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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.
I have to admit I'm not a big fan of the concept of automatic adjustments my general preference is to exercise maximum control over the image and automatic adjustments take away that control. However, as you've see in this lesson the auto option and curves allows more control than you might initially realize and it can often provide you with quick and helpful adjustment. I've already added a curves adjustment. And as you can see on the adjustments panel for the curves adjustment, there's an auto button. If I click the auto button, an automatic adjustment will be applied, without giving me the opportunity to make any changes to the settings for that adjustment.
That's not what I want so I'll go ahead and reset my adjustment. To exercise control over the behavior of that auto button we can go to the panel pop up menu at the top right of the adjustments panel and chose auto options. When you do so the auto color correction options dialog will appear. As you can see the default settings are being applied and I can see a preview of the effect in the actual image. As well as being able to see how the curve has been adjusted based on these settings. The algorithms options actually relate to commands that you'll find on the image menu.
These commands are auto tone, auto contrast, and auto color. Auto tone is exactly the same as the enhanced per channel contrast option. Which is the default in the auto color correction options dialog. The auto contrast option is the same as enhance monochromatic contrast, and the auto color option is the same as find dark and light colors. I think the terms auto tone, auto contrast, and auto color while not as quite as descriptive, are actually more meaningful and certainly easier to understand.
Auto tone obviously adjusts the overall tone automatically. Auto contrast focuses on the contrast in the image. And auto color focuses on neutralizing the colors in the image. In most cases, I find that I use the find dark and light colors option. But you can click through each of these options to see which of them produces the best effect for the particular image you're working on. For this image I actually think enhanced monochromatic contrast might be the better option, but whichever is your preference is perfectly fine.
The key is that we are able to exercise this degree of control with the automatic adjustment. The snap neutral mid tones determines whether or not a color correction will be applied to the mid tones in the image. Turning this check box on will cause mid tones to be neutralized. This can be good if there's a problematic color cast, but when there's color that you actually want to keep, that can be a problem. Once again, simply turn the check box on or off, and determine based on the preview whether you'd like this adjustment to be applied.
The other section of the dialog is target colors and clipping. We can specify what color we want the darkest shadows to be what color we want the mid-tones to be and what color we want the highlights to be. Obviously in most cases you want your dark shadows to be black and your bright highlights to be white so I don't generally change these options. In terms of clipping, I usually start at zero for both shadows and highlights. This allows me to see what the image will look like with absolutely no clipping. In most cases, I don't want the clip highlight or shadow detail.
I'd rather apply different adjustments, if I need to enhance overall contrast. However in some cases it can actually be helpful to have a very slight amount of clipping. To adjust the values for clipping, simply click in the text box. And then use the up or down arrow keys to increase or decrease the value. In this case the scale is hundreths of a percentage. And so, pressing the Up arrow key will increase by a hundredth of a percent. And pressing the Down arrow key will decrease by a hundredth of a percent.
You can increase or decrease by tenths of a percent by holding the Shift key while pressing the Up or Down arrow keys. I do recommend keeping clipping at a minimum, in order to ensure that you're retaining maximum detail within the image. But in some cases, a small amount of clipping can be helpful. Use the preview as your guide, but again, be gentle when it comes to clipping. If you've turned on the snap neutral mid tones check box, but you don't want the mid tones to actually be perfectly neutral, you can change the target value by clicking on the color swatch associated with mid tones.
Again make sure the snap neutral mid tones check box is turned on or changing your mid tone target won't have any affect. When you click on the color swatch the color picker will appear, you can then choose any color you like to apply that color as a color cast to the mid tones within the image. In this case for example I might want to chose a particular shade of cyan which is perhaps a little better then original color for the image. When your happy with the color effect you can simply click okay, and of course if you decide you don't like this color effect you can simply turn of the snap neutral colors check box.
In this case I think the cyan is a little bit better than the blue, so I will go ahead and leave this option turned on. If you turn on the save as defaults check box. The settings you've currently established will become the default settings for the automatic adjustment. That means your revised settings would be used whenever you click the auto button. But in my mind the best approach is to make adjustments to the settings for each image individually, if you're going to use this automatic adjustment. That makes it not exactly automatic, but it is pretty close. And it can help you out quite a bit, as you're getting more and more familiar with the curve's adjustment.
When your happy with the final effect simply click okay to close the auto color correction options dialog. Since I've changed the target colors in this case only for the mid-tones Photoshop will ask me if I want to save the new target colors as the defaults. Had I wanted those colors to be the defaults I probably would have turned on the set as defaults check box. So I'll click no. And that would generally always be the case. As by default, I'd rather the target mid tone value be a neutral gray.
So I'll click no and we're all set. Besides providing you with the ability to apply certain quick adjustments to your images, the auto adjustment can also help you gain a better understanding of how curves works. Especially when it comes to adjusting the individual color channels curves.
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