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Earlier in this chapter I showed you how to use the Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows/Highlights command to adjust the brighter and darker tones in an image independently. If you're looking for even more fine- tuned control over the various tones and colors in an image, then instead, try out the Adjust Color Curves command under the Adjust Color menu. Before I apply that command I'm going to duplicate the background layer that contains the photo, because this is a direct adjustment that will change the pixels of the layer to which I apply the feature.
I'll go over to the Layers Panel and I'll right-click the Background layer and I'll choose Duplicate Layer, and then I'll click OK. With the Background copy layer selected I'll go up to the Enhance menu and down to Adjust Color > Adjust Color Curves. I'm going to move this dialog box over, so we can see some of the image in the document window behind the dialog box. I do have a small live preview here inside the Adjust Color Curves dialog box in this After window, but it's a pretty small preview, so I like to see as much of the document window behind as I can.
Now you don't have to understand curves in order to use this dialog box. You can start over here on the left in the Select a Style menu, choosing between some curve presets. So I usually just click through these, keeping my eye on the preview over here and up here until I get an initial result that I like. What I'm trying to do here is to open up the shadow areas in the statue without making the sky too bright. I think of all this presets, Backlight is the best preset to start with for this particular photo.
Choosing a preset over here has altered the curve in this graph. As I said you don't have to know how to read this curve, but if you're interested, the diagonal line in the curves graph represents the tones in the image, with the brightest tones being represented by the top right of this diagonal line and the darkest tones, the bottom left, with the midtones somewhere in the middle. So when I chose Backlight, Elements increased the brightness of the midtones a little bit and decreased the brightness of the highlights that correspond to this area of the curve. I can tweak that result using the Adjust Sliders.
So I'm going to take a look at the highlights, the midtones, and the dark areas of the image to try to figure out what needs to be done next. I think the biggest problem here is that the midtones and the shadows are still a little bit dark. So I'll start with the Midtone Brightness slider, dragging this over to the right. That changes the shape of the curve and it does open up the midtones a bit. I also want to open up the shadows, making them brighter, so I'll go to the Adjust Shadows slider and I'll drag that to the right as well. I might take that even farther to bring in some detail from the darkest areas of the statue.
Now I like the way the clouds are looking in the background, so I'm going to leave the Adjust Highlights slider where it is. Finally, to give the image a little more punch I'll increase the Midtone Contrast a bit, which spreads out the Midtones. Now if I don't like this result I can always reset and start again by coming up to the Reset button at the top right, but I am pretty happy with this result, so I'm going to click OK and that will close the Adjust Color Curves dialog box and take me back out into the document. So I'll turn off the Background copy layer to remind you of where we started with this image, and where we are now.
So that's how you can use the Color Curves command to improve the appearance of almost any image.
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