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While used most often to repair color problems, Curves are also a wonderful way to bring back a faded photo. Curves are sort of levels 2.0. Levels is great for adjusting tones and contrast and Curves moves it to the next well level. Where Levels have three points of correction blacks, whites and mid tones, Curves adjust all the ranges in between. Adjust Color Curve is not an Adjustment layer which means the changes you make will be made on the layer you are working on.
So the first thing you need to do is duplicate the layer. To do this you go up to layer and Duplicate layer or you can use keyboard shortcut Ctrl or Command+J. With layer 1 selected go to the top menu and select Enhance, go to Adjust Color, Adjust Color Curves. The dialog box that comes up will have two images of the photograph, the one on the left shows the image before the adjustments, the other on the right shows real time the adjustments you're making.
This is a great feature; this photo restoration is all about the before and after. At the bottom right hand corner under Select a Style are a list of default styles you may want to go through just to get an idea of what the different styles will look like on your photo, you can always go back to the original by selecting the Default style option third down on the list. So play around and see what they do, lets try a couple of right now and see if anything happens. Let's go to Backlight and Darken Highlights, Increase Contrast, not really like what any of those do and I would liked to be in a little more control so let's hit default to go back to where we were and move over to the Adjust sliders.
Adjust Highlights lighten our darken the lightest areas of the photo, you need to use caution going too far with this adjustment as you can blow out your highlights and make it to light loose detail. But just play around see what they do, because you never know until you try, go back, go forward that looks pretty good right there. The Midtone Brightness slider adjust the lighter areas of the Midtones, if you go too bright or toward the plus sign on the slider, it can result in sort of a hazy, muddy look that's because the Midtones are the grays and making the photo too gray to make it appear hazy.
So you want to go down into this area, like that and that looks pretty good we will keep that right there. The Midtone contrast filter adjusts the darker areas of the Midtone's, if you go too far toward this negative area, that's where this one gets muddy. So you want to keep this one up toward the positive area, there that looks pretty good. The Adjust Shadows slider adjusts the shadows or the darker areas of the photos. Just as making the lights too bright can blowout details so can making the shadows too dark and all areas strive for moderation and subtlety.
So we want to go up here just a little bit and see what this does and this is looking a little dark lets mess around this here bring the Midtone Contrast down and that actually looks pretty good. If it any time you don't like the way the adjustments are looking and you want to start over, simply hit the third button down on the right hand corner to reset all the sliders and bring them back to their original default positions. So let's see how this looks, I click okay so that looks pretty good let's see what before and after look like? and you will see there is a great improvement.
While both Curves and Levels have their own charms and of course can be used alone, its sometimes a good idea to actually use curves after a Levels Adjustment to get the best result, it's always a good idea to at least try. Experimenting with tools, Adjustments, Filters and Combinations is the best way to learn and become comfortable with your software and the art of photo restoration itself.
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