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Luminosity vs Brightness

File structure to display the right black and white version for D&B

Conny Wallström posted a video on YouTube about “Brightness vs. Luminosity inside of Photoshop”. As always, a somewhat more technical topic, but fascinating:
It is about the possibilities of transforming an image into its black-and-white representation.
Primarily when you use this as a help layer while retouching, you have to be extremely careful — otherwise, you get massive color problems very quickly.

Conny shows the different interpretation possibilities in Photoshop:


The initial picture:

Bildschirmfoto 2015-05-12 um 23.05.04

Here we have six color areas of different colors. If we look at red and green in Photoshop, we have the following values:

In the RGB color model:

RED: R=255, G=0, B=0
GREEN: R=0, G=0, B=0

RGB = Red, Green, Blue.

In the HSB model, this is what it looks like

RED: H=0°, S=100%, B=100%
GREEN: H=120°, S=100%, B=100%

HSB = Hue, Saturation, Brightness.

If the saturation is set to 0% in HSB mode, pure white is the result.

Reduce saturation

If you make the example shown above black and white via Photoshop’s “Reduce Saturation”, this picture results:

Bildschirmfoto 2015-05-12 um 23.14.05

This indicates that this function is based on the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) color model. In the HSB model, all surfaces would be white; here they are neutral grey.
The “hue/saturation” adjustment layer also uses the HSB model.

Image Mode “Grayscale”

When our image is desaturated via the menu item “Image -> Mode -> Grayscale”, a different image is created: It is not based on the HSL or the HSB model. What we see here is perceived or subjective brightness (luminosity).

Bildschirmfoto 2015-05-12 um 23.18.13

Blending mode color

One way to look at an image in the luminosity equivalent of the colors is to have a black or white color layer above the image in the “color” blending mode.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-05-12 um 23.25.01


In practice

Why should the difference between luminosity and brightness matter?

Especially in Dodge&Burn work, it is helpful to hide the colors via a help layer temporarily. However, it is important to choose a help layer that interprets the subjective brightness. This is not the case in HSB mode.
If you work on an image in HSB grayscales, you can change hue (doesn’t matter how much), you won’t see any difference in the image — at least not as long as you have the help layer active. This can destroy a few hours of work.

Conny has provided a lovely example:

Yellow is always perceived as brighter than blue.
The same image desaturated in the HSB model; both colors appear equally bright.
Im HSL-Modell entsättigt ist die subjektive Helligkeit wieder korrekt
In the HSL model desaturated, the subjective brightness is correct again.

Another example of his own:

Ein Farbverlauf quer durch die Farbskala
A gradient across the color gamut.
Auch dieses Bild wird im HSB-Modell einfach neutralgrau
This image is also only neutral grey in the HSB model.
Mit der schwarzen Ebene im Ebenenmischmodus Farbe bleibt die wahrgenommene Helligkeit erhalten.
With the black layer in blending mode “color”, the perceived brightness is maintained.


Hier wurde der HUE-Wert in einer Farbton-Einstellungsebene um 180° erhöht
Here the HUE value was increased by 180° with the hue slider.
HSB-Konvertierung: wieder wird alles grau
HSB conversion: everything turns grey again.
HSL gibt uns hier die korrekte Luminanz aus
Here again with the layer in “color” blending mode

Especially in portraits, where we are careful not to get color shifts and/or use a lot of time to correct them, the knowledge of these help layers is very important. Photoshop works in different places with these three modes – you should always be aware of which one is used where.

This article is a partial translation from the video “Brightness vs. Luminosity inside of Photoshop” by Conny Wallström.
Some things have been translated very freely and expanded with their own examples.
I strongly recommend you to watch the video above one or the other time – there you can learn a lot.

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to your comment.
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