If you have ever shot in RAW format and done any post-processing work using Adobe PhotoShop you have probably noticed and experimented with the sliders for clarity, vibrance and saturation at the bottom of the “basic” tab on the Camera Raw editing window (CS4 version).  All three of these adjustments are used to alter the saturation of your image.  Saturation refers to the intensity and purity of the color.  A highly saturated image has very vivid color while an image that has been desaturated is a greyscale image with monochromatic grey tones.  Each of these settings has a little different effect on the colors of the image.  The sample photos here are at either extreme end of the spectrum, -100 and +100 to help give you an idea of what each saturation setting does.  In most cases, except where you are trying to go for an “artistic” look, you would not take it to the extreme ends.  Generally you may blend a few of them at varying points along their scales to get the end result you are trying to accomplish.

The original photograph with all  saturation settings at the default level of zero.

Clarity – Clarity adds depth to an image and gives it a stronger focus and more impact.  Notice the sharper detail in the +100 clarity photo while the focus becomes softer and the colors almost muted in the -100 clarity image.

Click on the images to see the effect better in the full size version.

Example of a photo with the Clarity setting at plus 100

Clarity at + 100

Clarity at - 100.

Vibrance – From a visual standpoint the results of adjusting the vibrance settings may appear very similar to those you get from adjusting the saturation settings.  However there are a few subtle differences that make the two unique.  Most notably, vibrance changes the saturation of the least saturated colors and has minimal effect on the higher-saturated colors.  When you do not need equal adjustment across all colors vibrance is the route to go.  Also, when working with portraits vibrance helps prevent skin tones from becoming over-saturated.

Notice the difference between the vibrance -100 image and the Saturation -100 image.  The vibrance version still has hints of color left because these were highly saturated to begin with and vibrance has less impact on these types of colors.

Vibrance at + 100

Vibrance at - 100

Saturation – Increasing the saturation will brighten and deepen all of the colors in the photograph across the board, unlike vibrance which acts on the least saturated colors. Going the other direction will remove some of that depth and brightness in the colors and, if you go far enough the image will turn out desaturated or monochrome.

Saturation at + 100

Saturation at - 100

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