What is the Lightroom HSL panel? And how can you use it to create beautiful edits?
In this article, I explain everything you need to know about Lightroom’s Hue, Saturation, and Luminance tools, including:
- What the HSL sliders actually do
- How you can tastefully adjust the HSL sliders for pro-level results
- Tips for applying color edits to your images
So if you’re ready to become an HSL master, then read on, starting with:
What is the HSL panel in Lightroom?
The HSL panel allows you to adjust three image features:
- The hue (i.e., color)
- The saturation (i.e., color intensity)
- The luminance (i.e., color brightness)
But what makes the HSL panel especially powerful is that it lets you control different colors independently; in other words, it lets you adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of targeted colors.
As you can probably imagine, this is intensely powerful. Want to increase the saturation of the sky in your images? Then crank up the Blue saturation slider. Want to darken down the color of the trees in the background? Then drop the Green luminance slider.
Simply put, with the HSL sliders, you can independently adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of eight different colors: red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta. This covers the entire color spectrum, and it offers a set of targeted adjustments that lets you create all sorts of interesting effects.
But when should you adjust color hues, saturations, and luminances? When does it make sense for your images? Let’s take a deeper dive into these tools, starting with:
How to do Hue adjustments
As you now know, the Hue portion of the HSL panel targets color hue – which is essentially a color’s color. Yellow objects have a yellow hue; green objects have a green hue; purple and magenta objects have a purple-magenta hue, and so on.
The HSL panel offers eight Hue sliders, each corresponding to a specific color. By moving the sliders, you can change the color hues. Move the Orange slider to the left, and your oranges will become redder. Move the Orange slider to the right, and your oranges will become yellower.
Note that the sliders only affect their labeled color, so while pushing the Orange slider to the right will adjust the oranges in your image, other colors will remain untouched.
And note that the Hue sliders do not affect image saturation or luminance. If your image features desaturated oranges and you boost the Orange slider, you’ll end up with desaturated yellows.
Now, why might you wish to make Hue adjustments? For three main reasons:
First, you can use Hue adjustments to more accurately represent what you saw the moment you took the photo. For instance, if you photographed a beach sunset, the reds might come out a little too orange, in which case you can shift them back toward red.
Second, you can use Hue adjustments to give colors specific artistic looks. Maybe you prefer greener oceans, deep blue skies, or orange-colored sand. If so, the Hue tool can make it happen!
Third, you can use Hue adjustments to create specific color combinations. Here, photographers rely on color theory to create color pairs, and while this might sound complex, it’s really not: You simply use the color wheel to identify two colors that look good together, then you shift the Hue sliders until you get the result you’re after.
I wanted to adjust the leaf colors in this image:
So I moved the Yellow and Green sliders until the leaves started to turn red and orange:
How to do Saturation adjustments
The Saturation sliders are more straightforward than the Hue sliders, simply because it’s easier to understand what they affect and how they affect it.
Saturation refers to color intensity, so by boosting color saturation, you’ll end up with eye-popping, vivid greens, reds, and blues. On the other hand, by reducing color saturation, you’ll end up with more subdued, faded greens, reds, and blues. Make sense?
Of course, the power of the Saturation sliders in the HSL panel comes from their ability to target specific colors for adjustment. You can choose to saturate just the blues while desaturating just the greens, or saturate just the reds while desaturating just the magentas, etc.
When is this useful?
As with the Hue sliders, you can use the Saturation sliders to make your photo more true to life. RAW files, in particular, tend to look undersaturated, so by boosting specific colors, you can recreate the scene as you remember it.
But you can also use the Saturation sliders artistically. For instance, you might choose to make one or two main colors pop while letting the others recede. It’s often helpful to desaturate distracting background colors while saturating interesting foreground colors; that way, you can help focus the viewer on the main subject.
And you can also use the Saturation sliders to help achieve specific color palettes. Simply desaturate the colors that don’t conform to your desired color palette, and you’re good to go! (Of course, you’ll need to be subtle about it; you don’t want an image that features a strange combination of color and black and white.)
Here’s my tree image again:
And here is the same image, but with subtle saturation boosts to the greens and yellows:
How to do Luminance adjustments
Luminance refers to brightness, so the eight Luminance sliders target brightness values for specific colors.
This works as you’d expect. Boost the Blue slider, and the blues become brighter; reduce the Green slider, and the greens become darker, and so on.
Luminance adjustments are especially effective when you’re looking to create contrast in your image. For instance, you can boost the luminance values of subject colors while reducing the luminance values of background colors. That way, your subject will pop off the screen while the background recedes.
You can also use luminance adjustments to handle image distractions. If you darken down distracting colors, you can simplify the shot and effectively focus the viewer. (That’s why it’s always a good idea to do a “distraction check” while editing! Identify any distracting elements, then use the Luminance sliders to make them recede.)
Once again, take a look at my tree photo:
Then watch as the leaves are transformed through a bit of Luminance magic. Note how they really stand out:
An alternative way to apply HSL adjustments
Up until now, I’ve discussed slider-based HSL adjustments. Sliders are quick, they’re easy to understand, and they work well.
Lightroom actually offers a second method of HSL adjustment, which allows you to target specific image elements while editing. Here’s how it works:
First, click the target icon next to either the Hue, Saturation, or Luminance sliders:
Then identify the area of your image that you wish to adjust. Click and drag your cursor over the relevant area; if you drag upward, Lightroom will automatically boost the corresponding color sliders.
And if you drag downward, Lightroom will automatically reduce the corresponding color sliders. (If you’re struggling to understand what I mean, I highly recommend you head over to Lightroom, select the target icon, and experiment. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly!)
Lightroom HSL panel: final words
Well, there you have it:
A guide to the Lightroom HSL panel.
The HSL panel may seem overwhelming, but once you understand how each adjustment affects your photo, it’s a lot less scary! And independently adjusting the hue, saturation, and luminance of colors will make a huge difference to your photos.
So head over to Lightroom. Practice working with the HSL panel. And see what you can create!
Now over to you:
Have you used the HSL panel before? Do you plan to start using it regularly? Share your thoughts in the comments below!