The Practicing Photographer
In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
The relationship between saturation and brightness
- I've got this landscape shot here that I've been working on. This is a rainstorm blowing through New Mexico, very high-dynamic range situation here, because I've got bright sky up here, the sun behind the clouds up here, which is causing my meter to properly render this bit, properly exposed for this bit, which is good. I've preserved all this detail, but it's left all of this in dark shadow. Very simple thing to fix. I've gone in, here in Photoshop, and made a number of different localized adjustments using adjustment layers. I'm just going to turn those on so you can see what I did here.
I started by brightening the foreground. That was just a very simple levels adjustment. And I don't even have, I believe, no, I do, it's mostly just a white point adjustment. I didn't make any gamma adjustments. I'm just brightening that bit. Then I went in and brightened some little bits of grass here and there, just to break up the monotony of it, make it look a little more real and three-dimensional. Then I went to work on the sky. The sky needed some brightening. I didn't brighten this over here. I like that dark shadow over, but I just worked on this bit, here.
I'll turn that off and on again here. You can see that I just pumped up the brightness over here, added a little more contrast, so I get more texture out of the sky. Then finally, I was consider that this bit, which is lit up more than the rest of the image, isn't lit up enough. So I added another adjustment layer constraint, it's just this bit, and now we're really getting somewhere. And here you can see the masks that I was using and see there's a big radial gradient in here that is constraining the edit to just this area. If you're not comfortable with using adjustment layers and masks, to really understand what I've been doing here, you should track down some lessons on that elsewhere in the library.
There's lots of them. As I looked at the image, though, while editing it, I decided that all of this brightening and contrast adjustment that I had done had really changed the saturation in the greens of the foreground here. And that's normal. As you increase contrast, you also increase saturation. There's a relationship there. But there's another very interesting relationship here that you probably know intuitively, but have never thought through, and it's worth thinking through, because you sometimes have to talk yourself into doing this edit that is kind of required.
So, I've got this hue saturation adjustment here. It's turned off right now. My goal was to try to reduce the saturation in the green. The reason being, a cloudy day like this, without a lot of light, there may not be a lot of saturation. I just wanted to tone it down. This is a desert image. I want more pastel colors. So with my hue saturation layer turned on, my tones are more muted, but something else has happened here. Watch this area of the histogram, right here as I turn this off and on. There's a very, very tiny little shift here in some of this data.
And it's hard to tell when I'm having to recalculate the histogram, but what's going on is certain tones of my image are getting darker, because without as much saturation in them, those tones are darker. There is a relationship between the brightness of a color and the saturation of color. More saturated colors are usually brighter. So, with more saturation, more of my tones are shifted to the right of the histogram with less saturation, they're shifted to the left of the histogram.
So after making this saturation adjustment, I now need to make a corresponding brightening of the image. By desaturating the image, I have pulled some brightness out. I now need to put that brightness back in. Not the color saturation, but the brightness. So I'm going to add an exposure layer and just kick the exposure up by just a tiny bit. I'm going to go up by a third of a stop. So here's before, and after.
So let's turn off both of these. So here's the original saturated image. Here's the desaturated, but brightening of exposure image, and if you watch the foreground when I turn these on and off, you'll see that there's very little change in brightness now. So it's very important to understand and remember that different color, different hues, each have a saturation. Actually, hue doesn't have a saturation, but color has a hue and a saturation. A particular combination of hue and saturation also has a specific brightness, and if you mess with either the hue or the saturation, you're probably changing the brightness.
Switching from one hue of green to another might also result in the loss or gain of brightness in your image. So anytime you're making hue saturation adjustments to your image, be sure that you're paying attention to brightness, and know that if you through a hue saturation adjustment layer into your layer stack, you might also need to throw an exposure or levels or curve adjustment into your layer stack to brighten things back up or dim things down if you have changed saturation.
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