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How To Start Using the HSL Panel in Lightroom

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If you’re new to Lightroom, the HSL panel can seem daunting. Yet HSL panel in Lightroom is an essential tool to empower your creativity and photo editing process.

The HSL panel allows you to target the hue, saturation, and luminance of the various tones in your image.

Let’s take a closer look at what these sliders in Adobe Lightroom can do.

A screenshot showing how to use the HSL Panel in Lightroom Interface

Understanding Hue, Saturation and Luminance

Before you can get started with HSL, you need to know what these terms mean in photography.

Hue

Many photographers use the words Hue and Color as if they mean the same thing.

We use the term color in a general sense. It refers to the values of hue, tint, tone or shade that we see. “Purple” refers to color, but it does not distinguish if it’s “lilac”, “lavender”, or “mauve”.

These are all purple hues because they appear in the purple family of color on the color wheel.
The Colour Wheel

Saturation

Saturation tells us how intense a color is.

We have associations with some colors, and we connect colors to mood. Adjusting the saturation can affect the atmosphere of your image, which is why you need to know how to use it.

When you use the Saturation slider in the Presence Panel in Lightroom, it adjusts the saturation of all the colors. This adjustment can become overdone. The HSL panel lets control the saturation of each color on its own.

For example, as a food photographer, I always bring down the oranges in my images.

When shooting food, you want the colors to look as natural as possible. Most food is pretty warm in tone and often reads more orange than looks appealing. By bringing the “Orange” Saturation slider down a bit, I have a more natural and fresh-looking subject.

In the image below, the cake looked too orange when it was, in fact, a golden brown. I desaturated the orange and reduced the Orange luminance.

You can also bring out a specific color in Adobe Lightroom by desaturating the other colors within your frame.
An overhead shot of a Caramel Apple Cake edited with the hsl panel in lightroomA screenshot of using the using hsl panel in Lightroom

Luminance

Luminance refers to the reflective brightness of colors.

You can make colors stand out by brightening them with the luminance slider. You can also make the more subtle or darken them.

Reducing luminance can also increase saturation if the color you’re working on is relatively bright. You can also reduce saturation by decreasing luminance.

Note that sometimes your colors may end up looking a bit strange if you adjust luminance too much. A subtle hand is usually all that’s needed.

Luminance is a great tool to make your image pop.

Making Adjustments With the HSL Panel

So to sum up:
Hue > targets the varieties of shades that exist within a given color range
Saturation > targets the  strength of a color
Luminance > deals with the brightness of a color

In Lightroom, the HSL and Color tabs are similar. But the sliders are different.

There are eight color sliders in the Color tab. You work on the hue, saturation and luminance of each color individually.
A screenshot of using the using hsl panel in Lightroom
In the  HSL tab, you will find the sliders categorised by HueSaturation and Luminance, not just color. This tab is also where you can find the Targeted Adjustment Tool.

The Targeted Adjustment Tool allows you to target your colors more precisely than using the sliders. When you’re looking at the sliders, it’s hard to say which hue you might need.A screenshot of using the using hsl panel in Lightroom

To use this tool:

  • Click on the Targeted Adjustment Tool icon.
  • Lay the crosshair over the selected hue. Then you can adjust it by clicking, holding, and moving your mouse.
  • Lightroom will automatically move the color sliders to adjust the targeted color.

To adjust the sliders in the HSL/Color panel, drag the slider to the left or right.

To make small adjustments, hover over the slider with your mouse, then use the Up/Down arrows on the keyboard incrementally.

To make significant adjustments, hold down Shift while hitting >Up or >Down. Alternatively, you can make adjustments by double-clicking on the “0” and inputting the desired number.

To reset your slider, double click on it.

Some people feel more comfortable working in the Color panel when first learning Lightroom, as it can be less overwhelming. But it gives you less control over the results in your final image.

The B&W Section Related to The HSL/Color Panel

Adobe Lightroom also offers you a section called B&W. This section is where you can control Black and White.

In B&W mode there aren’t technically any colors or saturation for you to edit. But you can change the luminance levels with the Black and White Mix.

In the B&W section, you will also find the Adjustment Point Tool. You can use this tool to change specific areas.

Note that there is also an Auto button in the Black & White section. But using this button is not recommend because Lightroom will try to figure out the correct settings. This result can be incorrect and not give you the best image.

To activate the B&W panel, go to the Basic Panel and click on Black and White. The B&W panel will replace the HSL Panel.
The black and white panel in lightroom - using hsl color The black and white panel in lightroom - using hsl color
Dark and moody diptych of a flower vase edited with the hsl panel in lightroom

Conclusion

You should now know how to make adjustments in the HSL Panel. These adjustments can influence the look of your images.
Color is a crucial factor in our photos. The HSL panel will help you take your images to the next level.

For more great photography tips, check out these articles on using triadic or analogous color schemes or this easy guide to HSL sliders!

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