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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.
In this lesson, we're going to take a look at an image that could use some correction, both in terms of tone and color. Specifically, I'd like to brighten up the shadows in the foreground and perhaps increase contrast there as well. I'd also like to warm up the shadow areas, so they don't appear quite so cold and blue. Let's get started. The first thing I'm going to do is add a new Curves adjustment and then turn on my On Image Adjustment feature. I'll click in a shadow are of the image, and then drag upward to brighten up the shadows. As you can see, this is affecting the entire image, even though, my adjustment is focused on the shadows. I'll go ahead and try to adjust the curve, normalizing the top portion of it to try to get it back to what it looked like originally. As you can see, I'm not having a very good effect any more in the shadows and I still don't have quite my original density in the upper portion of the image.
As a result, I'm going to need to use a layer mask to focus this adjustment into specific areas of the image. As you know, curves adjust based on tonality within the image, but I also need to focus based on geographic location. While I'm thinking of this as a Shadows adjustment, what it really is, is adjusting the lower half of the image. So I'm going to reset my Curves adjustment and start over. At this point, I'll only focus on the shadows. Even though, the entire image is going to be affected, I know that I'm going to use a layer mask to correct for that later, so I don't need to worry about the upper half of the image. So once again, using the On Image Adjustment feature, I'll brighten up the shadows a little bit, and in fact the lighter portions of the shadows. I'll brighten up even more.
I can continue finetuning, perhaps working directly on the curve as I try to get the best result for the shadows. Let's assume that somewhere in there is looking pretty good. We'll finetune this a little bit later once I've define my layer mask. At this point, I'm ready to block out the adjustment in the upper half of the image. So I'll choose my Brush tool, and with the foreground set to black, using a Soft Edge Brush, a hardness of 0%. I'll adjust my Brush size using the left or right square bracket keys as needed. Left square bracket to reduce the brush size and right square bracket to increase the brush size.
With the brush set to the Normal Blend mode and a 100% opacity, I can paint with black to block the adjustment in the upper portion of the image. That's looking much better. And now that I have the upper portion looking good, I can return my attention to the lower portion to make sure that everything is looking its best. I want to increase contrast, but I need to be careful not to take it too far, these areas are in the shadows after all. At this point, I think I'll also warm up the image a little bit. I've got blue and maybe a little bit of cyan to deal with.
I'll start with the blue channel defining an anchor point and simply dragging it downward to reduce the amount of blue, and therefore, increase the amount of yellow. I don't need much of an adjustment here. I just want to sort of offset the blue a little bit, so it's not quite as vibrant. I'll then switch to the red channel to try to take out some of the cyan by increasing the amount of red in the image. Again, just a subtle adjustment is all I need. And finally, I'll take a look at the green channel, just to make sure that the color is looking its best. And I think right about there is looking pretty good. So now, we've brightened up the shadows, increased the contrast a bit there, and also helped to neutralize the colors just a little bit. Turning off my Curves adjustment, you can see that it's actually a rather dramatic shift for the image.
I'd also like those colors to be a little bit more vibrant, especially the oranges and yellows in the water. So I'll add a Vibrance adjustment. And then increase the slider value for Vibrance. This will boost up some of those colors just a little bit. In this case, I'm actually adjusting Vibrance for the entire image. So my Curves adjustment was focused on the lower half of the image. But the Vibrance adjustment is affecting all colors throughout the image. Curves really shines when we need to apply both tonal and color adjustments to an image. And of course, we can always supplement those adjustments using other types of Adjustment Layers as well.
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