As nature photographers, we search for all sorts of color attributes. At times we are hunting for big, bold, and beautifully striking colors. Other times, we desire more soft and subtle colors to balance an image. It really all depends on the composition and the emotion we are trying to convey to the viewer. Adobe Lightroom offers so many tools to impact color. More often than not, the HSL Panel in Lightroom comes across as confusing at first glance. In reality, a quick overview of hue, saturation, and luminance will open up a whole of creative possibilities in your digital darkroom. Unlike curves which target the tones in the image, HSL target based on the specific color that you want to change. The HSL Panel gives you a precise way to target and adjust global colors within an image. It empowers youth make the blues pop in the sky or brighten a flower’s purple.

Understanding Lightroom's Hue, Saturation, and Luminance (HSL) Panel Blog Post by Chrissy Donadi Nature and Landscape Photographer

Hue

Hue is the actual color within the image. Think of hue as picking a spot on the color wheel.  If you want your image to maintain a natural appearance, be cautious on how far you shift any hue sliders. It can make a dramatic difference.

Understanding Lightroom's Hue, Saturation, and Luminance (HSL) Panel Blog Post by Chrissy Donadi Nature and Landscape Photographer

Unedited image where HSL Panel sliders are all set to zero.

Left image has purple hue set to -100 value and right image purple hue is set to +100 value.

Saturation

Saturation is the intensity or power of the color. This is how you can make a particular color more or less prominent in the scene. Saturate a color to have it boldly stand out and catch the eye. Desaturating a particular color will make it more subtle and blend easier into the background of an image.

Understanding Lightroom's Hue, Saturation, and Luminance (HSL) Panel Blog Post by Chrissy Donadi Nature and Landscape Photographer

Unedited image where HSL Panel sliders are all set to zero.

Left image has purple saturation set to -100 value. The image on the right has purple saturation set to +100 value.

Luminance

Luminance is the “lightness” or overall brightness of a color.

Understanding Lightroom's Hue, Saturation, and Luminance (HSL) Panel Blog Post by Chrissy Donadi Nature and Landscape Photographer

Unedited image where HSL Panel sliders are all set to zero.

Left image has purple luminance set to -100 value and right image purple luminance is set to +100 value.

HSL Panel Targeted Adjustment Tool

Moreover, very seldom in the real world do you encounter a pure valued color, it’s usually going to be a combination of two or more. That is why using the targeting adjustment tool is valuable with the HSL slider.  Click on the tool in the panel and then scroll over to a color of the image you want to adjust. Click on it and drag the tool up or down to make the adjustments. By using the targeted adjustment tool, you can pinpoint exactly what combination of colors fall within a particular area. With that knowledge, you can be even more selective with your color adjustments.

Again, the HSL Panel in Lightroom is a way to make more targeted global color adjustments. It looks at the colors independently and makes adjustments across the image specifically targeting the hue, saturation, or luminance.  With my editing, I typically first conservatively tackle the hue. I’m conservative here because I want to maintain a natural appearance.  Afterwards, I will make adjustments to saturation and then brighten or darken with luminance. I do not always use all three of the sliders. Rather, I pick and choose based on the specific image. If comparing the three options, I tend to use luminance the most.

As a closing note, the color option on the top of the panel is just another way to view it. While this option seems simplified, it tends to be a less efficient way to edit colors because rarely will you encounter colors which fall purely into one category.  It just ends up being more clicking back and forth for me.

I hope this unlocks another part of creative freedom in editing your images. Happy Shooting!