Vibrance vs. Saturation in Plain English - Digital Photography School
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Vibrance vs. Saturation in Plain English

Recently I posted about the difference between exposure, brightness and fill light. Today, I want to talk about the difference between vibrance and saturation. Those fun little color boosting sliders which can make or break a shot.

First, I’ll give you some definitions and the we’ll look closer at the difference made on a shot.

{Saturation}

Saturation is a uniform bumping up the intensity of all colors in your shot, regardless of the starting point of the colors. This can result in clipping (over saturation of certain colors which results in loss of detail in those areas) and over saturation of skin tones leaving them looking too orange and unnatural.

{Vibrance}

Vibrance is a smart-tool which cleverly increases the intensity of the more muted colors and leaves the already well-saturated colors alone. It’s sort of like fill light, but for colors. Vibrance also prevents skin tones from becoming overly saturated and unnatural.

See the below example made in Lightroom:

In the middle shot, the saturation was turned up to +50 and you can see what the red bricks have gotten a tad out of control. Too red in my opinion. But when I turned the vibrance up +50 instead, Lightroom already saw that the red was very red but that the grass could use a bump (a bit of ‘fill color’ if you will). I think that the bottom edit is much more reasonable than the shot edited with added saturation.

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Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin'photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english". She's addicted to Facebook and can be found answering photography and business questions every day here on her page

  • brian

    So do you ever use the Saturation slider? Seems like it’s pretty rare where you want to bump up the entire image.

  • Dave Witherell

    Thanks for the tip. Now I understand how it works. Thanks again

  • Robin öberg

    I think the saturation image has better skin tones. But then saturation can be modified locally with a brush, so vibrance is better for over-all changes.

  • AC

    Thanks. I am finding these little snippets quite helpful as one just tends to forget these differences.

  • http://www.pillowworks.com/blogpw2 Lambert

    Saturation is a uniform bumping up the saturation of all colors

    That’s a little circular I think. Perhaps it could be better put as “Saturation” is a uniform bumping up of the color intensity”?

  • Nancy

    I like the saturation photo. The vibrant red on the building is nice so I think you have to evaluate each photo and choose the one you like the best.

  • http://andthen-shesnapped.com rachel

    thanks for the tip…I never knew the difference!

  • Elizabeth C.

    I had never even noticed the ‘vibrance’ slider, so I will definitely check it out now. Thanks for the explanation!

  • http://metsuki.tumblr.com Aseem

    Very good series to explain basic functions in photoshop… thanks… and please keep going on with this…

  • http://martyspeck.blogspot.com Marty

    Thanks for this. I find these useful. I have used the vibrance slider and have liked the results. I try to understand how everything works under the monitor to improve my use of the tools. Discussions like this really help.

  • http://www.lildebweb.com/biselblog Deb

    I think that the brick looks ok in a redder hue, but the grass looks far too unnatural in the Saturdation +50 image. I always tended to like my Vibrance bumps, but felt the Saturation bumps were too artificial looking. Now I actually understand why. Thanks!

  • http://richaclicks.com/ Richa

    Thanks for this post. I have recently downloaded Light Room and use it only for noise reduction only. I see many sliders of colors in LR and get confused about their precise use. This post is really easy to understand for me as I am not well aware with very technical words. Thanks again for making me understand about the difference of saturation and vibrance….

  • http://www.larsonphotography.net LIsa L.

    I very much enjoy your posts on the whole. Thanks for helping me understand the difference between vibrance and saturation.

    Only one minor thing about the pictures you used – the horizon was off and it was the first thing I noticed. I didn’t notice the saturation or anything else, just that the horizon was tilted. Then I saw the rest of the picture.

    Thanks again!

  • Mark

    Not sure about Photoshop, but GIMP allows you to increase saturation of all colors, some colors or just a single color. You can also separate the image into color channels and only work on one channel at a time! I would be surprised if Photoshop did not allow the same control.

  • Paul.B.

    Photoshop CS4 does have individual control for saturate/desaturate 6 colours, or all together.

  • Paul.B.

    I was also worried about the perpective distortion in the building. That would have been the first thing I would have corrected.

  • http://www.abhaypatny.com Abhay Patny

    Thanks for the tip. I was realy confused earlier between these two options

  • Richard Skoonberg

    Thanks… A good explanation.. “fill light for color.”

  • http://www.KellymanPhotography.com Chris Kellyman

    I prefer to use the Vibrance slider as was stated here but I sometimes bump the saturation just a little bit for a bit more pop in the color. I’m talkin +5 or so after I get the Vibrance where I want it. Nothing anywhere near the +50 used in the example. Nice writeup.

  • Denise

    Vibrance only affect to mid-tones that’s why its softer than saturation!

  • http://gus.fotoscr.com Gustavo De la E.

    Thanks, had been wondering about that for a while now!

  • Sandy

    I am LOVING these articles!! Thank you!!

  • Geepers

    Thanks for the simple explanation of the differences between the vibrance and saturation tools.

    Personally I like the “before” picture best. The others look like what they are: fake.

  • Neil Lee

    Thanks for the explanation and (especially) the image example. Good simple explanation – always wondered what the difference was and this makes it clear.

  • Dimwit

    Thanks for this! One q: what is the most accurate? I know that that has become a slippery slope but it was your eyes that were there. Can you remember if the top photo was more accurate, or if bumping up the colour reflects reality (and compensates for a deficient camera!)?

  • http://arianasart.com ArianaMurphy

    Another great post! Explaining the basic tools with clarity is a great help. Thanks!

  • http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com John Paul Caponigro

    There’s a visual difference to the way colors that are affected look and feel. Painters often talk about the “weight” of colors – i.e. blue seems heavier than yellow. Vibrance adds more weight to colors than Saturation. Vibrance can make a blue sky look/feel rich and gutsy, but past a certain point will reduce the airy quality it has. Saturation makes yellow highlights less weighty and glow more. but past a certain point it can start clipping channels and make areas seem hot and flat. Often it’s not as simple as choosing between the two, but finding the right balance between the two. Look closely. Trust your eyes.

  • http://www.pixilstudio.com bryan

    thank u i get it

  • Susan Capezzone

    I noticed the wedding dress lost some detail in the Vibrance example. The dress is the focus, no?

  • http://nomadimages.smugmug.com Johno L

    I use vibrance all the time, it is especially good in bringing out colours for sunsets and landscapes without blowing already saturated areas

  • Miguel Lara

    Thank you!!! It is so hard to find articles that actually go into the detail of what all these different sliders do. And it’s hard sometimes to figure it out by yourself. These articles are very helpful. Thanks again.

  • Mathieu Dumont

    Does Vibrance add noise or any grain though? I’ve always felt like it was enhancing colors of course, but somewhat effecting the sharpness as well, which is why I’m always afraid to use it.

  • Deborah

    I haven’t been using Photoshop Elements 9 for very long and this is probably a newbie question, so I hope you’ll bear with me. I couldn’t find a Vibrance slider in PSE 9. Is there one and I’m just missing it? Nice clear explanation of the difference between Vib and Sat. Thank you.

  • http://mikeysdigitalphotography.com mikeysdigitalphotography

    very good looking info, thanks for your great site

  • http://www.twkstudioblog.com.au Thaddeus

    I have found that we touch saturation and vibrance very little in our files. Contrast also increases vibrance

  • http://prophoto.com.au Wedding Photographer Perth

    It pays to use both depending on your photo

  • http://www.prism-photo.com Rafiqul Islam

    I was very much confused for this two terms Vibrance & Saturation; now very clear. Before I read it I thought that vibrance changes slowly and saturation changes faster, as I see flatly during Raw Conversion in Adobe Raw Converter. Thanks to the writer.

  • kanalet

    Yeah, over-saturated photos have always looked rather disgusting to me. It just looks so unnatural. Thank you for the tip!

  • hot_spare

    Good one!

  • Elphaba Wackadoodle

    There are times I’ve used a minus in Saturation to tone things down, then Vibrance to bring out my focul colors.

  • Keevin

    I agree with you completely on that comment

  • Quan Vinh

    Thank you sooooooooooo very much for explaining this. I’ve been looking for just a simple yet easy to understand like yours :)

  • Sir Digby Chicken Caesar

    Good and simple explanation! Thank you!

  • Joe Gallant

    Thanks so much for this, I’ve noticed the difference but wondered what was technically going on. Feel free to have a look at my photo blog on http://www.sticksandston.es or my flickr http://www.flickr.com/jgallant1990

  • http://www.FB.Com/Qanea2 Qanea

    Thanks :)

Some older comments

  • kanalet

    July 16, 2013 11:04 pm

    Yeah, over-saturated photos have always looked rather disgusting to me. It just looks so unnatural. Thank you for the tip!

  • Rafiqul Islam

    June 28, 2013 11:02 am

    I was very much confused for this two terms Vibrance & Saturation; now very clear. Before I read it I thought that vibrance changes slowly and saturation changes faster, as I see flatly during Raw Conversion in Adobe Raw Converter. Thanks to the writer.

  • Wedding Photographer Perth

    February 14, 2012 09:25 pm

    It pays to use both depending on your photo

  • Thaddeus

    November 29, 2011 07:01 pm

    I have found that we touch saturation and vibrance very little in our files. Contrast also increases vibrance

  • mikeysdigitalphotography

    August 14, 2011 01:20 am

    very good looking info, thanks for your great site

  • Deborah

    August 13, 2011 08:22 pm

    I haven't been using Photoshop Elements 9 for very long and this is probably a newbie question, so I hope you'll bear with me. I couldn't find a Vibrance slider in PSE 9. Is there one and I'm just missing it? Nice clear explanation of the difference between Vib and Sat. Thank you.

  • Mathieu Dumont

    August 11, 2011 12:04 am

    Does Vibrance add noise or any grain though? I've always felt like it was enhancing colors of course, but somewhat effecting the sharpness as well, which is why I'm always afraid to use it.

  • Miguel Lara

    August 5, 2011 08:58 am

    Thank you!!! It is so hard to find articles that actually go into the detail of what all these different sliders do. And it's hard sometimes to figure it out by yourself. These articles are very helpful. Thanks again.

  • Johno L

    August 2, 2011 11:08 am

    I use vibrance all the time, it is especially good in bringing out colours for sunsets and landscapes without blowing already saturated areas

  • Susan Capezzone

    August 2, 2011 08:17 am

    I noticed the wedding dress lost some detail in the Vibrance example. The dress is the focus, no?

  • bryan

    August 2, 2011 01:28 am

    thank u i get it

  • John Paul Caponigro

    July 30, 2011 11:17 pm

    There's a visual difference to the way colors that are affected look and feel. Painters often talk about the "weight" of colors - i.e. blue seems heavier than yellow. Vibrance adds more weight to colors than Saturation. Vibrance can make a blue sky look/feel rich and gutsy, but past a certain point will reduce the airy quality it has. Saturation makes yellow highlights less weighty and glow more. but past a certain point it can start clipping channels and make areas seem hot and flat. Often it's not as simple as choosing between the two, but finding the right balance between the two. Look closely. Trust your eyes.

  • ArianaMurphy

    July 27, 2011 12:55 am

    Another great post! Explaining the basic tools with clarity is a great help. Thanks!

  • Dimwit

    July 24, 2011 03:58 pm

    Thanks for this! One q: what is the most accurate? I know that that has become a slippery slope but it was your eyes that were there. Can you remember if the top photo was more accurate, or if bumping up the colour reflects reality (and compensates for a deficient camera!)?

  • Neil Lee

    July 24, 2011 12:03 pm

    Thanks for the explanation and (especially) the image example. Good simple explanation - always wondered what the difference was and this makes it clear.

  • Geepers

    July 23, 2011 09:44 am

    Thanks for the simple explanation of the differences between the vibrance and saturation tools.

    Personally I like the "before" picture best. The others look like what they are: fake.

  • Sandy

    July 23, 2011 08:11 am

    I am LOVING these articles!! Thank you!!

  • Gustavo De la E.

    July 23, 2011 05:06 am

    Thanks, had been wondering about that for a while now!

  • Denise

    July 23, 2011 01:55 am

    Vibrance only affect to mid-tones that's why its softer than saturation!

  • Chris Kellyman

    July 22, 2011 11:41 pm

    I prefer to use the Vibrance slider as was stated here but I sometimes bump the saturation just a little bit for a bit more pop in the color. I'm talkin +5 or so after I get the Vibrance where I want it. Nothing anywhere near the +50 used in the example. Nice writeup.

  • Richard Skoonberg

    July 22, 2011 11:18 pm

    Thanks... A good explanation.. "fill light for color."

  • Abhay Patny

    July 22, 2011 10:40 pm

    Thanks for the tip. I was realy confused earlier between these two options

  • Paul.B.

    July 22, 2011 04:34 pm

    I was also worried about the perpective distortion in the building. That would have been the first thing I would have corrected.

  • Paul.B.

    July 22, 2011 04:31 pm

    Photoshop CS4 does have individual control for saturate/desaturate 6 colours, or all together.

  • Mark

    July 22, 2011 03:12 am

    Not sure about Photoshop, but GIMP allows you to increase saturation of all colors, some colors or just a single color. You can also separate the image into color channels and only work on one channel at a time! I would be surprised if Photoshop did not allow the same control.

  • LIsa L.

    July 21, 2011 09:36 pm

    I very much enjoy your posts on the whole. Thanks for helping me understand the difference between vibrance and saturation.

    Only one minor thing about the pictures you used - the horizon was off and it was the first thing I noticed. I didn't notice the saturation or anything else, just that the horizon was tilted. Then I saw the rest of the picture.

    Thanks again!

  • Richa

    July 21, 2011 02:38 pm

    Thanks for this post. I have recently downloaded Light Room and use it only for noise reduction only. I see many sliders of colors in LR and get confused about their precise use. This post is really easy to understand for me as I am not well aware with very technical words. Thanks again for making me understand about the difference of saturation and vibrance....

  • Deb

    July 21, 2011 02:03 pm

    I think that the brick looks ok in a redder hue, but the grass looks far too unnatural in the Saturdation +50 image. I always tended to like my Vibrance bumps, but felt the Saturation bumps were too artificial looking. Now I actually understand why. Thanks!

  • Marty

    July 21, 2011 01:56 pm

    Thanks for this. I find these useful. I have used the vibrance slider and have liked the results. I try to understand how everything works under the monitor to improve my use of the tools. Discussions like this really help.

  • Aseem

    July 21, 2011 10:58 am

    Very good series to explain basic functions in photoshop... thanks... and please keep going on with this...

  • Elizabeth C.

    July 21, 2011 10:45 am

    I had never even noticed the 'vibrance' slider, so I will definitely check it out now. Thanks for the explanation!

  • rachel

    July 21, 2011 09:02 am

    thanks for the tip...I never knew the difference!

  • Nancy

    July 21, 2011 07:19 am

    I like the saturation photo. The vibrant red on the building is nice so I think you have to evaluate each photo and choose the one you like the best.

  • Lambert

    July 21, 2011 06:35 am

    Saturation is a uniform bumping up the saturation of all colors

    That's a little circular I think. Perhaps it could be better put as "Saturation" is a uniform bumping up of the color intensity"?

  • AC

    July 21, 2011 06:01 am

    Thanks. I am finding these little snippets quite helpful as one just tends to forget these differences.

  • Robin öberg

    July 21, 2011 06:01 am

    I think the saturation image has better skin tones. But then saturation can be modified locally with a brush, so vibrance is better for over-all changes.

  • Dave Witherell

    July 21, 2011 05:43 am

    Thanks for the tip. Now I understand how it works. Thanks again

  • brian

    July 21, 2011 05:42 am

    So do you ever use the Saturation slider? Seems like it's pretty rare where you want to bump up the entire image.

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