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Photoshop - Curves

Of all the image adjustment tools in Photoshop, the curves adjustment tool is an integral part of every professional’s knowledge base and image editing package.

Even if you’ve taken a good photo, chances are it can be improved or it needs to be adjusted to work in a collage or collection. Or even to just to intensify a mood. You can always make a good thing better – and curves is a one-stop-shop way to do that.

The idea behind Curves is all about re–mapping values. A pixel starts out at a certain brightness, and you change it to be brighter or darker.

With curves you are able to:

  • Adjust the over-all contrast or tonal range
  • Adjust the local contrast or tonal range
  • Adjust the color



To see the Curves dialog box, go to IMAGE...Adjustments...Curves (or Ctrl+M)

The box on the right is basically a simple 'graph' with a diagonal axis.  To adjust the Curves in your image, you will click on this axis and drag this line.  As you drag your axis to the bottom-right, darkness will be added to your image.
Drgging towards the top-left adds lightness.

You can add multiple 'control points' to your axis and, as well as physically dragging, once you have clicked to add a point, you can use your keyboard arrow keys for more precise adjustment.



In the above image (with the Curves dialog open) the cursor changes to an eyedropper Eyedropper Tool. If you hold down Ctrl. and click anywhere on the image, the exact tonal position will show as a small dot on the axis (circled in red, above).


In the example above, we've Ctrl. + clicked the dark sky (circled in red) and the corresponding position on the axis appears (also circled in red).  The we've Ctrl.+clicked the church (circled in yellow) and its position also appears on the axis (circled in yellow).  In this basic example, we've pulled the 'sky' point down a little to darken the sky, and dragged the 'church' point into the 'lighter zone' to brighten the sky - resulting in the classic 'S' shape.


Above, we've dragged the points a bit more.  The steeper the curve, the more contrast between the light areas and dark areas there will be.

It’s important to note, however, that you can’t increase contrast in one region without decreasing it in another. The curves tool redistributes contrast.

So that's how to simply adjust tonal ranges in an image, but with the Curves dialog box, Curves can be used as an entire color-correction tool.