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The Adjust Color Curves command allows you to individually adjust color and tone in the highlights, the midtones and the shadow areas of a photo to your liking. This is the command to use when you want more control and fine-tuning than you can get with maybe Levels or Shadow/Highlights adjustment. As you know some photo adjustments like Levels are available as adjustment layers, but unfortunately the Color Curves adjustment is not. So before I apply it to this image, I'm going to make a duplicate of my photo layer, the Background layer, to preserve it in its original state.
I am going to right-click on the Background layer and choose Duplicate Layer and then I'll click OK, and I'll work on that Background copy layer with that highlighted here in the Layers panel. To apply the Adjust Color Curves command, I'll go up to the Enhance menu and down to Adjust Color and over to Adjust Color Curves. That opens this big Adjust Color Curves dialog box. I am going to click on its title bar and drag it over to the right, so that more of the image is showing back here. I'll be able to preview the changes that I make in this dialog box immediately in the image here, but I'll also be able to see a preview of what I'm doing here in the After Area inside the Adjust Color Curves dialog box.
The controls for applying a color curve are down here in the Select a Style menu. Often, I'll just come through and try all the different options here until I see one that I like, previewing the results in that After window. There's Backlight, Darken Highlights, the Default, Increase Contrast, Increase Midtones, Lighten Shadows, and Solarize. I am going to start with Increase Contrast, because I do want to expand the range of tones in this image making the brights brighter and the darks a little darker, but I think that this preset goes a little bit too far.
So that's where the Adjust sliders come in. They allow me to fine-tune this result. I think that the shadows, the dark areas here are a little too dark right now. So I'll come down to the Adjust Shadows slider and I'm going to drag it slightly to the right to try to open up those shadows. Notice that as I move this slider the curve in this diagram is changing. This point here represents the shadows that I have just tweaked. So if I drag that Adjust Shadows slider to the left, notice that this point moves down, and as I drag the Adjust Shadows slider to the right that point moves up.
I'm going to put it just about there. I would also like to brighten up the midtones and so I'm going to click-and-drag on the Midtone Brightness slider dragging it to the right and as I do, notice that the curve in the diagram is changing. I can also play with the Midtone Contrast slider. I'll try dragging that slightly to the right to increase contrast just a bit. Now I could have made all those changes by clicking on these points in the diagram, but I think it's a lot easier to use the sliders to get just the result that I want. When I'm satisfied with the results, I'll go up here and I'll click OK.
Before I do, notice that I could also cancel what I've done or reset all of the sliders to their original states. I am going to click OK and now back in the Layers panel, I'll click the Eye icon to the left of the Adjusted Background copy layer to compare the way it looks with the Color Curves adjustment with the way the image looked when I started. With the adjustment it's slightly more contrasty, making the image pop a little more. If you've got a photo that needs different tonal adjustments in the ahadows, the highlights, and the midtones, you'll find that the Adjust Color Curves command gives you the control you need to manually adjust each one of those tonal areas separately.
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