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The Color Curves adjustment is the command to reach for when you want to adjust the lighting and color in an image and you want more control than you can get from the Shadows/Highlights command or from a Levels Adjustment layer. The Adjust Color Curves command is not an adjustment layer. So before you begin to apply it, you might want to copy the image layers that you have one that you haven't affected directly. I'll just leave things as they are and go up to the Enhance menu and down to the Adjust Color menu and from there I am going to choose Adjust Color Curves.
That opens this large Adjust Color Curves dialog box. In this dialog box, I have an After view and a Before view to compare it with. But these previews are a little bit small for my taste. So I am going to move this entire dialog box way over to the right pushing some of it off the screen. So, I can see my image here in the document window or at least part of it. The way that I start in the Adjust Color Curves dialog box is with these preset styles here. As I choose a preset from this menu, the curve represented by this chart will change.
It represents all the possible tonal values in the image with the bright tones at the top right, the dark tones at the bottom left and the mid tones in between. So, I'll start by selecting a preset style and usually I'll just cycle through these one by one keeping my eye on the After view here or if I can see it the preview in my document window. When I get to one that I really like I'll use that as the basis for my correction. In this case, I think Increase Contrast is the best choice.
So, I'll cycle back to Increase Contrast and notice that that choice has affected the curve. It's no longer a straight line. This shadow point is now lower than it was and this highlight point is now higher than it was, creating this sort of an S curve that is a typical way to reshape a curve in order to increase contrast. I do like the way that the After preview is looking, but I might want to increase the contrast a bit more by adjusting the highlights and the shadows. So, I'll go to the Adjust Highlight slider here and I'll use it to fine-tune that preset style.
I'll drag the Adjust Highlight slider slightly to the right to make the highlights in the image even brighter. Then I'll go down to the Adjust Shadows slider and I'll drag that slightly to the left to make the shadows or the dark areas in the image slightly darker. I am satisfied with that result. I think it's a big improvement over the original and so I'll move the dialog box over and I'll click the OK button. Before I do, notice that there is a Cancel button which would just close this dialog box without making changes to the image.
There's also a Reset button that I can use to reset all the sliders and presets back to ground zero, so I could start again in this dialog box. But I am going to click OK to close the dialog box and apply that Color Curves adjustment. Down here in the histogram I can see that I'm getting a yellow triangle meaning that I need to update the histogram to reflect the latest changes I've made to the image. So, I am going to click this double curved arrow and that updates the histogram. In an earlier movie on Levels I explained what the histogram represents.
The spaces between the bars in this histogram indicate that applying that color curve adjustment has expanded the tonal range of the image. That's one of the reasons that it looks better. The light areas are now brighter, the dark areas are darker and there is a wider range of grays in between than there was before I made that adjustment. To see a before and after view out here in the larger document window, I can go up to the Undo button and click that. So that's how the image looked before the correction and here's how it looks with the correction.
One thing to notice is that adjusting color curves affects not only the lighting in the image, but also the color. So if you have an image in which you'd like to be able to adjust the highlights, the shadows, and the mid tones each separately, then give the Adjust Color Curves command a try.
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