Vibrance vs. Saturation: Differences and When to Use Them
Whether to use vibrance vs. saturation is a common dilemma that photographers come across as soon as they start editing their work. If you’re looking to enhance your photos before sharing them on your photography website or simply want to improve your technical editing skills, it’s important to understand how these tools affect your images.
Both saturation and vibrance work to increase or decrease the intensity of the colors in an image, however, they do so in significantly different ways. While you have probably noticed these differences during your editing process, you may not know exactly the reason why these seemingly identical tools provide such different results. Keep on reading to learn all about what the main differences between vibrance and saturation are and how to choose which one to use.
What is saturation in photography
Saturation refers to the intensity of a color. The higher the saturation, the further it is to gray and the more vibrant it appears on the image. Lower saturation results in muted colors, while higher saturation increases the photo’s vividness. Think of it as a gray sponge dipped in a bucket of paint. As the paint is absorbed by the sponge, its saturation increases, resulting in a brighter color.
What is vibrance in photography
Vibrance is not a real photography term per se, as it’s not something that occurs naturally. The concept was coined by Adobe after they developed a smart-tool for more precise color editing on their flagship products Lightroom and Photoshop. Vibrance allows photographers to increase the intensity of muted colors while leaving saturated colors untouched. As a result, images appear much more natural and even.
Differences between saturation and vibrance
The main difference between saturation and vibrance is that, as we already mentioned, vibrance doesn’t actually exist as a concept in photography. While the saturation can be calculated through mathematical formulas and science, vibrance can’t actually be measured. In spite of that, this difference will have a minimal impact (if at all) on your everyday life as a professional photographer.
The most obvious difference between using the saturation or vibrance sliders is that the latter prevents colors from becoming overly saturated. This is especially important when working in fields such as fashion or portrait photography, as skin tones can easily appear unnatural as saturation is increased.
Decreasing the saturation or vibrance of a photograph also produces quite distinct results. A desaturated image will only show gray tones, which leads to monochrome photos. On the other hand, reduced vibrance affects only certain colors in the image, and thus the final result does display muted tones.
When to use vibrance vs. saturation
Ideally, vibrance and saturation should be used in sync accordingly to the specific needs of each image. Doing so will allow you to control the overall saturation intensity of the colors while giving dull tones a little vibrance push. This is the reason why most free photo editing software programs followed the steps of Adobe and integrate both tools within their offerings.
For quick edits, you can determine whether it’s best to use vibrance or saturation based on the raw look of your photo. If all the colors in the image appear dull, go for saturation in order to give an overall bust. If the photo has different color intensities or areas that are very sensitive to saturation, such as skin tones, then vibrance is the best option.
In some cases, however, you simply won’t have a choice as not all editing tools offer both options. For example, the majority of photography apps only include the saturation slider in order to avoid redundant features that make the program heavier.
Regardless of what your choice is, make sure that your editing decisions are in sync with your photography style and simply enhance the image rather than become the center of attention.
By Judit Ruiz Ricart
Editor of the Wix Photography Blog