Design, Photography, & Fashion

Hue, Saturation, Value: How to Use HSV Color Model in Photography

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 24, 2019 • 4 min read

Hue, saturation, and value are the main color properties that allow us to distinguish between different colors. Using color effectively is one of the most essential elements in photography, as color can draw the viewer’s eye to your composition and affect the mood and emotional impact your photo.

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What Is Hue?

Hues are the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) and the three secondary colors (orange, green, and violet) that appear in the color wheel or color circle. When you refer to hue, you are referring to pure color, or the visible spectrum of basic colors that can be seen in a rainbow.

What Is Saturation?

Color saturation is the purity and intensity of a color as displayed in an image. The higher the saturation of a color, the more vivid and intense it is. The lower a color’s saturation, or chroma, the closer it is to pure gray on the grayscale. Learn more about saturation in our guide here.

What Is Color Value?

Color value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. We perceive color value based on the quantity of light reflected off of a surface and absorbed by the human eye. We refer to the intensity of the light that reaches the eye as “luminance.”

How to Adjust Hue, Saturation, and Value

Understanding and mastering hue, saturation, and value is essential for any photographer. Adjusting one or all of these elements can have an enormous effect on the style and emotional impact of your photography.

Programs like Adobe Photoshop contain color models that allow you to analyze and manipulate the image for desired effect.

  • HSV Color Scale: The HSV (which stands for Hue Saturation Value) scale provides a numerical readout of your image that corresponds to the color names contained therein. Hue is measured in degrees from 0 to 360. For instance, cyan falls between 181–240 degrees, and magenta falls between 301–360 degrees. The value and saturation of a color are both analyzed on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. Most digital color pickers are based on the HSV scale, and HSV color models are particularly useful for selecting precise colors for art, color swatches, and digital graphics.
  • RGB Color Model: The RGB Color Model is based on the color theory that all visible colors can be made using the additive primary colors of red, green, and blue. As you adjust the amount these basic colors, you can create a different color such as aqua, teal, maroon, or fuchsia. Understanding the RGB Color Model is important for photographers because it is the color model used in most computer monitors. So if your photography is going to be displayed on a computer screen or online, it’s helpful to use the RGB color space.
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How Do Hue, Saturation, and Value Aspects of Color Affect Your Photography?

Adjusting the hue, saturation, and value can greatly impact the overall composition of your images. Even the smallest adjustment can affect the way your photograph is perceived by the viewer.

  • Adjust hue for color correction: Adjusting the hue of your photograph’s original color allows make changes to a single color without affecting the other color values in the photograph. Incremental hue adjustments and light color manipulation can help you tweak the white balance or background color without affecting your overall color scheme.
  • Oversaturation vs. undersaturation: Oversaturated images tend to feel hyper-realistic or heightened. Images with high saturation give the impression of artificiality, and saturated colors can be very striking when used effectively. On the other hand, you can selectively desaturate photographs to highlight certain aspects of your image. Choosing specific areas or colors to saturate while the rest of your image is undersaturated can help direct the viewer’s eye to elements of your image you wish to emphasize.
  • Emotion: Saturation value has an impact on the emotion of a photograph. A muted image typically conveys somber or constrained emotion, whereas saturated colors generally connote extreme feeling and passion. Think about what sort of emotional impact you want your images to have and how increasing or decreasing saturation can help you achieve that aesthetic.
  • Use value adjustments for emphasis: Having a high degree of contrast on the value scale between the objects you’re photographing helps you create space and separation, whereas gradations of value helps emphasize contouring, depth, and detail on a surface. If the values in an image are close to one another, it will generally cause the shapes to flatten into one another, resulting in an image where the shapes seem to blend. If the values contrast, on the other hand, the shapes will pop and separate, causing them to stand out. Manipulating an image so it is high value or low value will therefore create completely different points of emphasis in your photography.

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Want to Become a Better Photographer?

Whether you’re just starting out or have dreams of going professional, photography requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of creativity. No one knows this better than celebrated National Geographic photographer Jimmy Chin. In Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass on adventure photography, he shares how to capture your passions, build and lead a team, and execute high stakes photography.

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