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As I've mentioned before, if your workflow starts in Bridge and you're opening your raw files or your JPEG files into Adobe Camera Raw, you want to make as many of your global adjustments and corrections to your tonal values and your color values in Camera Raw. You want to do that at the beginning of your workflow. If however you find yourself in Photoshop, and you need to make another correction, especially if you need to make a local correction, then Photoshop has a ton of powerful tools in order for you to do that. I think one of the most powerful tools has got to be the Curves adjustment layer.
I'll click on that in the Adjustments panel in order to add it. Now the Curves adjustment layer does many of the same adjustments that your Levels adjustment layer does, but the Curves adjustment layer is much more powerful. If you wanted to set your Black point and your White point using curves, you would use the blank triangle in the lower left and the white triangle in the lower right. So I can immediately see that this image is lacking in the blacks. There are no black values that are darker than this point in my Histogram.
So I'm going to click-and-drag on that Black slider, until it just reaches underneath the first area in my Histogram. Now one of the things that I didn't mention when we were talking about Levels is that you can see a preview of exactly the values that you're going to clip to either pure black or pure white. If you hold down the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on Windows and you start dragging this slider. Now it might be a little confusing at first, because what you might see is not pure black, you might see these other colors, and that's because all of your RGB images that you open in Photoshop are made up of three different channels.
So what this visual reference is showing you is that one of those channels is being clipped. As you see more colors then more of the channels are being clipped. It's not until you actually see black overlaid on top of your image, that all three channels are being clipped at once. So you definitely don't want to go so far that you see black, and then it's up to you. It's really an aesthetic question, as to whether or not you want to clip your image in any of the channels. So I want to show you on the Highlight side of the Histogram, we can do the same thing.
If I hold down the Option or the Alt key, by default the whole window turns black and then as I started moving the slider to the left we can start seeing the areas that are going to be clipped to pure white. So obviously we want to back off on that. Now we've set the dynamic range of the image by setting our black point and our white point. Now if you remember the Levels dialog box, there was one slider in the center that you could move to lighten your image, or darken your image. And certainly you can do that in Curves, but the power of Curves is that you can have up to 16 different points along this curve, to really refine exactly what values you want your image to be mapped to.
So for example I might want to increase my midtones, but I might want to keep my highlights down a little bit. So I'll add a second point on the curve and just pull down in my highlight area. Remember this is the lighter area of my image. Then I might also want to increase my shadows, so I could click-and-drag up on this point of the curve, or if I want to decrease my shadows I could click-and-drag down. So as you can see, you have a lot more control in curves, but you do have to be careful. Let me delete these points that I've added by simply clicking on them and tapping the Delete key, or you can click and just drag it out of the curve area.
Say you want to add an S curve to your image, to give your image a little bit more contrast. So you put a point on the curve and drag this in down, and then you place another point on the other side of the curve and drag it up. What you have to keep in mind is that wherever the slope of your curve is greater you're going to be adding more contrast. But wherever the slope of the curve decreases, you're actually going to be lessening the contrast, because there is only a certain number of values that you have to manipulate. So if you're increasing the contrast between some values, well, you have to decrease the contrast between other values.
So it's always a trade-off. I just want you to make sure that as you're moving the curve in one area, even though you might be looking at the midtones and looking at the midtones in your image, you need to be careful of the entire image. Especially right now these highlight areas, because they are going to start to lose detail and they'll start to look flat. If you really go too far, you can see what I mean. I'll pull these down a little, see how I've just lost all the detail in this area. So I'll go ahead and delete that point and we'll pull-down this other point right here.
If we want a toggle this on and off, we can click on the Eye icon, so there is before and there is after. We can see how adding that contrast really made this image more dramatic, it really actually changed the whole tone of this image. Now I think I've gone a little too far, so if I like the effect, but I want to lessen it, instead of going back into my curve I could change the Opacity of this adjustment layer to just back off of it. If I like the effect in one area, but it's too strong in another area, the other huge benefit of making this an adjustment layer is that the adjustment layer has a mask.
So if I tap the B key, the Brush tool, and I'm painting with black as my foreground color, then anywhere that I paint in this mask I will hide that adjustment. But that obviously hid too much of the adjustment. So I'll undo that, and I'm going to decrease the Opacity of my brush. I might decrease it all the way down to maybe 25% or so. That means that I can click once and drag the brush. To hide 25% of the effect, I can click again to hide a little bit more and I can slowly paint in and out the effect, where I wanted to show or be hidden.
So now you can see as I toggle the eye icon on and off, my shadows aren't getting quite as dark, but I'm still keeping all of that contrast where I want to keep it in my foreground subject. One final shortcut, I know we haven't talked about Blend modes yet, but sometimes when you make large changes to your image using either Curves or Levels, you'll notice that you get a color shift. Usually those colors become more saturated, and in this case I actually like that it brought out the green here. But if you don't want that, if you want your colors to remain truer to what they were at the beginning, you can change the Blend mode right here to Luminosity and that restricts the curve to only affect the tonal values in your image, and not make any changes to the color values.
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