Home > Color Correction, Photoshop Tips/Tricks > Richer color without Saturation.

Richer color without Saturation.

Here is a quick color tip that I learned as a professional printer & photo retoucher but use regularly now in my own photography to “boost” color without turning up the saturation. This gives me a beautiful, deep, rich color without touching the saturation slider at all.

Click in for more…

Why not just increase the saturation you ask? It is a perfectly fine method and I do often increase the saturation a little bit but it’s easy to go overboard and the drawbacks of going overboard are far worse than having an image with a little less saturation. For one, too much saturation can cause one or multiple color channels to become “blown out” where the color peaks at 255 and loss of detail occurs. This alone can cause unwanted color phenomenon such as color shifting in highlights in skin tones or color halos in whites. Too much saturation with the saturation sliders can also result in unrealistic colors and skin tones which are hard to correct later.

This method also results in a more RICH looking color with good color density and details. This is what I look for in most of my work. (With some exclusions.)

I’m working with a landscape image here rather than a person just to help demonstrate the difference between adding saturation and adding DENSITY.

Our base image. A bit bland still...

Our base image is a beautiful shot off the side of the road in the Painted Desert, part of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. But I sure do remember more color to the sediment layers, even the pavement was a rich amber-like color. By adding Saturation only, this image gets more color but it’s really still pretty bland. I’m not feeling it yet.

With 45% saturation, we get color but we get banding and lost detail too.

Instead, duplicate the background layer and then add a Curves Adjustment Layer above the Background Copy layer. Drag the curve down some as shown, as it is this should slightly darken the image. Now change the blending mode of the Curves Adjustment Layer to Overlay. (Soft Light also works nicely but with a little bit less zing.) We duplicated the background layer first so that we can merge the Curves layer to the Background Copy layer for the next step. But we may want to mask something out of our new layer later. (You could use snapshots instead but I prefer working with layers so I can save the original image with the edits on layers.)

Now that we’ve added the Curves Adjustment Layer, go ahead and merge that down with the Background Copy layer. Clearly the colors are starting to come out better, but we’ve lost a bit of the shadows and possibly a bit of the highlights as well. To bring those back, we can either selectively mask that back in, paint with history or use a favorite tool of mine known as the Shadow/Highlight tool. (Under Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlight…)

In this case, I used the basic settings with 70% Shadows, 20% Highlights. This brought back the detail in the shadows to the point it was when I started and just about all of the detail in the clouds. Now we have a DEEP blue sky and RICH color without touching the saturation at all! And it doesn’t scream “I cranked the saturation to 110%” either.

Of course if you need to, you can use layer masks or other tricks and tools to reveal areas that are too deep and rich or too contrasty as necessary. Or if you are still begging for more, you could even add touch of saturation to the final image if you need or want more color.

Beautiful DEEP RICH Color!

And here is the video tutorial:
Don’t forget to click the HD button and go Full Screen for the best quality.

  1. Stuart Allen
    December 1, 2009 at 9:47 am

    thanks MP, I did not know about that technique

  2. Pavel
    December 3, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Amazing! Will experiment with it, however it definitely looks VERY impressive. Looks I’ve found what I was looking for… I’ve always suffered from adding saturation as it did not bring the desired result. Thanks so much!

  3. February 3, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks for the tutorial. If that example is any indication of this technique’s potential, it’ll be very useful for my future landscapes. Thanks again

  1. January 2, 2010 at 12:28 am
  2. April 23, 2010 at 1:43 am
  3. July 8, 2010 at 3:20 am

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