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Get rich colors in your images by controlling saturation

Added on Monday 2nd of May 2011 04:14 am EST


 Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

Saturation can be used to brighten and diminish the colors in your images, as well as change colors altogether. Photoshop packs a lot of power into its saturation controls, so use them to your advantage and make your images really pop out with color.


To use saturation in your images to get rich, vibrant colors, we’ll:

•     Tell you what saturation means in digital imaging terms and how it differs from other color attributes, such as hue.

•     Show you the Hue/Saturation dialog box, where you can make adjustments to the saturation levels in your image.

•     Work through some examples of how to adjust saturation, including working with the entire color range, targeting specific colors, and using saturation to colorize an image.

•     Show you what other saturation controls are available in the expansive imaging world of Photoshop.

When adjusting images in Photoshop, one of the most common goals is color correction. While there are a myriad of techniques to accomplish color correction, a simple saturation adjustment can often solve many of your problems. By understanding what saturation is and how it works, you can make faster, more accurate color corrections and make the colors in your images really stand out. So let’s get started and show you how Photoshop can brighten your images.


Saturation review

Saturation is the vividness of the colors in your image. A common complaint from users of digital cameras or scanners is that their images look “washed out” when viewed onscreen. By adjusting saturation, you can increase the vividness of the colors in an image and make them look vibrant and more intense. You can oversaturate your images too, so be careful. Figure A shows the range from undersaturated to normal to oversaturated.



Saturation is often confused with hue, as they share the same dialog box. While saturation represents the purity of the color, hue represents the color itself. Let’s say a color has a hue of baby blue. If you saturated that hue, you’d have an electric blue. It’s important to understand how these two differ, as they are terms that will come up many times while mastering Photoshop.


The Hue/Saturation dialog box

Photoshop has powerful saturation controls that allow you to adjust all of the colors in your image and target individual hues. The main tool you’ll use to adjust saturation is the Hue/Saturation dialog box, which can be accessed by selecting Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. As shown in Figure B, Saturation adjustments are made in the same dialog box as Lightness and Hue adjustments, but we’re only going to work with Saturation in this article.

You use a slider to adjust the intensity of the colors, which ranges from -100 to +100. The low end of the scale represents no saturation, or gray. The higher you go, the more vivid your colors become. You can also enter values in the box next to the Saturation slider, which can be helpful when you’re fine-tuning in small increments.



Color targets

At the top of the color sliders, you’ll notice the Edit pop-up menu. The default setting is Master, which means that any saturation adjustments you make are applied to the master color range, or all of the colors in your document. If you click on the menu, you’ll see that you can also make adjustments to the individual hues of Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. This is useful when you only want to target one color for saturation, which we’ll cover later in the article.


Ramp it up

At the bottom of the dialog box, you’ll find bars of color called color ramps, which show the spectrum of colors available. As you make changes to your saturation levels, the color ramps give you visual reference to the changes being made. The top ramp always shows the full spectrum range available in the color space, while the bottom ramp shows the new color range created as you adjust the saturation. Procedures can get pretty technical when working with the color ramps, but don’t worry about them too much for now. Instead, make sure the Preview check box is selected, and you can preview the effect of your adjustments where they matter most, in your image.


Saturate an entire image

In our first example, we’ll use the Hue/Saturation dialog box to saturate the colors across the entire color range. Close the Hue/Saturation dialog box and open an image, preferably one that needs a little color boost. We had a close-up of a gumba...


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