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February 22, 2009

Photo Tip: Saturation and Vibrancy

Written by Jeff Sobel

 

For most of us, the photos we take are more about capturing a moment than crafting an image.  We aren’t setting up backdrops and lights in a studio, posing a carefully styled model - we’re with friends or family at a gathering and we’re often as much a part of the fun as we are intent on capturing the fun in a photo.  In these situations some remarkable images can be made with a good eye for composition and exposure, but the fact is that you have to shoot the moment as it occurs and can’t wait until the perfect light filters through the sky and you can’t stop the action to capture your friends when they are posed just as you’d hope.  Frequently you’re happy just to have the camera in your hand when these photo-worthy moments happen.  This means that you often come home with a few photos that capture a memorable moment but are otherwise very ordinary photographs.  Luckily there are a few things you can do on your Mac to transform an unremarkable image into one a little more visually interesting.  Aperture 2 provides some great tools for doing this that are powerful, fast, easy to use, and a lot of fun to play with.  Two of my favorite adjustments are Saturation and Vibrancy.  Sliders for these settings can be found in the Adjustments panel or HUD.

The Saturation slider affects the amount of color in the image.  Reducing the saturation lowers the amount of color; you can make a photo black & white by simply setting the Saturation slider to 0.  Raising the slider makes colors richer and more pronounced.  The Saturation adjustment affects all colors equally so when using it you need to be careful that you aren’t making skintones look unnatural as you boost the color saturation.  In fact, you’ll probably find that when people are in the photo any boost in saturation at all tends to make them look strange and often gives them an orange-ish look (though hopefully not to this extreme).

That’s why we also have the Vibrancy adjustment.  Vibrancy adjusts color like Saturation does, but Vibrancy only affects colors that are already deeply saturated.  This means that deep colors like red flowers or a very blue sky can be boosted or reduced without affecting relatively unsaturated parts of the photo such as skintones.  This ability to reduce or boost color in an image without distorting the skintones of your subjects is very powerful.

I like to use both Saturation and Vibrancy in combination.  Many digital cameras capture images with hyped-up color saturation.  While this extra color isn’t necessarily bad, I find it often detracts from the impact of the image or causes detail in the image to be lost.  You can compensate for this by reducing the Saturation.  Unfortunately reducing Saturation too much can make the image a bit drab.  You can, however, get some interesting results by raising the Vibrancy after you’ve reduced the Saturation.  Let’s take a look at some examples:

While i like some elements of this photo it just seemed far too ordinary to me:


A quck adjustment of the Saturation and Vibrancy sliders yielded an image a bit more interesting:





Another example of the same adjustment:




The adjustments didn’t turn these photos into works of art but I feel it makes them more interesting images.  The desaturation of the skintones creates a sort of “classic” feel and also restores some detail lost in the too-rich color of the original.  Adding vibrancy back to the image restores color to the water and boat’s canopy so the picture doesn’t seem drab.

This simple adjustment in Aperture is very easy and fun to play with.  One drawback to it is that the adjustments affect the entire image.  This is fine for many photos but not ideal for others.  In my next post I’ll talk about how you can “paint” saturation effects onto precise portions of a photo using Aperture’s included Dodge and Burn plugin.

Next entry: Battle of the Bands, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

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