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The Curves adjustment is often thought of as a tonal adjustment and with good reason. It is an excellent tool for adjusting the overall tonality in your images, but you can also use curves to adjust the color in your photos. For basic color adjustments there's really not a lot of reason to use curves, you might as well just use color balance, for example. But when things get a little bit tricky, curves can be very, very helpful indeed. In this photo, for example, I have a little bit too much red going on in the highlights. You can see the brighter areas of the image look a little bit too red.
The shadow areas of the image, you can see the darker areas in the background for example, actually look reasonably good. They might be a little bit red, but they don't need as much correction as those highlights. Let's take a look at how curves can address this issue. I'll go ahead and click the Add New Adjustment layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel and then choose Curves from the popup menu. That gives me a new Curves adjustment layer and I can begin working on the image. By default in curves, we're working on the RGB channel. In other words, a composite of all the channels. Which means we're affecting overall tonality.
However, we can click that pop-up and choose one of the channels, red, green, or blue. Red allows us to shift between red and cyan. Green allows us to shift between green and magenta. And blue allows us to shift between blue and yellow. Since red seems to be the issue here, I'll go ahead and choose the Red channel. For a very basic color adjustment, I can simply increase the value of red or decrease the value of red. Increasing the value for red will increase obviously the amount of red, and decreasing the value for red will add more cyan. So this is muche like a color balance adjustment.
But in this case, I want to focus the adjustment on a specific range of tonal values. Specifically, I want to start off by reducing the amount of red in the highlights. So I'll move this anchor point up toward the higher end of things, and then pull that down just a little bit, and right about there, seems to be producing a good result. You can see that we've neutralized the color and maybe even shifted it to a cooler value. So I don't have the red in the highlights, I'll go ahead and turn off the preview, and turn it back on. And as I toggle that, you can see that we've gone from a relatively pinkish slightly reddish highlight value, to what seems to be a relatively neutral, to slightly cool value. But we'll also notice, that the background, the darker areas, the shadows look to be too cool now.
So I've improved the iceberg, especially the highlights obviously, but I've created a problem in the background. And that's because we've pulled the entire curve downward, so we're reducing the amount of red throughout the entire image. I don't want to reduce the amount of red and in fact, I might want to increase it for the shadow values. So I'll go ahead and click toward the left end of this curve, down in the shadow area. And then Click and Drag upward. You can see that I can then add red into the darker areas of the image. Obviously if I take this too far, I'll create problems throughout the image. But just a subtle adjustment, possibly just bringing that portion of the curve back to it's original starting point, or perhaps just slightly higher, just to warm up those shadows just a little bit.
So I think right about there will work pretty well. The background now doesn't look cool, but it doesn't look too red either. I think that's a good improvement, and we've pulled out the red from the iceberg itself. Once again I'll turn off the preview and turn it back on again, and I think that is a great improvement for this photo. So by using curves we can work on each of the indiividual color channels to shift the color. And not just to affect an overall color balance adjustment, but to actually fine tune the color in specific tonal ranges throughout the photo.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, you won't need to use curves for every color adjustment in your images. But quite often it can be very, very helpful for ensuring that you get the most accurate color possible.
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