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The Adjust Color Curves command offers a sophisticated level of control over tone and color. With this command you can individually adjust color and tone in the highlights, the midtones and the shadows of your photo to your liking. It is the command to use when you need more control and fine tuning than you can get with a Levels or a Shadows/Highlights adjustment. I'm working in orchid3.jpg in the 09_ 05_curves subfolder of the Chapter 09 Exercise Files folder. Some photo adjustment commands like Levels and Hue Saturation and other ones are available as adjustment layers. The advantage of adjustment layers is that they don't make changes directly on the photo, but the Color Curves adjustment is available only as a direct adjustment.
So before I apply Color Curves to this photo, I'm going to preserve the original by making a copy of the photo. I'm going to the Layers palette and I'm going to right-click on the single layer there and I'll just choose Duplicate Layer and say OK. Now I have a background copy to work on. Just in case I don't like my changes, I can always throw away the background copy layer and still see the original photo, which is on the background layer. Now I'm going to open Color Curves by going to the Enhance menu at the top of the screen, down to Adjust Color, and over to Adjust Color Curves. This is a big dialog box. On my screen it covers up my image. If you have extra room on your monitor, I suggest that you click and hold on the Title bar of this dialog box and drag it away from the document window so that you can see your photo behind. That will allow you to preview the changes that you make here, directly in the photo. But because of the resolution at which I'm working in this video, I'll have to preview my changes right here in the Before and After windows, in the Adjust Color Curves dialog box.
The controls for applying a Color Curves adjustment are at the bottom of the dialog box. On the left are some preset styles, which are saved combinations of adjustments to highlights, midtones and shadows. The best way to start in this dialog box is with these preset styles. I m just going to click on the first one and keep my eye on the After box on the right to see if it makes any change. It really does nothing. So I continue down, just cycling through each one of these presets. Darken Highlights, which makes the highlights darker. Default has no effect here, Increase Contrast does affect this image and I like that. So I'm going to keep that one in mind as I scroll down and take a look at what Increase Midtones does, not great, Lighten Shadows, definitely not, and Solarize, no.
So of these presets, the best one for this particular image is Increase Contrast. So I'm going to choose that one, but it's not perfect as you can see. So the next step is to move over to the Adjust sliders on the right where I have a chance to fine-tune these results. These sliders allow you to adjust the highlights, the midtones and the shadows separately. I'm going to start with the shadows because they are really the big problem in the After image here. I'm just going to open up those shadows by dragging the slider to the right, making the shadows a little bit lighter, something like that. As I move this slider or any of the sliders, this graph on the right changes. This is a Curves graph and different points on this line represent different tones in the image. You could adjust the Curves graph manually by clicking and dragging on these anchor points, but Elements simplifies that process for you by giving you these sliders, which affect those same points.
So back to the sliders, I might try improving the midtones in this image. I think the midtones here need a little brightening, so I'm going to click and drag the Midtone Brightness slider over to the right and as I do, you can see that After photo is brightening up and then I play with the Contrast slider too. See what happens if I drag it to the left. It makes the image a little bit more contrasty. So what I'm trying to do here is brighten up the flower but retain the details in it, and also make the background a little more interesting than the dull background in the Before picture. If I didn't like what I have done, I could always go up to the Reset button in the top right and click there. But I'm happy with these changes, so I'm going to click OK to apply the Color Curves adjustment.
If you would like to see the difference between where I started and where I'm now, I'll just make the background copy layer temporarily invisible. This is the adjusted image that you see and that was the original. So I think we have made this image pop a little more and improved it by applying the Adjust Color Curves command. If you have got a photo that needs different tonal adjustments in the shadows, the highlights and the midtones, you will find that Color Curves gives you the control you need to manually adjust each one of those tonal areas separately.
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