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The Adjust Color Curves command offers a sophisticated level of control over tone and color. With this one command you can individually adjust color and tone in the highlights, the midtones, and the shadows of a photo to your liking. This command, the Color Curves command, is the one to use when you need more control and fine tuning than you can get with other color and tonal adjustments that I have shown you in this chapter. Some photo adjustments like Levels and Hue/Saturation are available as Adjustment layers, as I have shown you. Unfortunately, Color Curves is not.
So before I apply a Color Curves adjustment, I am going to make a copy of the layer that contains the photo, in this case the Background layer. I will hold the Ctrl Key and click on the Background layer in the layers panel, or if I have a two-button mouse, I will right-click on that layer and choose Duplicate layer. I will click OK, and with the Background Copy layer selected, I will apply a Color Curves adjustment to that layer, preserving my original photo on the Background layer. I will go up to the Enhance menu and down to Adjust Color, and I will choose Adjust Color Curves.
That opens this big Adjust Color Curves dialog box. I am going to try to move it out of the way as much as possible, putting it up here, so that I can see some of the image behind, because whatever changes I make in this dialog box will be automatically reflected as a preview over here in the document window. Another place that I can preview the adjustments is here in the After portion of the Adjust Color Curves dialog box, and I can compare the adjustments that I am making there to a Before version of the image. I will start with the Select a Style menu, which contains some preset Color Curves.
The way that I use this is basically to start at the first choice and just cycle through them using the Arrow keys on my keyboard and keeping my eye on this After image, until I see a result that I like. In this case I think I am going to use the Up Arrow key on my keyboard to start with Increase Contrast. Now, I see that the image is still pretty dark, so I need to do some tweaking to this preset, and that's done with the Adjust sliders here in the middle of the Adjust Color Curves dialog box.
I want to adjust the Shadows, making them brighter. So I will go to that slider and I will drag to the right. As I do, keep your eye on this curve, in the Curves diagram. Dragging the Adjust Shadows slider to the right moves the point on the curve right here. That represents the three-quarter shadows. I also want to increase the brightness of the midtones in the image. So I am going to go to the Midtone Brightness slider and I am going to drag that one to the right as well, and you can see that point moving up in the Curves diagram, and the midtones in the image are now significantly brighter in the After preview than they are in the Before preview.
If I want the highlights to be brighter too, I will go to the Adjust Highlight slider and I will drag that one to the right. Now, all this could have been accomplished by going to this Curves diagram and clicking on these points and dragging them, but I think it's a lot more intuitive and easier to use the Adjust sliders here to fine tune the initial style. When I am satisfied with the result, I can go up and click OK, but before I do that, notice that I could cancel all the changes that I have made from here or reset all the sliders to their defaults by clicking Reset.
I am going to click OK and here is my image with its changes back in the document window. Now unfortunately, because this is not an Adjustment layer, there is no way for me to go back into the Color Curves Adjustments. So if I wanted to further tweak this image, I could do that with another kind of Adjustment layer, maybe a Levels Adjustment layer, or I could make yet another copy of this Duplicate layer and apply more of a Color Curve adjustment to it. But I am going to leave things as they are for now. If you have got a photo that needs different tonal adjustments in the shadows, the highlights, and the midtones, I think you will find that Color Curves gives you the control that you need to manually adjust each one of these tonal areas separately.
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