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The Flexible HSL and Color Adjustments

This is an excerpt from our eBook, “Develop Great Images in Lightroom”.
Download it over at iTunes and Scribd!

In the Mastering Exposure and Tone chapter we looked at ways to make global tonal adjustments to your photo using the Basic and Tone Curve panels. We also discussed how you can affect colors using the Vibrance and Saturation sliders in the Basic panel. Next up is the HSL / Color / B&W panel, which is an incredibly powerful and flexible tool for fine-tuning the colors in your photo. The HSL, Color, and B&W panel is actually three panels in one (Figure 1). The HSL (stands for hue, saturation, and luminance) and Color sections of the panel are really just the same set of controls presented in different ways to give you the power to adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance values of different colors in your photo. The B&W section of the panel is for converting a color photo to black and white (refer back to the Black and White Photos with Impact section in the previous chapter of this book to learn about B&W conversion).

figure-1
Figure 1: The HSL / Color / B&W panel.

Each label in the panel header is a button that is used to choose the set of tools you want open. As you move your cursor over each label it will light up. The label you select will remain highlighted as the panel expands to indicate which option is active.

HSL

Lets start by looking at the HSL section of the panel. You can see the labels for each grouping of adjustments, Hue, Saturation and Luminance, across the top of the panel. Click any label to expose the controls for that group, or click All to see the controls for all three groups at once (Figure 2 and Figure 3).

Figure 2: The HSL section of the panel set to Hue.
Figure 2: The HSL section of the panel set to Hue.
Figure 3: The HSL section of the panel to All.
Figure 3: The HSL section of the panel to All.

Looking at Figure 3 you can see the full range of controls at your disposal. Each section has the same range of colors broken out into groups that allow you to make adjustments to each colors hue, saturation, and luminance independently of each other. The Hue section allows you to shift a particular color to a different neighboring color, such as shifting a red color more toward orange in one direction or magenta in the opposite direction. Lets look at an example. Figure 4 shows a photo that is ready for some attention from the HSL panel.

Figure 4: The photo prior to any HSL adjustment.
Figure 4: The photo prior to any HSL adjustment.

If I drag the Red slider to -100 you can see that the red section of the giant Frisbee surrounding my ice cream eating friend has shifted to magenta (Figure 5). Now if I drag the Red slider to +100 you can see that same section of the Frisbee has shifted to orange (Figure 6).

Figure 5: -100 on the Red slider shifts the hue toward magenta.
Figure 5: -100 on the Red slider shifts the hue toward magenta.
Figure 6: +100 on the Red slider shifts the hue toward orange.
Figure 6: +100 on the Red slider shifts the hue toward orange.

Obviously those are pretty extreme examples just to demonstrate how those controls work. In reality this panel is most commonly used for much more subtle treatments. It is important to remember that while we can work on an individual color it is still a global adjustment, meaning we are affecting that color no matter where it appears within the photo.

The Saturation section of the panel gives us the control of the intensity of the hue. If we move the slider to the left, in a negative direction, we reduce the saturation of that particular color (Figure 7). If we move the slider to the right we increase the saturation.

Figure 7: A -100 adjustment of the Red slider in the Saturation section of the panel desaturates all of the red in the photo.
Figure 7: A -100 adjustment of the Red slider in the Saturation section of the panel desaturates all of the red in the photo.

Luminance controls the brightness of the hue. A shift to the right brightens the affected hue while a shift to the left darkens it (Figure 8). This can be a quick and easy way to darken a blue sky, though with a much gentler adjustment.

Figure 8: A -100 adjustment of the Blue slider really darkens the blue section of the Frisbee and all the other blues in the image.
Figure 8: A -100 adjustment of the Blue slider really darkens the blue section of the Frisbee and all the other blues in the image.

The Targeted Adjustment Tool

While there may be instances where you find it helpful to work on an image by manually moving individual sliders around there is a more intuitive approach. In the section on the Tone Curve panel you may recall the Targeted Adjustment Tool, or TAT for short. The HSL panel has a TAT for each section of the panel so you can ignore the sliders and just focus on looking at the photo while you make your adjustments. If you look back at Figure 7 where I set the red saturation to -100 you can see that there is still a bit of color in the formerly red section of the Frisbee. This is because most of the subjects in our photos will contain a mix of colors. With the TAT for the Saturation section selected I can drag downward in that same red section of the Frisbee and we see that there was a mix of red, orange, purple, and magenta in there (Figure 9). The TAT looks at all of the colors under your cursor and adjusts them all simultaneously. As an aside, you can really see how this affects all of those colors in all areas of the photo.

Figure 9: Using the TAT allowed me to desaturate all of the colors in that section of the Frisbee at once.
Figure 9: Using the TAT allowed me to desaturate all of the colors in that section of the Frisbee at once.

Putting it into practice

OK, now that you have an idea of how the sliders in this panel work lets reset everything and look at a more real world adjustment of this photo. In all areas of Lightroom, you can double-click the section name within a panel to reset all of the sliders within that section. You can also double-click any individual slider label to reset just that slider. So, if I double-click the Saturation label I can reset all of those sliders back to zero at once.

I tend to rely on the Luminance and Saturation adjustments the most as I find shifting the hue can easily lead to unnatural looking colors very quickly. For this photo I would like to make some color adjustments with the goal of making my subject stand out more from that colorful Frisbee. Ill start by selecting the TAT in the Luminance section of the panel and dragging downward on the blue part of the Frisbee to darken it down a little, and then Ill do the same for the yellow section. Next Ill set the TAT to Saturation and desaturate the yellow a bit and slightly bump up the reds. Im trying to keep my adjustments on the subtle side, but with the hope that my subjects face becomes the focal point of the photo (Figure 10).

Figure 10: A few moves with the TAT can make a subtle shift in a lot of colors very quickly.
Figure 10: A few moves with the TAT can make a subtle shift in a lot of colors very quickly.

Color

Earlier I mentioned that the Color section of this panel simply presents the same set of controls as the HSL panel in a different way. Lets take a look. If I click on the Color label in the panel header it switches to the Color controls (Figure 11). The Color panel simply groups the same hue, saturation, and luminance sliders by each color instead of grouping all of the colors under hue, saturation, and luminance. I didn’t reset my adjustments from before and you can see in Figure 11 that the same adjustment to the red saturation is displayed here.

Figure 11: The Color section arranges hue, saturation, and luminance by color.
Figure 11: The Color section arranges hue, saturation, and luminance by color.

Along the top of the panel is a row of color swatches that represent each of the colors you can adjust. Click any swatch to activate the controls for that color or click the All button to see all the controls at once. This provides a very focused way to fine tune specific colors within each photo. The major difference between the Color and HSL sections is that Color does not have a TAT because you can only work on one color at a time. So, if you absolutely know that you only need to work on an individual color you may find the presentation of the Color section useful, but in reality I do 100% of my color adjustments only using the HSL part of this panel. Since the controls affect exactly the same things the choice of which panel to use is entirely a matter of personal preference.

Download our eBook, “Develop Great Images in Lightroom”, on iTunes and Scribd.

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