Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Workflow Technique #014

"Selective Saturation Improvement"

note by Uwe Steinmueller based on tips by Ben Willmore



Often we have the impression that digital photos might need some improved saturation and actions and filters that can do this are pretty popular. Let me start with some general comments:

  1. There is a tendency (Introduced by films like Velvia) to have too much saturation in our photos (bigger than life) and lose some subtle natural colors. If you put two photos side by side that only differ in saturation the one with more saturation will draw more of your attention. Does it mean it is better, most often not.
  2. Before you even look into enhancing your saturation get the contrast right first. Some S-Curves might do the trick. Please read our article "S-Curves revisited".

But then again there are times you want (need) a bit more saturation. But whenever I used tools to increase the global saturation I was less than pleased.

But then an article by Ben Willmore in the Photoshop User magazine changed my whole world. The article is called "Saturate your World". We were a long time admire of his articles in the "PEI" magazine and now of his series in the Photoshop User magazine (magazine of the NAPP - National Association of Photoshop Professionals). Whenever you come across an article by Ben, read it. Also his excellent book about Photoshop CS2 is part of our library.

First his message sounds nearly obvious: Use selective saturation in Photoshop. Why did we not do this before? It seemed to be complicated. It actually is if you try it on your own without Ben's guidance. But Ben gives a wonderful practical tutorial how to master selective saturation enhancement.

I now believe that global saturation enhancement is wrong most of the time. We go even one step further and apply selective saturation enhancement for selective areas of our photos.

Here is an example

Grand Canyon: Mather Point

Actually we want to enhance the saturation in the top part of the photo and keep the bottom as is.
We create an adjustment layer (in 8 bit mode) using Hue/Saturation. Then we change the layer mask for the layer to something like this
The black part prevents the saturation to change at the bottom with a soft transition to white.
You then open the Hue/Saturation dialog and do not touch the "Master" settings. But we change the reds using the "Red" settings.
I do not want to repeat anything what Ben wrote so please figure out what the different sliders mean.
Here is the result of this operation. We now thought it might be a bit too strong and could have changed the saturation settings. Instead we modified the opacity of this adjustment layer.
And here we are with our final version:

The differences are subtle but that is actually what selective saturation is all about.

Think selective!

Ben, thanks for sharing! Of course all the credit belongs to him (I am just the messenger)


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