Free Photoshop Action: NBP Boost Saturated Areas

If there is one seemingly simple and wildly popular process in postproduction, it's boosting color saturation. I totally understand why — it's appealing to see your image sort of come to life with all the vibrancy and "pop" that color saturation enhancement brings. However, there is a smarter, more refined way to boost color saturation that I often employ, and I've also created a Photoshop Action for you to download for free that streamlines the process into one click.

Let's all keep in mind one main thing about photographs: when someone says to you, "this image doesn't pop; I dunno it just needs to pop, only it doesn't," what they really are noticing is the lack of dynamics or interest in the shot. Our knee jerk reaction when we hear this is to boost color saturation almost every single time, and often to the detriment of our search of "more pop."

In fact, too much color saturation makes your images look amateur, and quickly.

That said, how do some photographers and retouchers attain such strong, dominating, high color saturation in their work without it looking cheeseball? Often it is about how they boost color, where they boost color, and the overall balance of the image in terms of said color.

Styling on set is a big part of it too. A muted color palette on set, or a wardrobe ensemble drowning in neutral tones, is simply never going to "pop"' with the color intensity you may be after simply because the foundational elements for such a shot were never there to begin with. No amount of postproduction is likely to make it look like an ultra-vibrant color explosion if it just isn't.

To that end, I found I like to boost color saturation in Photoshop with a Vibrance adjustment layer and, more often than not, a saturation mask on said adjustment layer. This allows me to boost color saturation however much I desire, but in a smarter way.

In the before and after images above, notice how the wall and socks do not have any color saturation increase, even though the rest of the shot does. This was quickly done with a saturation mask on a Vibrance adjustment layer.

With a saturation mask on the Vibrance adjustment layer, increasing the vibrancy (or saturation) only boosts the already-saturated areas. More specifically, areas of higher saturation get more of the color boost than areas with less saturation. Further, areas with no color at all don't get boosted at all. This affords you more refined control of boosting the colors in your shot you likely want boosted, while minimizing how much saturation gets injected into your muted areas. Sure, a lot of this can be done with manually-created masks over specific areas (and I recommend doing that for specific adjustments and looks) but the option to boost color saturation more in your already-saturated areas, less in your lesser-saturated areas, and all levels in between, creates some beautiful and polished results when increasing color saturation.

In order to streamline the process, I created an Action for it. You can download it here, totally free, on my website. 

Hope you like and do let me know what you think of it.

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"...without it looking cheeseball." +10 points for my colloquial laugh of the day.

Thanks for the article and your generosity.

Nino Batista's picture

hehe most welcome!

Nice and simple. It has always bothered me that we cannot do this directly in Photoshop using "Saturation Curves" (basically like Curves, but with Saturation on the X/Y axis). The simplest workaround is as you show here a saturation mask - but the downside is that you need to update the mask whenever you alter the layers below, and if you want to control how much it affects the various saturation levels you need to do destructive adjustments to the mask.

So I made my own action that generates a "Saturation Curves" layer using only adjustment layers (no layer masks). Gives you a lot of creative freedom!

Go nuts:

What it looks like:
As always, I've made sure it works with layers. :)