Digital Darkroom; HSL and Color Adjustments

In previous weeks we have looked at manipulating the light of an image with basic adjustments as well as with curve adjustments. We also have seen that with the curve adjustment you can stylize a picture by manipulating the colours at different brightness levels, for example making highlights more yellow or shadows greener. The HSL (Hue Saturation Luminance) Color Panel allows you to manipulate the look and feel of the overall colours in the image.

If you wish to watch the companion video for this post you can so here.


HSL/Color Panel in Lightroom

The HSL Colour panel can be equated to the hue and saturation in Photoshop. The HSL/Color Panel is separated into three parts; HSL, Color and B&W (Black and White) in Lightroom, In Adobe Camera Raw there is only HSL and Greyscale. Greyscale and Black and White we will look at in a later post. For all adjustments you are given the eight colours to adjust, that covers the whole colour wheel.
Clicking HSL gives four options; Hue, Saturation, Luminance and All. By clicking all, the entire panel is extended with Hue, Saturation and Luminance becoming a vertical list instead of sub panels.

Adobe Camera Raw has the HSL Panel but does not have a Color panel. In Lightroom Clicking on Colour gives you individual colour options each with a hue saturation and luminance slider. It also gives you the option to see all the colours in one long list, if you click all.
HSL also has a targeted adjustment tool that allows you to click an area on the image and like with curves, move it up and down to increase or decrease the adjustment.


HSL panel expanded in Adobe Camera Raw


Hue adjusts the global tonal quality of the colour; for example reds can be adjusted to a pinkish magenta tone to orange. Using the targeted adjustment tool more than one slider may move depending on the different tones that make up that colour.


Using the targeted adjustment tool on the red tip of the leaf in the picture above, adjusts both the red and orange tones.


As with Hue, Saturation adjusts the global saturation of each colour, increasing the saturation makes the colour stronger and decreasing saturation weaker, until grey. This can be a good way to tweak the saturation of an image; for example if magenta is too strong, you can selectively lower it. Also if you wish to make one colour much stronger you can do this here as well.


In the picture above I reduced the saturation of all the colours except; red orange and only half the strength of yellow, giving an interesting effect. Using the targeted adjustment tool will also adjust more than one tone.


Luminance allows you to adjust the brightness of colour tones, in the same way we can adjust the hue and saturation. This is good if you have one particular colour that is clipped in the histogram ( clipping is when the tone has become pure white and loses all colour information), you can use luminance to bring it back in.


I once again adjusted the orange yellow tones, this time in the back ground using the targeted adjustment tool to make them darker, to give more separation between the foreground and background.


ColorColor allows you to do everything that you can do in the HSL tab, with the hue, saturation and luminance grouped together for each colour. Any changes made in the HSL panel are automatically changed here vice versa. The only difference being that in color there is no targeted adjustment tool.

When to use?

Adjusting the saturation of an image is usually something everyone will do and every image needs. The HSL Color Panel allows you to tweak those tones and/or completely stylize an image. In combination with Curves this can become extremely powerful to create a specific colour pallet for an image.
How much I use it depends on the picture; if the blues are lacking in the sky, I can give them a bit of a kick. Or if the green of the grass is too dominant and contrasting too much, I can adjust the hue to make the green more complimentary and bring down its strength slightly. Really I use it to create a more rounded image.

If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

Red Leaf in Golden Light

Basic and Curves Adjustments before adjusting the image with the HSL panel.

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11 thoughts on “Digital Darkroom; HSL and Color Adjustments

    • Hi Andrew, they are really useful just to tweak the colours to get them just right. I use the targeted adjustment tool most of the time even if I have to make some minor amendments afterwards.
      Thanks for your thoughts and how you use the HSL/ Color panel.

  1. I like using these sliders for instances when a specific color becomes too bright when you bump up the saturation a little for the overall photo in order to make it better. Then you can tone down the saturation for that specific color. I know you could use the Adjustment Brush to bump up the overall saturation for specific areas, but sometimes that becomes more tedious work and takes too long. What I wish though is that you could use the HSL sliders in conjunction with the Adjustment Brush in LR in order to apply the effects to that specific area. Say for instance you have a scene with some green throughout the frame then some blue for the sky that peaks through a bit. You want a portion of the screen to have green that stands out but the other portion you want green that is a bit de-saturated, but you don’t want to use the saturation slider with the Adjustment Brush for that area because it’ll mess up the blues. I know you could create a photo for one area then another photo for the other then bring them into an application that can handle layers then just blend them together, but for someone like me who doesn’t have the time or much knowledge with doing that, it would be a great feature.

    • I would love the brush tool to add alot of the features from the main panels, like HSL maybe curves or even sharpening. It would make some really creative image adjustments. I know a lot of people want a Photoshop lite style features in Lightroom but I don’t see that happening.
      Your suggestions for Lightroom sound good.

  2. Reblogged this on Aperture64 and commented:

    The HSl Panel is great for making colour adjustments to a picture. This post has now been updated with a companion video. To watch the video click to view the original post and scroll down to the video. Enjoy.

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