Photographers who use Adobe Photoshop’s Saturation tool to increase the saturation of their digital images can often run into problems, notably unnatural color rendition. The Saturation slider adjusts all colors equally: Dull colors and already-saturated colors get the same boost, with the result that the latter can lose detail and become unrealistic-or just plain ugly. Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements’ RAW converter in Version 6 and higher remedy this with the Vibrance tool, which may also be called Smart Saturation. This tool minimizes the saturation change for colors that are near total saturation, while adding more saturation to the duller colors. Here are three good uses of Vibrance.

1. Enrich Scenics: Saturation, used on the right third of Photo A, creates surreal colors and loss of detail in the richest areas-notice the halos of color around the blades of grass. Vibrance, used on the left third, makes the colors richer and deeper without losing detail in the saturated areas.

2. Improve Portraits: Vibrance has built-in protection to avoid oversaturating skin tones. The software detects the tonal range of skin tones, and does not add saturation to these areas. In Photo B, Saturation was used on the left side, which affected all color values including skin tones, creating unnatural, undesirable tones. Vibrance, used on the right side, saturated various colors, including the eye makeup and the coat, without unnaturally altering skin tones.

3. Go Pastel: Usually you add Vibrance to an image, but you can achieve some beautiful effects by dragging Vibrance into the negative settings. Doing so gives you a slightly muted image, more of a pastel effect than you’d get by desaturating. Decreasing Vibrance can be used to make portraits appear almost hand-painted, as in Photo C. And note that you can apply Vibrance locally using the Sponge tool.