There are several tools for working with colors in Adobe Lightroom but the HSL/Color panel is the most important when it comes to making targeted adjustments. Some might find it a little confusing at first but I promise you one thing: it won’t take long before you understand better it is than the global Saturation and Vibrance sliders.
The main reason that it’s superior to the global sliders is that you can use it to make targeted adjustments to one specific color, without affecting any of the others. This gives you more flexibility when it comes to creating a professional look in post-processing.
But can you make any color adjustments you want in the HSL/Color panel? Not quite. The adjustments you can make are targeting the Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity. Hence the name HSL.
Let’s start by looking at what the HSL sliders do before jumping into the more specifics of how the HSL and Color sections work:
HSL – Hue, Saturation and Luminance
In order to get the most out of the HSL/Color panel, you need to first understand what the different sliders, or adjustments, mean. If not, you’re simply pulling sliders and hoping for the best. Needless to say, that’s not the smartest thing if you want to create high-quality images.
Those who find this a little confusing will be happy to see that Lightroom has a feature that helps you better understand what happens when you adjust a slider; the Hue sliders all show which tones you can shift a color toward, the Saturation sliders show a faded color to the left and more intense color to the right, and the Luminance sliders get brighter the further right you go.
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What is Hue?
Hue is used for adjusting the tonal range of a color. This works by replacing a color with a neighboring tone on the color wheel. For example, the blue hue slider can be used to shift all the blue tones towards aqua (Hue -100) or towards purple (Hue +100).
Keep in mind that pulling the sliders to either of the extremes may cause the colors in your image to look a little strange. This depends on the particular photo but in general, you want to avoid too drastic changes. Experimenting is always the key, so make sure to keep an eye out for any strange artifacts appearing in the colors.
I find the slight adjustments often go a long way when working with the Hue sliders. It’s a slider that I use with the majority of my images and it’s one that has a big impact on the photo.
What is Saturation?
Saturation describes the intensity of which a color is displayed. The Saturation sliders in the HSL/Color tab works in the same way as the general Saturation slider found in the Basics panel but there’s one significant difference: the sliders in the HSL/Color tab target the saturation of a specific color, not the image as a whole.
For example, reducing the Orange Saturation to -100 eliminates all the orange in the photo. Likewise, increasing the saturation to +100 will intensify the orange tones. None of the other colors are affected by this adjustment.
This is a very important feature. It’s easy to get carried away with the general saturation slider but it’s very rare that you want all the colors to be affected. Working with the specific colors is slightly more advanced but the results will be a lot better.
Recommended Reading: Saturation vs Vibrance – What’s the difference?
What is Luminance?
Luminance describes the brightness of which a color is displayed. You can think of this as an Exposure slider for each specific color.
For example, pulling the yellow luminance slider to the right will increase the brightness of all yellow tones within the image. None of the other colors are affected by this change.
This is a good tool for working with the brightness of a specific color. It should, however, be used with some caution. Pulling the sliders all the way to either side can introduce some strange-looking artifacts.
How to use the HSL/Color panel
You probably have an idea of how the HSL/Color panel work by now but it’s still important to understand that the panel has two different sections: HSL and Color.
It’s even more important to understand that these two sections are linked together. Any adjustments made in one affect the other. These aren’t two different tools but two different ways to display them.
Which one section you choose to work with has nothing to say on the performance or results; it’s all about what you find easiest to work with.
I personally use the Color option as I find it more intuitive for my workflow. That doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you. I suggest that you spend some time getting to know both the displays before figuring out which version you prefer. It’s also possible to switch between the two at any point, so don’t feel like you need to use only one.
Working with the HSL section
The HSL section is the first option. As the name indicates, it prioritizes the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance rather than the colors.
What this means, is that the layout is optimized for working with the selected adjustment. Click on either Hue, Saturation or Luminance in the tab above the sliders to reveal only those specific sliders (i.e. clicking Saturation will hide the two other options)
There is also an All button that is used to display all of the sliders. Here you’ll find the Hue sliders first, the Saturation sliders in the middle, and the Luminosity sliders at the bottom.
The sliders themselves represent a specific range of colors. More specifically, you can make adjustments to the Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Aqua, Blue, Purple, and Magenta colors.
Let’s say that you want to work with the hue of an image. You can then select Hue from the submenu and use the different color sliders. For example, pulling the red slider to the right shifts the color towards orange, and dragging the green slider to the left shifts it towards yellow.
You can move between the different adjustment windows as you want. That means you can start by adjusting the hue, move to the saturation, go back to the hue and end with changing the luminance.
Target even more specific colors
The colors you can choose between in the HSL/Color panel is somewhat limited. Yes, it covers the basics but there are many shades of a color that can fall into each category. Therefore, it might be tricky to make the exact adjustments you want.
Luckily, there’s a tool that lets you make target even more specific colors. This tool is only available in the HSL section but works with either of the Hue, Saturation or Luminance sliders. You can also find it in the All section.
Start by clicking the icon to activate the tool. Next, all you need to do is click on the color you want to change, and drag either up or down. Clicking and dragging upwards will increase the slider values while dragging downward will decrease them.
You can see that the value of the sliders changes as you go. This time, it’s not only one color that’s affected, but all the entire tonal range of the pixels you selected.
Working with the Color section
Both the HSL and Color tools make the same adjustments but the layout is slightly different. If you have already made adjustments in the HSL section, they can also be seen in the Color section.
The only difference is that the Color method displays the sliders based on color instead of the adjustment. Instead of seeing all the different color sliders beneath, for example, Hue, you now see the Hue, Saturation and Luminance sliders beneath, for example, Aqua.
I like working with this section as I tend to make all adjustments to one color at the same time, hence finding it more intuitive for my workflow.
The HSL/Color tab is without a doubt the most important tool in Lightroom when it comes to selectively working with color adjustments. Implementing this tool into your workflow will introduce you to a whole new world of post-processing.
It seems a little overwhelming at first but once you’ve experimented a little with it, you’ll realize that it’s quite straight forward.
This is a tool that I use for more or less every image I process, and one that I strongly recommend you use too.
Note: The HSL/Color panel is replaced with the B&W panel when you convert to Black & White in the Basics panel. Here you’ll find the Black & White channel mixer. This is a completely different tool and one that’s been thoroughly covered in our Black & White Photography Course.