Learn this new way to boost the colors of your landscape photos. This technique lets you get the most vibrant and saturated photos while still keeping a natural look. You’ll learn how to increase saturation with the Channel Mixer and then use Vibrancy masking to control whether you want it to affect the vibrant or non-vibrant areas. This works amazingly well for landscapes and it’s a great when you want to get the most intense and vibrant colors you can from your photo.
The Quick Method
Before we start, the quick way to do vibrancy masking is to simply increase the saturation and lower the vibrance. This will increase the vibrancy of your photo while keeping the neutral areas somewhat neutral.
This technique is good if you only have Lightroom or if you don’t have a lot of time and you think it’s good enough. But if you want something that will give you more intense colors and flexibility, then keep reading this tutorial and you’ll learn how to do it in Photoshop with the Channel Mixer.
Channel Mixer Vibrancy
There are several adjustments in Photoshop which an increase the vibrancy of your photo. You can use the Vibrance or Saturation adjustments. There’s also one more way and that is with the Channel Mixer. It gives you really nice intense colors that work great for landscape photos.
It’s sort of a mix between the old saturation adjustment and the new Vibrance adjustment in that it alters both the saturation and lightness like the Vibrance adjustment, but it treats all colors equally like the old Saturation adjustment. The Vibrance adjustment applies different intensities depending on the hue and lightness. But when we’re doing something like vibrancy masking, we want something that’s straightforward and treats all colors equally. And the Channel Mixer does this job perfectly.
Here’s how to do it. Start by going into the Adjustment panel and adding a Channel Mixer adjustment layer. If you don’t see this panel, you can open it by going to Window > Adjustments.
The Channel Mixer lets you mix in parts of one channel to another channel. In case you don’t know what channels are, color photos are made from three channels. A red, green and blue channel that when combined, forms a color photo.
So for example, if we select the red channel from the dropdown menu and set the red 0 and blue to 100, your red channel will look the same as your blue channel. And this is because we told Photoshop to make the red channel 0% red, 0% green and 100% blue. You can play around with the percentages but whatever numbers you use, you generally want to have them all add up to 100%.
So that’s what the Channel Mixer is doing. Now how do we use it to make your photo more vivid? Here’s how to do it. Start with the Red channel. Set the Red to 200, Green to -50, and Blue to -50. This tells Photoshop to regenerate the red channel using 200% of the data in the original red channel, minus 50% from the green channel, and minus another 50% from the blue channel.
We’re going to repeat this for the green and blue channels. Go into the Green channel and apply the same pattern of settings. Set the Green to 200 and the rest to -50.
Do this one more time for the Blue channel. So 200 for the blues and -50 for the rest.
Before we move on, I recommend saving this as a preset for future use and you can do so by clicking on the panel menu and selecting Save Preset. Once it’s saved, you can access it from the Presets dropdown menu.
Congratulations! You just made your photo more vibrant with the Channel Mixer adjustment.
Right now the Channel Mixer is affecting the entire image and although the colors are really popping in the foliage, it’s also making the stone wall look quite orange and dirty. To fix this, we can add a layer mask based on the vibrancy. Here’s how to do it.
Change the blending mode of the layer to Difference. This will show you the difference between your current layer and the layers below. And as you can see, the bright spots are the areas where the most vibrant colors are. And the dark spots are where the neutral colors are.
To create a Vibrancy mask, we can simply use this image as the layer mask. To do this, select the layer mask in your Layers panel.
Go to Image > Apply Image. This tool lets you place an image into your current layer or layer mask. The default settings are fine and you can just click OK.
Change the blending mode of this layer back to Normal and then hold the Alt or Option key and click on the layer mask. This will let you see what your layer mask looks like.
Right now it’s pretty dark so press Ctrl/Cmd+Shift L and that will apply auto levels to balance things out. Hold Alt or Option and click on the layer mask again to stop looking at your layer mask.
If you hold the Shift key while clicking on the layer mask, you can enable and disable it to preview how it looks. Here’s how the image looks like before and after. As you can see, the vibrancy mask really helps to preserve the neutral colors.
You can also use the Levels tool on the layer mask by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+L and dragging the outer nodes towards the center which will increase the contrast like this.
If there’s any gaps that you want to fill, you can use the Brush tool and paint inside the layer mask with either black or white.
If you want the opposite effect, you can invert the layer mask by pressing the Invert button in the Properties panel or by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+I. This will make your layer affect the neutral colors more than the vibrant colors and it’s useful when you want to increase the vibrancy very evenly with a flatter look and prevent colors from being overly saturated.
By the way, if you’re using Photoshop CC and you want to blur the layer mask, make sure that you’re using the Feather setting in the Properties panel and not the Gaussian Blur filter. Because once you blur the layer mask with the filter, you can’t unblur it. With the Feather setting, it will let you adjust the blur as many times as you like, any time you want, and it’s also much easier to access.
We’re done. You can lower the layer opacity to control how much vibrance you want to add.
Here’s how the image looks like before and after.
More Examples of Vibrancy Masking
Here are more examples of what you can achieve with this technique. I know some people like to really pump the vibrance and saturation and get that intense vivid look. I’ve seen gallery prints like this and they look great in real life. But what I noticed was that if you keep parts of your photo gray or neutral, like the stones, rocks, etc…. If you keep the gray stuff gray, it’ll make the colors around it look even more vibrant. So hopefully with this technique, you can still get those intense vivid colors but in a way that’s a little bit more natural.