The Best Technique to Enhance Saturation

Make your photos look vivid with the best method published. This Photoshop tutorial uses a combination of three saturation enhancement techniques to create the best results. Follow this Photoshop tutorial to learn how to the best way to increase saturation.

Sample PSD (Photoshop Document)

Enhance Saturation Photoshop Tutorial

Step 1

Open a photo into Photoshop. To open an image, choose File > Open. The image I used to present this tutorial already has good saturation and would actually look worse with a saturation boost. So keep in mind that the original image will look better than the one with the saturation boost and that this is done for demonstration purposes only.


Step 2

First, create a duplicate of the layer. Press Ctrl+J or choose Layer > Duplicate layer. We will be using two saturation boosting techniques and a special Photoshop technique called adaptive saturation which we will describe later.


Step 3

First, we’ll use the LAB color method to increase the saturation. Choose Image > Mode > Lab Color.


Step 4

Open the Curves tool by pressing Ctrl+M. The Curves tool can also be found in the Image > Adjustment > Curves menu if the hot key does not work for you. In the Curves tool, select the channel “a” from the drop down menu and create a S curve like the image below. If you want more saturation, moves the two points closer towards the center. For less saturation, move slightly them towards the outer edge. Repeat this with the B channel.


This works by increasing the contrast on the two chroma channels. The LAB color mode separates the luminance (black and white tonal values) with the color. It creates three channels: By increasing the contrast on only the color channels, the luminance becomes unaffected. This saturation increasing method works great with landscape photos but not so well with portraits or photos with a lot of skin.

If you increase the curvature of the S shape, the contrast becomes greater. The image below shows how increasing the curvature and making the s-curve sharper will add more contrast.


Step 5

We’re done increasing the saturation using LAB color, so we’ll convert the image mode back to RGB color. Choose Image > Mode > RGB Color.


Step 6

Before we proceed with the next color saturation enhancing effect, we’ll use a technique called adaptive saturation. This technique is from the Adaptive Saturation tutorial from Photoshop Tutorials. What this technique does is adjust the intensity of the saturation based on the original saturation in the image. Sounds confusing? Basically, the areas that are already high in saturation, the saturation increasing effect will be less intense. On the areas with very low saturation, the saturation increasing effect will be more visible.

Still confused? Well, it will be easier to understand after you follow the a few of the steps below and we’ll explain more to you as we show you the steps.

Add a layer mask to the layer with the saturation boost. To do this, choose Layer > Adjustment Layer > Reveal All. Then, change the blending mode to Difference.


Step 7

Right now, the image looks quite ugly with odd colors. What you are seeing is the difference between the layer with the saturation boost and the original image. The areas that are highlighted are the areas that are the most different and the black areas are the areas that are unchanged. With this data, we can apply it into the layer mask so that the layer with more saturation is less visible in areas that are already high in saturation.

Make sure that you have the layer mask selected. Click on the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers palette to activate it. Choose Image > Apply Image to open the Apply Image tool. Use the settings from the image below.


Step 8

Change the blending mode back to Normal.


Step 9

Click on the layer mask and choose Image > Adjustments > Auto Levels. This will increase the difference between the whites and blacks.


So what happened? The layer mask reduced the effect from the areas that are already high in saturation. For example, compare the before image (left) and the after image (right) on the shoulder of the model below. On the image to the left, the shoulders look almost as red as her lips, but after applying the layer mask, it looks more natural. This adaptive saturation Photoshop technique also restores details that would have been hidden.


Step 10

We’re done with the color boosting effect with the LAB color channels and the adaptive saturation technique. Now we’re going to apply a normal hue/saturation adjustment layer. The hue/saturation tool produces results that are different and sometimes more desirable than the LAB color method.

First, create a duplicate of the Background layer and move it to the top.


Step 11

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer so that it appears as the top layer.


Adjust the saturation then click OK.


Hold the Ctrl key and click on the top two layers. Then, press Ctrl+G to place the two layers in a group. Select the group and choose Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All.


Below is an image of the difference between using the LAB color mode (left) and the Hue/Saturation tool (right) to increase saturation. Identify the areas that look better with the hue/saturation tool. In the photograph below, the model’s face looks better with the Hue/Saturation technique but for everything else, the LAB color mode looks better.


Step 12

Make sure that you have the layer mask for the layer group selected. Click on the layer mask with the black thumbnail in the Layers palette to select it. Then, select the brush tool from the toolbar and set the hardness to 0%. This will adjust the brush so that it has a very soft edge.


Remember in the previous step when we asked you to decide which areas look better with the Hue/Saturation technique? Paint those areas with the brush tool. You can quickly increase or decrease the brush size by pressing the “[” or “]” keys on your keyboard.


Final Results

Here are the final results comparing the original image and three different saturation increasing techniques. The Photoshop technique used in this Photoshop tutorial uses both the Hue/Saturation and LAB Color techniques. It also uses an adaptive saturation technique to restore details that can be hidden if the saturation is too high.


Ultimate Vibrance Photoshop Actions

There are a lot of ways to boost vibrance. One tool you might be interested in is Ultimate Vibrance Pro by SparkleStock. These Photoshop actions let you experiment 5 ways of boosting vibrance. It’s interesting looking at the chart below how colors get shifted.

21 thoughts on “The Best Technique to Enhance Saturation”

  1. @ Natalya

    Did you remember to go back to RGB after the LAB operations?
    You must have done somethin wrong since everyone else is doing fine.

    This “orange skin”, as you called it, is an artistic effect that is often used in magazines and a lot in folletos. It gives an expression of sun and warmth. I agree that in this scenario, it’s a little too much.

  2. It’s the second time I’m trying this tutorial, and it just does NOT work! After I do “reveal all” (and I need to go to layer mask, rather than “adjustment later”, to find it) and change the blending mode to “difference”, my layer just goes black. I am not a novice at photoshop, I can follow directions, and it’s not like I can’t find something, it’s just that when I do it step-by-step, one step does not work! I’m guessing it might have something to do with the fact that I appear to have a different version of Photoshop, but shouldn’t blending mode “difference” do the same thing in all versions? Very strange. If anyone can enlighten me, obviously, I’m the only one with that problem?
    Also, it would have been nice if you actually used a picture that did need a saturation boost. As it is, the tutorial does not give you the feel for what you can do at all – I don’t need orange skin, thank you very much. Couldn’t you desaturate an image and then saturate it to show how it would become better? It’s like if I was trying to show color corrected by using an image with the perfect color balance, and ended up with a red or blue cast… True, the steps might all be there (even though I’m not so sure), but if I cannot judge what results you’re getting, it’s hard to know if I’m getting the results I’m supposed to get!

  3. ok, but it’s just me, but i like the original.
    sorry, but there is too much over-processing of everything these days!

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