Contrast vs. Saturation Color Adjustment

Title image

Original RGB and LAB images

Ever Take an Image that looks like this?

Flat image out of camera

Right out of camera with no adjustments.

I have lots of times. Your eyes will deceive you when looking at a very flat image like the one above. Your eyes pump up the contrast and separate the fine shades of color which appear more vivid than what the camera is going to see. I have talked to several people that think the camera failed but indeed it just recorded what was there and not what their eyes had seen. What can you do about it is the real topic of todays blog. The image below has been adjusted in Lightroom but the same adjustments could have been made in Adobe Camera Raw.

Image basic Lightroom adjustments

Basic Adjustment in Lightroom sans Color Adjustment

The following adjustments were made:

  • Contrast +100
  • Highlights +100
  • Shadows -100
  • Whites +31
  • Blacks -40

No adjustment to color saturation but indeed there is a lot of improvement over the original image. When working in RGB or CYMK color spaces any adjustment made to the luminosity affects the color of the image. As areas are made darker they become more saturated and as they get lighter saturation is lost. Color saturation was added next at 100%. Vibrance made large parts of the image turn blue so it was not used. See the results below not bad but not the best.

Lightroom edited image

Final edit in lightroom with 100% saturation

Another way to adjust this image is by adjusting the color contrast of the image. Now you may be asking “Where is the color contrast adjustment tool?” There is no contrast adjustment you need to adjust the curve. Wait if you just use a curve in RGB or CYMK you will adjust the luminosity of the image, so you need to convert to LAB color. In LAB color the luminosity is separated from the color so to increase contrast all you need to do is adjust the L channel for Luminosity contrast or the color channels, A and B for color contrast. First I will go back to the original file before any adjustments were made in lightroom and choose edit in Photoshop. I converted the image to LAB color then adjusted the L channel which is luminosity only with no color information therefore preserving the color in the high values. Next I adjusted the A and B channels which adjusts the color contrast. Next I returned to the L channel and made further contrast adjustments to the luminosity. I also sharpened the L Channel a large amount which is possible because it has no color information. See the image below with these adjustments.

lab Edited image

Edited in LAB using curves and lightness channel sharpened.

LAB color is super for sharpening as you can see and the color in the high values are much stronger than the Lightroom edited file. In addition if there is color noise in your image it is very easy to remove by a slight blur of the A and B channels which is also a subject for another time. The adjustment made was far short of what could be done without over saturating because the contrast was adjusted not the saturation. This contrast does have its limits but they can be well into the unreal. Don’t get me wrong, you can get close to this image with further Lightroom adjustment. The sharpen tool in Lightroom has masking which makes it a very good sharpening tool almost as good a using the L channel in LAB but if you are going to LAB for a color contrast adjustment you are best off sharpening the L channel. Below you will find a video of the process.


I hope you found this informative. I have used this for several years and on flat images it excels. Don’t forget to subscribe so you wont miss the next blog. Until next time “Keep on Shooting”



About John Aydelotte

I aspire to pass on some of the 40 years of imaging knowledge I have acquired. I have a true passion for imaging and wish to enjoy my retirement from Commercial Photography by creating images from my heart. I am still taking a few Freelance jobs but would love to teach and lead others on their amazing photography journey. I have two grown children and 7 grandchildren. I am focusing on photography, education and retirement.

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