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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 my mind, one of the most important considerations in terms of optimizing your images in Photoshop is to use a non-destructive workflow. What that means in the context of a Curves adjustment or just about any other type of adjustment is to use an adjustment layer. An adjustment layer contains instructions about an adjustment, so that you can change the appearance of an image without actually altering the underlying pixel values. What that means is you'll have the flexibility to return to the adjustment at any time to make changes, or even to remove that adjustment if you don't like the final result. There are several ways that you could add an adjustment layer in Photoshop. I'm going to show you two of the most commonly used, and in my mind most convenient methods for adding an adjustment layer. The first option I'll show you has been around for quite a while. And that is to click the create new adjustment layer button at the bottom of the layers panel.
That's the half black, half white circle icon found at about the center at the bottom of the layers panel. When you click this button, you'll see a list of all of the various types of adjustments that can be added as an adjustment layer. To add a Curves adjustment, simply choose Curves from the pop-up menu. As you can see, doing so adds an adjustment layer on the Layers panel and also provides us with a Curves adjustment controls on the Adjustments panel. I'll go ahead and drag this Adjustment layer down to the trash can on the layers panel in order to remove it so that I can show you the other method for adding a curves adjustment layer.
With the adjustments pane,l which was introduced in Photoshop CS4, we can also add adjustment layers directly. When we're on the home page of the adjustments panel, which is this page you see here, where we have a series of icons related to our adjustments and a group of presets available to us. . . We can simply click on the button for the type of adjustment we'd like. For curves, we'll simply click on this curves icon. When we do so as you can see once again, a curves adjustment has been added and we can access the available controls on the adjustments panel.
By always applying a curves adjustment as an adjustment layer, you'll ensure maximum flexibility in your workflow. At any time, you can return to your Curves adjustment to finetune the effect in the image without the risk of degradation to the image caused by multiple direct adjustments. When working with an adjustment layer, just be sure that you keep all of those layers intact and that you save the resulting file as either a TIF or a PSD file that includes layers. That way, even if you close and later re-open the image, you'll still be able to apply changes to your adjustment layers including curves.
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