Understanding the HSL Panel in Lightroom for Beginners

The HSL sliders (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) are where the bulk of your colour editing will take place. Hue, Saturation, and Luminance are the three values that are the basis of colour. Every single colour you can imagine has a value of hue, a value of saturation, and a value of luminance. Colour is a huge deal in photography, so understanding what is happening when you manage the colour in your photos is going to help you get the best edits possible, and make sure you bring out the best in your photos.

With the HSL Panel, you can adjust each value individually, so you have a ton of control over the colours in your photo, and you can create and adjust any colour very precisely. HSL adjustments enable you to brighten or emphasize specific colours, and can also take your black and white conversions to the next level!

Each module in this panel has its own purpose and will adjust different aspects of the colour in your photo, so it is important to understand what they each do. Once you understand what they do individually, you will see how they work together to edit your photo and help you get the best results!



Within Lightroom, and within your photo, colour is thought of as a shade within a range. For example, the yellow flower in your photo is not one solid block of one solid colour, but instead there are variations of the colour with that flower. There may be a bit of bright yellow, with a darker yellow, maybe some orange, as well as a brighter, greenish yellow. These variations are what we describe as “hue”.

Lightroom detects the colour of the pixels in a scene, assigns them a value within the range of the colour that it sits in, and then it never leaves that range. This means that any pixels that are assigned a value within the “yellow” range can be adjusted with the yellow slider only. If you were to take the yellow slider and slide it all the way to the end so your yellows appeared green, you could not then take the green slider and adjust those same pixels further and turn them aqua. To make changes like this, you will need to use Photoshop!

With the hue slider, you can make subtle adjustments to the various hues found in your photo.



Saturation refers to the intensity of a colour. By sliding the Saturation slider all the way to the left, you will completely desaturate that colour, leaving a grey tone behind, and if you slide the slider all the way to the right, the saturation will be increased and the colour will be intensified.

The Saturation slider found in the HSL panel gives you much more control than the one in the Presence panel. The slider in the Presence panel is a global adjustment, and increases or decreases the saturation of the entire photo, whereas this slider in the HSL panel allows you to adjust each colour’s saturation individually.



Luminance refers to the brightness or darkness of a given colour. This tool can come in handy when you need to tone down the brightness of the sun in a sunset image, when you need to bring back some colour in a washed-out midday sky, control the reflective highlights on the face of a portrait subject.

Black & White

Black & White

When you convert a photo to black & white, and select the “Black & White” setting at the top of the Basic panel in the “Treatment” section, the HSL panel becomes the B&W Panel. This panel is essentially a Luminance panel that you can use to enhance your black & white photos. Keep in mind, though, that this panel will only be available to you if you have shot your photo in RAW! With a JPEG image, there is not enough information available in the file to be able to edit the photo in such a detailed way. This is yet another reason why it is important to shoot in RAW and not JPEG!

In your RAW image, Lightroom still remember what colour value has been assigned to each pixel, so you can change the luminance values of each colour, the same way you would if you were editing a colour photo. Except in this situation, you will see different shades of grey changing, rather than bright, vibrant colours!

By using the B&W Panel to edit your black and white photos, you can create proper contrast in your photos, and make sure they have enough depth and definition to still be interesting. Because there is no colour, black & white photos can easily feel flat, but with these sliders you can add all the detail you need back in and create gorgeous black & white photo!

Tips for Using the HSL Panel

1. Watch out for Quality Degradation and Colours Falling Apart

If you push the sliders too far to one side, you might notice subtle breakdowns in your colours. If you see this, that means the settings are just a little bit too much for the file to handle. The level that this happens at will depend on the quality of your camera and your image file. If you do notice this happening, just tone down the settings a little bit until you can no longer see the breakdown effect!

2. Skin Tones

When editing colours in a photo, your skin tones can turn out badly if you aren’t careful. Be careful with your saturation when working with skin tones, as they can quickly become over saturated and orange. Remember that luminance is a helpful tool to help shape the different highlights in the face and give some depth, once you have your hues right.

3. Adjustment Point Tool

Adjustment Point Tool copy

The Adjustment Point Tool is found in the top left corner of the HSL Panel. This tool is useful for when you can’t quite tell which colours are mixed in the area you want to edit. When you use this tool, it automatically determines which colours are found in the area you want to edit and adjusts all the corresponding sliders as you drag up or down on your image.

To use this tool, select it, and then go to the area of your image you want to edit. Then, click and drag on your photo and let Lightroom do the work for you! You can, of course, make more specific adjustments afterwards, but this tool will give you a great starting point. The Adjustment Point Tool can be used to adjust Hue, Saturation, or Luminance.

Colour is an incredibly important aspect of any photo, so it is important to understand how to edit those colours properly and make your photos pop!