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The Curves adjustment in Adobe Photoshop has a reputation for being challenging for some photographers. In this workshop, Photoshop expert Tim Grey takes you step by step through every aspect of the Curves adjustment, helping you truly understand the concepts behind it so that you can quickly and easily maximize tonal range, optimize contrast, and enhance your photos' color balance. Note: This course was recorded in Photoshop CS5, but was created with users of both Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop CS4 in mind.
Curves utilizes anchor points for changing the shape of the curve and thus for changing the appearance of an image. I like to think of the actual curve as a tangible object I can grab and manipulate. For example, think of the curve as a stiff wire you can flex and bend into a variety of different shapes. Anchor points represent the position you place your hands while bending that wire. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the basic process of adding an anchor point to the curve and then adjusting that anchor point to change the appearance of the image.
In this case, I've already added a Curves Adjustment, so I'm ready to add an anchor point and adjust the curve in order to change the appearance of the image. As you can see, I've enabled the the histogram display, which makes it a little bit easier to determine where I might want to add an anchor point on the curve. For example, let's say that I want to darken the image a little bit, but I want to emphasize that darkening on the darkest areas of the image. That would indicate that I want to adjust the curve over on the left side of the histogram display. So I might add an anchor point at this position for example. To add an anchor point, all I need to do is click on the curve in the area where I want that anchor point at.
But don't worry about being too precise here, we can adjust the position of the anchor point, not just up and down, but also left and right. So I'll start by clicking and holding my mouse on the curve, which will add an anchor point and then drag that anchor point as desired to change the tonality of the image. Pulling the anchor point downward will darken the image, of course, and pushing it upward will brighten the image. I can continue dragging this anchor point around until I find just the right position for the adjustment I'm trying to apply.
In this case, darkening up most of the midtones, but focusing that effect on the darkest area of the image. Whenever I adjust an anchor point, I'm emphasizing the adjustment in the position of the anchor point and that adjustment will then taper off to the other tonal values within the image. I can also add additional anchor points if I would like. For example, if I wanted to brighten up some of the brighter areas of the image, I can click on the curve, and drag that anchor point upward. At any time, I can click on a different anchor point and change its position in order to alter the appearance of the image.
For a little bit more precision, you can also use the arrow keys on the keyboard to change the position of an anchor point. The anchor point that is filled in, shown as a black square, is the active anchor point. You can change the active anchor point by simply clicking on one of the anchor points. When an anchor point is active, besides using the mouse to drag that anchor point, you can also use the arrow keys on the keyboard to change the position of the anchor point. The up arrow key will push the anchor point upward, the down arrow key will push it downward, and the left and right arrow keys will, of course, move it left and right.
This allows you to finetune the position of the anchor point without using the mouse. Many photographers, myself included, find using the arrow keys to change the position of an anchor point to be a superior way to finetune the adjustment for the image. As you can see, the basic process of adding and adjusting an anchor point is quite simple. Simply point and bend the curve to apply the adjustment you feel is ideal for the photo.
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