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Making Your Colors More Vibrant

Photos that have rich, vibrant colors definitely have their appeal (that’s why professional landscape photographers got so hooked on Velvia film and its trademark saturated color), and although Lightroom has a Saturation slider for increasing your photo’s color saturation, the problem is it increases all the colors in your photo equally—while the dull colors do get more saturated, the colors that are already saturated get even more so, and well...things get pretty horsey, pretty fast. That’s why Lightroom’s Vibrance control may become your Velvia.

Step One: In the Presence section (at the bottom of the Basic panel) are two controls that affect the color saturation. I avoid the Saturation slider because everything gets saturated at the same intensity (it’s a very coarse adjustment). In fact, I only use it to remove color—never to add it. If you click-and-drag the Saturation slider to the right, your photo gets more colorful, but in a clownish, unrealistic way (the over-saturation won’t show up as much here in the printed book because the photos get converted to CMYK for a printing press, so however clownish this looks here, double it for the web or a print). Go ahead and try it—drag the Saturation slider to the far right and you’ll see what I mean. Now, return to 0.

Step Two: Now try the Vibrance slider—it affects dull colors the most, and it affects already saturated colors the least, and lastly, if your photo has people in it, it does its best to avoid affecting flesh tones altogether, so as the color gets more vibrant, the skin tones on your people don’t start to look weird (although that doesn’t really come into play in this particular photo). This gives a much more realistic-looking color saturation across the board, which makes this a much more usable tool. Here’s a before/after of the same photo using the Vibrance slider instead. The bases of the support posts, sky, and snow-covered trees look much more vibrant, but without looking “clowny” (I bet that word throws my spell checker for a loop).

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