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In Photoshop CS5 Essential Training, author Michael Ninness demonstrates how to produce the highest quality images with fantastic detail in the shortest amount of time, using a combination of Photoshop CS5, Adobe Bridge, and Camera Raw. This course shows the most efficient ways to perform common editing tasks, including noise reduction, shadow and highlight detail recovery, retouching, and combining multiple images. Along the way, Michael shares the secrets of non-destructive editing, utilizing and mastering Adobe Bridge, Camera Raw, layers, adjustment layers, blending modes, layer masks, and much more. Exercise files are included with the course.
In this video, I want to talk to you about the Curves Adjustment layer and how it's similar but different at the same time as the Levels Adjustment layer. So, if we take a look at this image, it's got a Levels Adjustment layer already applied to it. I can turn that off to show you where we started. And we added a Levels Adjustment layer to this image to actually give it some pop and some contrast. If I click on the actual icon for the levels adjustment in the Layers panel, you can see where I've put the sliders. So, I've made the Black slider 15 and the White slider 210, just to establish a true black and white in the image.
Now what I want to be able to do though is increase the contrast in the midtones as well. You can see in the Levels histogram user interface here, I've only got three levels of control, three sliders. I can set a black point, a white point, and then I can adjust the middle range. If I click that Gray slider and drag it left or right, I am opening up or dampening down the midtone range. You can see, as I move that Gray slider, I'm never touching the absolute black or the absolute white in the image. I am just changing everything in between.
That's great for most images, but every once in a while, you want to make an adjustment between say the three quarter tones. I don't have a little slider between black and gray. I want a slider right here, in the middle of that particular range, but levels doesn't give me that level of control. I've only got those three particular sliders. So, let's go back to the main list of adjustments by clicking the Back button, and let's go over to the Curves Adjustment layer. Now it looks a little bit fancier and kind of a more geeky interface, but it turns out that Levels and Curves are almost identical.
It's just a different user interface. To start out with, what Curves has done is taken those Level sliders in that histogram and put it at an angle so you can see the same kind of histogram piles of pixels chart overlaid on this graph, and I've only got two sliders to start out with, a Black slider and a White slider. Let's go back to Levels. If you imagine this horizontal graph rotated at an angle, I'm starting out with actually one fewer slider. I don't have a slider in the middle. I only have black or white.
The value of Curves, or the benefit of Curves relative to levels is that I can add many more control points, up to 16, I believe. If I actually click in the middle of the chart, I've just added that middle slider that I have in Levels. If I want a three quarter tone adjustment, I can click right here in the three quarter tone part of the graph, and now I've got a slider, if you will, in between the middle and the absolute black. So, if I want to adjust it and make those shadows lighter, I can just drag that part of the graph by clicking on that handle and drag it up, and you can see I am lightening those three quarter shadow tones.
If I drag the control point down, you can see I am actually darkening those three quarter shadow tones. So, I have a lot more control by using Curves by putting down a control point exactly between the ranges that I want to adjust. I can do the same thing in the three quarter highlights, so I am going to click right on that graph, and again, if I want to brighten them, I'll drag that Control Handle up. If want to dampen them down, I can drag it down. So, you can see I've got a lot of control here. I'm going to go ahead and reset by clicking the Reset button to get us back to where we started.
And as you might expect, there are some presets that you can actually choose from. If I go to the Curves list where it says Default, I've got several different presets that I can choose from. If I want to increase the contrast, one of the ones I like is the Linear Contrast. I am going to go ahead choose that. And you can see what Photoshop has done for me is it's automatically dropped down two additional control points, shifted the shadows down slightly and shifted the highlights up slightly. This is commonly called an S Curve because this curve on the graph starts to look like a very subtle S shape.
The more pronounced the S Curve, the more contrast you'll be adding to the image. So, if I drag this shadow part down and drag the highlight part up, you can see it starts to look more like an S, so an S Curve, you can see I have dramatically increased the contrast. In fact, if I go back to that preset list and choose some of the stronger contrast presets, you'll see that curve is even more pronounced as an S, and it's actually got a couple of more control points. So, over time, you'll learn how to create your own S Curve shapes based on the image that you're working with.
You can always start with that preset. I always typically start with Linear Contrast and to kind of see where I'm at. Again, to see the before and after, here's before. Click on that eye, at the bottom of the panel. We'll click it back on to see after, and you can see it's a nice, subtle three quarter tone adjustment, or increasing the contrast in those midtones. So, that's kind of the difference between Curves and Levels. Initially, they are actually very identical. It's just a slightly different user interface. Levels gives you the controls on a horizontal plane. It gives you three control points to start out with.
Curves just takes those Level sliders, tilts them at a 45 degree angle and only starts out with those two sliders, because you can click on the graph exactly where you want to add a slider and get that real fine-tuned control of adjusting the contrast between specific ranges of tonality.
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