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In this movie, I'll show you how to use Curves to correct the most challenging of full-color photographs, specifically, we will be starting with this absurdly high contrast image in which the foreground subject could not be darker and the background is so bright, we can barely make out any detail and we will adjust the image so it comes out looking like this. With this wonderful detail inside the barn, this contouring inside the snow and even some variation in the sky and if nothing else, this is proof of the shear power of Curves.
It really is that one command that can correct the luminance of just about any photograph. So I will go and switch back to my original photo here and I'll go up to the Image menu for a moment and choose Adjustments and by way of a reminder, if you loaded dekeKeys, you will see the Brightness/Contrast is a keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+/(slash) or Cmd+/(slash) and then we have the factory default shortcuts of Ctrl+L or Cmd+L and Ctrl+M or Cmd+M for Levels and Curves respectively. Now of course, those apply static adjustments, but if you loaded dekeKeys, then you can add the Shift key to create the corresponding Adjustment layer.
So Ctrl+Shift+/ or Cmd+Shift+/ gives you Brightness Contrast layer Ctrl+Shift+L or Cmd+Shift+ L gives you the Levels layer and Ctrl+Shift+M or Cmd+Shift+M. gives you a Curves layer. Now just looking at this image you should know that it's a job for Curves, and that is because it is so high contrast. The Levels Adjustment, while great for bringing out the detail in a washed out image where you need to increase the contrast, does not allow you with any degree of control to reduce the contrast of the image. Whereas Brightness/Contrast, if I was to press Ctrl+Shift+/ or Cmd+Shift+/ on the Mac in order to create a Brightness/Contrast layer, and call it let's say reduced contrast, does not go far enough.
So you could reduce the contrast value to its absolute minimum, to bring out some of the detail in the barn and then you would have to increase the brightness as well, to, let's say 30, and that does a decent job of bringing out the detail in that barn, but it wipes out the background, because we had to ratchet up that brightness value. So it's just not going to get us anywhere we want. I will press the Backspace key or the Delete key on the Mac to get rid of that layer, and instead, I'll press Ctrl+ Shift+M or Cmd+Shift+M. Again, this assumes that you loaded dekeKeys in order to create a New Curves layer and I'll call it reduced contrast as well.
All right, now that I have the Properties panel open, I am going to take advantage of the Target Adjustment tool. So go ahead and click on it or if you loaded dekeKeys you can press the K key and I am going to zoom in on this little knot on the side of the barn, and then I will find a point in the upper right corner here. You'll notice over in the Curves panel that the Input value is reading 19 and now I'll click and drag and you drag down with the cursor in order to darken the colors, you drag up, in order to brighten the colors. I want to take that Output value to about 36 as you see here.
So you'd have to move your cursor into the panel to see the result of your work and I really want the Input value to be 20. So I'll press the Right Arrow key to make it so. So we are mapping luminance levels that were formerly 20, to 36, which means that we are brightening not only the shadows, but the image overall. All right, now I am going to scroll over to a portion of the snow below this section of the barn here, and I'm trying to find a very bright color, something around 230 will do, so you can see at this point here, my cursor is in the lower left section of the screen, and my Input value is to 230 at the bottom of the Properties panel and now I'll go ahead and click and drag down in order to darken the details inside the snow, so we can see a little bit of that contouring, and I'll take that Output value down to 260.
So if I bring my cursor back into the panel, you can see Input is 230, Output 216 and finally, I want to brighten my quarter tones just a little bit here. So I am going to scroll over to another location. On the right side of the barn, we have a little bit of snow and I'm looking for an Input that's 195. I am finding one that's 192, so that's probably a good place to start. And notice that Output is showing as 174, because of the shape of my curve so far. I want to brighten those values, so I will go ahead and drag up until the Output value reads 183, is what I'm looking for.
And again, if you don't quite get these values, if you're hovering around inside the image and you can't match my Input values and so forth, you can just dial these in. So I will move my cursor back into the panel. In my case, I need to press the Right Arrow key a few times in order to raise the Input value to 195 and then I will press the Up Arrow key in order to increase my Output value to 183. All right, now I will go ahead and hide the Properties panel and press Ctrl+0 or Cmd+0 on the Mac to zoom out. So let's see what we've managed to achieve here.
This is the original version of the image and this is the image, thanks to Curves, and notice that we've brightened the barn just every bit as much as we were able to with Brightness/Contrast. But we've also reduced the luminance of the snow, thereby increasing its contrast. Now I want to add a little bit of color to the image, and I'm not going to do so subtly. We are just going to amp the colors up like crazy, by pressing the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, clicking the black/white icon and choosing Vibrance, or if you loaded dekeKeys, you can just press Ctrl+Shift+V or Cmd+Shift+V on the Mac and I'll go ahead and Name this layer superblaster, because we are going to be blasting those colors and I will click OK.
We don't need this panel to be so large this time around, so I will go ahead and shrink it, and then I'll click in the Saturation value and press Shift+Up Arrow four times in a row to increase the Saturation to 40 and then I'll press the Tab key to advance to the Vibrance value and crank it up to its absolute maximum of 100, and we end up with this effect here. All right, now I'll once again hide the Properties panel and just so we can see what we've achieved over the course of this movie, I'll Alt+Click or Opt+Click on the eye in front of the background. This is the original version of the image and if I Alt+Click or Opt+Click again, this is our corrected version.
Thanks to the power of Curves and Vibrance working together, and it really is amazing, just how much luminance detail is inside this image, when it looked so bad in the first place and ends up coming out so great. But not great enough, because I'd still like to sync some of the contrast associated with the snow and so I will show you how to selectively modify the luminance of the highlights in the next movie.
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