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Embrace your Curves!

February 11, 2010

Curves are intimidating when you’re first learning Photoshop.

But once you do figure them out, you will use them all the time.

This is the Curve Adjustment Layer dialog box.

The diagonal line can be adjusted by clicking on it and inserting an anchor point.  You can then adjust by dragging the anchor point up or down.  You can put multiple anchor points on the line.

I’ve written out which part of the picture corresponds with which area (shadows, darks, lights, highlights).  So if you drop an anchor point towards the bottom of the line and drag it down you will be making the darks and shadows darker.

Luckily, Photoshop comes with a few Curve presets to help you.

As it says, the preset on the left lightens the whole picture and the one on the right darkens the whole picture.

You can also add contrast (or lessen contrast) with Curves.  Above is the preset Linear Contrast and next to it strong contrast.  You can see how each drag up the lights and drag down the darks but to a different degree.  This is often called adding and S curve.

And, perhaps the part I enjoy the most, you can adjust the individual color curves (Red, Green and Blue).  This is a very nice way to add toning to a picture.  (Photoshop does come with a preset called Cross Process but personally I find it awful so I don’t use it).

I think the blue channel is the one that is the best to adjust, but I often do a bit with all three.

Basically, just like above you can drag the diagonal line up and down, but this time it affects the color of the picture.

If you drag the blue channel up it makes the picture more blue.  If you drag it down it makes it more yellow.

If you drag the red channel up it makes the picture more red.  If you drag it down it makes it more green.

And yes, if you drag the green channel up it makes it more green; down makes it more red.

This is a picture from Tim and Shan’s wedding.  Above is without any toning added.

For the picture above I altered just the blue curve in a very quick way ~ I dragged the bottom anchor point (that’s already there) straight up and the top anchor straight down ~ this makes the shadows/darks bluer and the highlights/lights more yellow:

And one last example:

For this picture I adjust all three channels just a bit (if you have our classic actions this is the tone called “Beachy”(you can also save your own presets by clicking the tiny down arrow on the top of the dialog box and choosing save)):

This is an extremely simplistic explanation of Curves.  For a much more in-depth discussion, you can try THIS tutorial or just google it ~ there are a ton out there.

I can’t encourage you enough to just open up a picture, throw on a Curve Adjustment layer and then fiddle around.  If you don’t like it, trash the layer and start over 🙂

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken Robinson permalink
    February 11, 2010 4:29 pm

    An excellent introduction into curves. Experimenting with a curve adjustment layer is a good way to learn and like you said …if you screw it up delete the layer and start again. 🙂

  2. February 11, 2010 6:18 pm

    thank you for that tutorial. very easy to understand.

  3. sheila L. permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:33 am

    i don’t have photoshop yet. one of the reasons being because i’m afraid i’ll buy and then not know what to do with it!
    so glad you’re doing this. when i DO get it i know i’ll be visiting here constantly (:

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