Vibrance vs Saturation: What is the Difference?

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use of vibrance and saturation

Even though they have a similar role, vibrance and saturation are different. If you use them interchangeably, you might not get the greatest results. Fortunately, figuring out the difference between them isn’t all that difficult.

What Is Saturation?

using the Saturation tool.

Saturation intensifies every colour in an image. When you drag the saturation slider all the way to the right, you’ll get an extremely vivid image. Your results will look almost cartoonish in terms of colour.

When you drag the saturation slider all the way to the left, you’ll be left with an image that barely has any colour in it. To put it simply, saturation can mute colours and convert them to black & white.

A saturation slider is a common tool in all kinds of editing programs, including:

What Is Vibrance?

Vibrance explained.

Vibrance intensifies specific colours in an image. It detects muted or undersaturated colours and makes them stand out more. When you drag the vibrance slider all the way to the right, all the muted colours in your photograph will be affected. They’ll stand out more and balance out your image. The colours that were already saturated in your image won’t be affected.

The vibrance tool is extremely useful in the portrait photography genre. Because it’s selective when it comes to intensifying colours, it’s ideal for editing skin tones. Like the saturation tool, the vibrance tool is available in most editing programs.

Vibrance vs. Saturation In Photography

the differences in

So if you use the vibrance and saturation tools interchangeably, what should you do? Should you use vibrance or saturation? Is it necessary to use both?

You need to learn how and when to use vibrance and saturation. When you develop an intuition for vibrance and saturation, you’ll be able to use them effectively in your work. Remember that one isn’t an alternative to the other. Using them interchangeably might not have a positive effect on your work.

Let’s look at some examples and see how we can use these tools to improve our photographs.

The Effects of Vibrance and Saturation on Different Photographs

Effects of Vibrance and Saturation.

Another important thing to keep in mind is balance. It would be best if you had control over your settings to make the most of them. Changes should be subtle to avoid making your photos look unflattering.

Whether you use vibrance or saturation depends on many factors:

  • The type of photograph you’re editing
  • The circumstances
  • Your personal preferences

You can use the saturation slider if you like making your photos look more colourful in general. If your images seem to lack colour in general, this tool will help them look more eye-catching.

If there’s something wrong with your images’ overall colour balance, you might benefit from using the vibrance tool. It can bring out muted colours and make your images look more visually appealing.

I highly recommend experimenting with both sliders to see which one complements your work the most. There are no strict rules when it comes to editing colours. It all depends on your taste.

Adjustment of Skin Tones in Portrait Photography

changing the skin tones.

Vibrance increases the intensity of muted colours, which makes it the perfect tool for portrait photographers.

Let’s say you have a portrait photo that you took on a cloudy day. The lighting might be perfect because it’s even and soft. Your model’s skin looks great. However, because there isn’t much warmth in the image, some colours might look dull.

Vibrance will increase the intensity of those muted colours without affecting the ones that are already saturated. Even if you push the slider all the way to 100, your results will still look decent.

If you do the same thing with the saturation slider, your model’s skin might start to look very unflattering. In general, it’s best to avoid the saturation tool when editing portrait photos.

Saturation and Vibrance Adjustment in Landscape Photography

Saturation and vibrance also very useful in landscape photography. Many photographers use these tools while editing High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos and normal landscape photos. You can be much more flexible when using these tools in landscape photography editing.

Using the Vibrance Slider

photo enhancement.

The vibrance tool created a subtle but noticeable change. As you can see in the image above, the muted colours stand out a little more. The photograph looks more balanced and interesting because of this simple change. If your image is already quite colourful but needs a little boost, you should use the vibrance tool.

Using the Saturation Slider

Using the Saturation Slider.

After using the vibrance slider, I reset the changes and worked with the saturation tool. The results were much more obvious. All of the colours in the image were affected, which made for a more eye-catching image.

This happened because I took the photo above on a relatively gloomy day. The clouds dulled all of the colours in the landscape. Saturation increases the intensity of every colour in an image. In this case, it turned out to be more effective than the vibrance tool.

Using the Vibrance and Saturation Sliders

example of a landscape photo and the effects.

Let’s look at another example where this might not be the case. I took this photo on a day when the clouds and light were dramatic. Some colours, like orange, are already quite saturated here. The saturation tool will make them stand out even more, which might make the photo look unappealing.

The vibrance tool, on the other hand will bring out colours that are more muted, like the various shades of blue in the sky. When I dragged the vibrance slider to the right, the blues in the sky instantly stood out and created a balanced look. However, I still felt that something was missing. The oranges weren’t being boosted because they were already saturated, but I felt they needed to stand out more.

outdoor photo example.

The solution to this was simple: use the vibrance and saturation tools. It’s important to do this subtly. If your image is well-balanced in general but needs a little boost of colour, don’t be afraid to experiment with both sliders.

Make sure to frequently compare the original image to the edited image to ensure that the final results are not unnatural. This way, you’ll be able to get the best possible results.

Enhancing Colours in Macro Photography

the effects on macro photos.

The difference between vibrance and saturation matters in macro photography, too. Certain colours can make or break a macro photo.

Almost every colour needs a boost in the original image above (also taken on a cloudy day). Because of this, I needed to increase the intensity of all the colours. I used the vibrance and saturation tools to achieve this.

Macro photos have lots of details, but they usually focus on one subject. This limits the colours that need to be edited. Even so, you need to figure out what exactly needs to be enhanced in your image before you start editing.


So should you use saturation or vibrance? The difference between vibrance and saturation is subtle but important to be aware of. It’s easy to go overboard with either of these tools.

The vibrance tool is suitable for portrait photography as it doesn’t make skin tones look unnatural. The saturation tool has the potential to make landscape photos look striking. In some cases, using both vibrance and saturation can help you enhance your photographs.

Make sure to trust your creative intuition and experiment with different settings. All of these things will help you edit your photographs efficiently.

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Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.
Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.

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