation are treated the same as pixels with low saturation. The problem with this is that by increasing the saturation (drag the slider toward the right), you’ll end up blowing some of the already saturated colors and losing details in them.
For the example above, I increased the saturation to +65. While certain colors are too saturated and bright in my opinion, it’s still somewhat restricted. Yet, notice how the already bright colors (see the original file further up) now are starting to lose details.
In the image below I increased the saturation all the way to +100. Obviously, this looks quite ridiculous but notice how colors that weren’t visible in the original file have appeared.
The main difference between the Saturation and Vibrance sliders is that the latter doesn’t treat all pixels equally. Vibrance only adjusts the least saturated colors in the image. Colors and pixels that already are saturated are adjusted less, which means that it’s less likely to blow out any colors.
Comparing the image below (Vibrance +65) to the same strength on the Saturation slider, you can see that Vibrance is less surreal and more constrained. This shows how much more controllable it is compared to saturation.
Again, to compare with the Saturation slider, the image below shows the same picture with the Vibrance slider pulled to the far right.
As you can see, the already saturated colors (such as red) have not been heavily adjusted. The Vibrance slider mostly increased the brightness and deepened the colors of the less saturated tones in the picture.
Use the Sliders Carefully
In many ways, the Vibrance slider solves some of the issues with the Saturation slider. You don’t need to worry about blowing out colors and it’s less likely that you get extremely unnatural-looking images.
I still recommend using the sliders carefully and not just increasing them to the maximum. There are other, more selective and less destructive, ways to add colors to an image as well.