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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.
It seems that most photographers think of curves as a tonal adjustment which is unfortunate considering the incredible power of curves when it comes to optimizing the color in your images. While tonal adjustments focus on the composite RGB channel in curves, color adjustments focus on specific color channels in curves. As you'll see in this lesson, by focusing on individual color channels, you can exercise great control over the color balance in a given images in Curves. Here I've already added a Curves adjustment, and as you can see, by default, we're working on the RBG composite channel. In other words, we're first and foremost adjusting tonality. To adjust color in the image all I need to do is click the popup and choose the appropriate channel.
In this case, I think the image has a little bit of a yellow cast, and so I'd like to fix that. Of course, as you can see, yellow's not on the list. To be able to apply color adjustments in Curves, it's important to have a reasonably good understanding of the relationships between colors. For example, yellow is the opposite of blue. So with a yellow color cast, I want to shift the color in the image from yellow toward blue. Naturally, that means we'll want to choose the blue channel first and foremost.
I'll go ahead an do that and as you can see, I'm now working on a blue curve. If I click around the center point of that curve and then drag upwards I'll be increasing the amount of blue in the image. If I drag that curve downward I'll be increasing the amount of yellow in the image. Now in this case the color cast is not terribly strong and regardless in any event you generally want to make subtile adjustments. But here, I really need a very small adjustment for this curve. In theory, once you believe you've corrected whatever color problem existed within the image, you're done. But I encourage you to check all three of the individual color channels, and fine tune them just a little bit to ensure the best results. You might even find a creative interpretation for the image while you're working this way.
So I'll go ahead and choose the red channel, and I'll click at about the center point and drag up to increase red or down to decrease red, which will add cyan to the image. And actually, I think adding just a little bit of cyan improves the image, so I've dragged the red curve downward. I'll then check the green channel, dragging it up or down at about its center point to see if I can find any improvement here. It looks like maybe dragging it downward just a tiny little bit to increase the influence of magenta in the image is actually helping.
As you can see, I've made very minor adjustments to each of these color curves. But that's all I need to improve the color within the image. By adjusting the curves for individual color channels, you're able to achieve excellent control over the color balance for any image, using curves, with very little effort.
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