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Adobe Lightroom Tip: Using Selective Color Saturation to Make your Images Pop

Author: Carl Heaton
He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.
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How to use Adobe Lightroom to get the most out of your images without an artificial “photo-shopped” look but rather using selective color saturation.

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Today’s post begins a series on how you can use Adobe Lightroom to turn otherwise dull images into something which truly catches people’s attention. The first technique we’ll look at is using selective saturation enhancement to make an image’s colors pop, but without getting an artificial “photo-shopped” look.

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Selective color saturation

Use selective color saturation to make your images pop.

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The key to this technique is choosing images which have one color you’d like to make stand out above the rest. Taking the above image as an example, one sees that the aqua-colored towel stands out against the maroon and brown of the subjects’ skin and clothes. Notice in the original below how the color stands out, but lacks the vibrancy of the final product.

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After identifying that we’d like to enhance the aqua of that towel, we move to Lightroom’s develop module (hotkey: d) to increase saturation. We will quickly find, however, that the standard saturation slider in the basic box gives us an undesirable result: that saccharine hyper-saturated look that screams “photoshopped.” This is because the saturation slider affects all of the colors in the image. As the saturation of our desired color increases to a satisfactory level, the colors surrounding it increase as well, often to become much more saturated to look real. In the example below, notice how the yellow in the background and the red of the monk’s robes begin to look fake as the aqua gets to a level we want.

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The solution to this problem is using the selective saturation tool. In the develop module, scroll down to the HSL Box. Click on saturation at the top.

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You’ll notice a series of sliders, where you can choose from eight individual colors to adjust the saturation of any of those colors individually, leaving the others unaffected. This way we can adjust any color listed here, without accordingly adjusting the others. At this point, I could go to the aqua slider to adjust my image, but I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to click on the selective saturation tool in the upper left (under the word “Hue”).

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Then, I’ll go into the image itself, place the cursor over the aqua-colored towel, click, and move the mouse upwards. Doing this will cause Lightroom to read the exact “mixture” of the color you click on and adjust saturation of that “mixture” upwards or downwards accordingly. Because nearly all colors found in our images aren’t truly aqua, orange, magenta, or any of the ones listed, using the selective saturation tool is more precise. We find when clicking the towel, that what appears to be aqua, is actually a mixture of aqua and blue.

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Subtlety is the key

When you hit the right level, release the mouse. Careful not to overdo it. The rule of thumb for this kind of thing is that you want to adjust saturation without making it known that you’ve adjusted saturation. Go too far and you wind up looking like the 12 year-old girl who shows up at school having discovered make-up for the first time. It’s a fine line between proper enhancement, and a fake-looking image; subtlety is the key.

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That’s it for this technique.

Check out below for more examples:

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Learn Photography

If you want to learn more about photography and how to take beautiful pictures with your own camera, check out our Beginner’s Digital Photography Class!

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