You’re probably used to digital images being in the RGB mode, where the full range of colors is generated with red, green and blue color ‘channels’. But most photo editing programs offer a color editing mode based around the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) color model, and this is where it gets really interesting.
Hue, Saturation and Lightness is a much more natural way to think about color. Instead of being described in technical RGB values, colors and tones are described in terms of their hue (their color, if you like), their saturation (the intensity of the color) and their lightness (how bright or dark the color is).
Any color in your photos can be described and understood using this HSL system, and the best photo editors offer dedicated color editing tools where you can pick a color and then shift its hue, saturation and lightness independently of the rest of the image.
The screenshot above shows the Color Editor in Capture One. A color is selected using the eyedropper and then its hue, saturation and lightness values are shifted with sliders.
In this way, you can change the color of specific objects, like cars or clothing, say, without affecting the rest of the colors in the picture. You don’t need to make any complicated selections and it takes very little time to do.
Most programs offer a selection of color ranges you can edit, such as ‘Reds’, ‘Oranges’, ‘Yellows’, ‘Greens’ and so on. Some also offer eyedropper tools or targeted adjustment tools you use to click on objects directly in the picture to select or adjust them specifically.
Many presets and profiles supplied with photo editing software or bought separately use these HSL adjustments to shift specific colors in a scene to achieve their unique effect.
- HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) adjustments and what they can do
- How to highlight a color and suppress the rest
- How to carry out color adjustments in Exposure X
- How to create a polarising effect digitally
- How to create a selective color effect in Lightroom Classic
- Get greener landscapes with an Elements adjustment layer