Making sense of Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation in Lightroom 2

Making sense of Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation in Lightroom 2

In Lightroom 2 the collection of Basic fixes available for your image includes three Presence sliders that sit together in the Develop module: Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation.


This week I’ll explain the differences between these three adjustments and how they affect your photos. In each of the screenshots below I have set the slider value to 100 – way more than you would use to fix your image but a setting that will show clearly how the fixes work.

Step 1


Let’s tackle Saturation first. The Saturation slider works similarly to the Saturation slider in Photoshop or any other graphics software. It lets you adjust the saturation of the colors in the image – drag it to the right to brighten and deepen the colors in the photo. If you drag to the left, you remove some of the depth and brightness in the colors and, if you go all the way to -100 you end up with a desaturated or monochrome image.

One of the problems with using the Saturation slider is that it adjusts all the pixels in the image – those where the color is lacking in saturation and those that are already highly saturated. In trying to fix the pixels that need a color boost you can end up shooting some other pixels into right over the edge so the colors tend towards the ridiculous.

Step 2


The Vibrance slider solves some of the problems that you’ll encounter when trying to boost color saturation because it is more particular about what it adjusts. With vibrance only the least saturated colors in the image are adjusted and those pixels which are already relatively saturated are adjusted less. The result is that you’ll get a general improvement in the saturation in colors in the image but not to the extent where colors become unrealistically bright. Vibrance also offers some protection for skin tones which makes it a good choice for adding saturation to portraits as it is less likely to over saturate and destroy the subject’s skin tones. In many instances you can safely bypass the Saturation slider and adjust Vibrance instead.

Step 3


The Clarity slider affects the contrast in the midtones in the image. It works by increasing some of the edge detail in the midtones giving a general sharpening which adds punch to your photo. Typically you will want to adjust the Clarity of your image in a positive direction using a setting of around 10 to 15. If possible, view your image at 100 percent so that you can see the changes that you’re making to it as you adjust it.

Read more from our Post Production category

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Thaddeus November 29, 2011 06:58 pm

    enjoyed this. Always looking for places to direct newbie photographers to learn a bit about workflow.

  • lorimain July 27, 2011 06:05 am

    Thanks for the explanation of why I do what I do. For several years, I have played with the different adjustments until I got the look that I wanted.

  • Alison Greenwood April 22, 2009 06:13 am

    WOW! I just used the vibrance and was amazed at what a difference it made! WOW! Thank you so much for this tip!

  • Jeremy March 11, 2009 10:47 am

    That was a great, concise explanation of three settings I've used but was never entirely clear on.

  • Owens Daniels March 7, 2009 09:45 am

    I am a big LightRoom fan and use it to edit all my work. I use the three bands and until this article, really did not know how they worked together or separate. I want to thank you very much for clearing this up and opening the door to better photo-editing.

  • vicknes March 6, 2009 11:28 am

    hi there, thanks for the tips. I've been shooting quite a number of indian events such as indian cultural wedding, temple festival and some religious events and as we know they are all very colorful and thanks to this tutorial for guiding me to bring out the vibrant of the "rangoli" colors.

  • Keith_Indy February 20, 2009 03:27 am

    Just learned about these a couple weekends ago (@ a Rocky Mountain School of Photography weekend, for any US viewers.) They are great tools, and you explained them well.

    I would suggest you show them going negative aw well. Clarity going negative by small amounts is like a soft focus, but going to 100 can give a dream like quality to some photo's. For instance, here in this photo of mine.

  • Victor February 20, 2009 02:06 am

    In the later Lightroom versions, you can also apply these settings to parts of the picture via the adhustment brushes. There is even a preset for skin softening.

  • Jonathan February 20, 2009 01:56 am

    I would also recommend on Clarity that by going into negatives, it softens a photo, which is great for portraits. I use it very sparingly though, as I only want to soften a persons face, and don't want to lose the sharpness in their hair, eyes, lips, or clothing.

    Ultimately, its best to simply use the Adjustment Brush.

    Great article.

  • Tibian February 19, 2009 05:15 pm

    Excellent examples of using Saturation, Vibrance and Clarity. I'll include in my workflow.

    Looking forward to the sharpening article.

    Thank you.


  • Greg February 19, 2009 03:13 pm

    Hi Darren
    Thanks for the timely advice. I have just been playing around with Vibrance and saturation...wondering where the difference was. I had a landscape I was trying to give a bit more oomph! However the saturation control in
    Camera Raw was definatley over saturating some areas. The vibrance slider does give a more subtle effect.

  • Dexter February 19, 2009 07:21 am

    Apologies for my last message. The comment is suppose to address Darren. Not Helen. Sorry for messing things up.

  • Dexter February 19, 2009 07:19 am

    This is the kind of information Ive always been looking for from different sites and tutorials. You see, what others present is just telling us what keys or features they have used but not really telling the viewers why they choose it or, how those things work.
    What you have done Helen is taking away more than 80% of our problem (when learning). Thanks for doing it this way.

  • Helen Bradley February 18, 2009 04:15 pm

    Hi Shawn D

    I've just written a post on sharpening in general which you'll see in the next week or two so keep a look out for that..



  • Shawn D February 18, 2009 02:40 am

    Very useful information, thanks! Perhaps you can do something on how to use the Sharpening settings?

  • smiles4angels February 18, 2009 01:45 am

    thank you. i've been wondering about that.

  • Fletch February 18, 2009 12:53 am

    Good stuff. A usefull tip for us cash stapped lot is that the same sliders exist in Adobe Camera RAW (that comes with PS Elements as well as the full PS) so you don't need light room to use these tools.

    Vibrance is my favourite. Really adds some pop to images without making them look fake and overly saturated.

  • Spencer Thomas February 18, 2009 12:52 am

    Thanks for the clear explanations. Do you know if Vibrance and Clarity in LR are the same as Vibrancy and Definition (respectively) in Aperture?