Color enhancement of photos can be achieved in many different ways. One of my favorite ways is by using the Vibrance / Saturation tool in Photoshop. Photoshop Elements users can experiment with several options found under the Enhance Menu:  Shadows and Highlights, and Brightness and Contrast.

Here is my original photo, and I would like to enhance the colors a bit.

Saturation vs Vibrance Tutorial by SnickerdoodleDesigns

Original Photo

The Vibrance / Saturation Tool can be accessed either by going to the Top Menu Bar: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance OR by accessing it in the Adjustments Panel.

Saturation vs Vibrance Tutorial by SnickerdoodleDesigns

Once this Adjustment option is selected  a Panel will open with sliders for both Vibrance and Saturation. Move the sliders to the right or to the left, depending upon what look you are going for. Dragging the slider to the right will increase Vibrance and/or Saturation; and dragging to the left will decrease.

The difference between Vibrance and Saturation is this:

  • Vibrance will increase the saturation of less-saturated colors, avoiding the yellows and oranges found in skin tones. Because of this, Vibrance is the usually the best-first option to try when adjusting colors in photos with people included.
  • Saturation will increase the intensity of all of the colors in a photograph.

Here is the same photograph with Vibrance set at +49. There is a  nice little increase in color in the blue shirt, red dress, and the background.

Saturation vs Vibrance Tutorial by SnickerdoodleDesigns

Vibrance set at +49

Here, the Saturation is set at +49. We can tell how the faces were affected differently when we used the Saturation tool vs the Vibrance tool. Too much Saturation on the models face looks unrealistic and unattractive; but the background colors look nice.


Saturation set at +49

Because I liked additional color in the background in the Saturation example, I added a mask to the Saturation layer. Using a soft brush and painting with black, I painted away the Saturation effect on the models skin.

Saturation vs Vibrance Tutorial by SnickerdoodleDesigns

Saturation set at +49. Layer mask added to Saturation Level, and Saturation painted away from the models skin.

For easier comparison, here are all 4 together.

Saturation vs Vibrance Tutorial by SnickerdoodleDesigns

I like the “Saturation with Mask” result the best. Which is your favorite?

I hope you find this tutorial helpful when you are working with your own photos!

If you would like to download a PDF of this tutorial, you may do so here:  Vibrance VS Saturation