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Vibrance is neither smart nor useful in product image editing

When Adobe updated Camera Raw about 10 years ago and introduced Vibrance to Photoshop users, this controversial slider started gaining popularity. It became so popular that people stopped using Saturation at all, thinking that Vibrance is some kind of smart magic new Saturation. Well, it's not.

It's about as smart as my elbow and in product image editing for online stores, when overused or even used at all, it's a quick and simple way to ruin your images. Yeah, it's that bad. People that love dragging it all the way to the right wouldn't agree with me, but the post is not for them anyway.

So let me explain how it works and why you shouldn't use it. Hey, it's not like I'm saying: "Use Saturation instead". We shouldn't normally touch both sliders, and here's why: in product image editing, when photographs are taken in a standard and predictable environment, we don't need to saturate colors. What for? Our ultimate task is to preserve them and transfer via the web so that the customers could see about the same stuff they're going to get delivered to them. If the image is not saturated enough, it probably lacks contrast, and that's exactly the way how we usually control saturation: by altering contrast.

But even if there's a total lack of saturation because… just because! Then it's better to use the Saturation slider, not Vibrance. The deal is that Vibrance saturates unsaturated colors greatly, and Saturation just saturates the whole thing. As the Vibrance slider doesn't bring significant changes to the image quickly, people tend to drag it too far to the right and they let it wreak havoc on the image without even noticing. Yes, that's how treacherous it is.

In product image editing, what do we usually have? Models, clothes, objects, backgrounds. So which colors are usually unsaturated and should stay this way? Skin (which is unsaturated orange), neutral clothes and objects, and, above all, parasitic tints and color casts. Yeah, white balance problems could be intensified with the Vibrance slider. Why would anyone want that?

Vibrance is a foolproof method to make images worse

This image above looked quite decent before I even started tweaking it in Camera Raw. But somehow I just went and dragged the Vibrance slider to the right till it hit 70. It's easy to overdo because the changes are not as evident as with the Saturation slider. So what did I achieve?

Nothing. The Vibrance slider is not useful in product image editing.

Making the image worse than it was is not an achievement. I ruined the jeans, the palm, the neck, everything, without making the image even a tad better. This is not a proper way to handle product images.

It doesn't matter if you set it to 70 or to 10 — it's still bad for the image, it doesn't do any good. Seriously, people. You can't imagine how many retouchers sent me the test images I asked to color correct — and almost all of them had Vibrance altered in the metadata. This is not the way to go. Before doing anything, think, what you're trying to achieve. Vibrance saturates unsaturated colors, why would you need something like that unless you'd like to see parasitic tints more profound?

That's the question.

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