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Introducing the Curves adjustment

From: Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Advanced

Video: Introducing the Curves adjustment

In this movie I will introduce you to the Curves adjustment, because when you first encounter it, it's a little bit of a head scratcher. And by way of example I have opened one of those black and white variations that we created back in Chapter 20 of the Intermediate Course and while I think the world of the black and white adjustment here, if I have one complaint it's that it tends to deliver images that lack heft. That is to say the shadows and even the midtones in the case of this image just aren't dark enough. What I want is an effect more like this one here.

Introducing the Curves adjustment

In this movie I will introduce you to the Curves adjustment, because when you first encounter it, it's a little bit of a head scratcher. And by way of example I have opened one of those black and white variations that we created back in Chapter 20 of the Intermediate Course and while I think the world of the black and white adjustment here, if I have one complaint it's that it tends to deliver images that lack heft. That is to say the shadows and even the midtones in the case of this image just aren't dark enough. What I want is an effect more like this one here.

The difference between this dramatic unambiguous black and white image and the one we saw a moment ago is that the one we are looking at now includes a Curves adjustment and the one we created in Chapter 20 does not. So let's start things off by getting a sense of when you want to use Curves. It's basically that luminance adjustment command that you go to when Brightness/Contrast and Levels just don't do the trick. So I will start by showing you what we can do with Levels and Brightness/Contrast where this image is concerned. I will go up to the Image menu and choose a Duplicate command and then I will go ahead and call this new version of the image Levels and zoom in on it.

Then I will drop down to the black/white icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Levels command. I am going to go and expand the Properties panel as well so that I can see the full width of the histogram like so. Presumably, what I do is I would, for example Alt+Drag or Opt+Drag this black slider triangle in order to preview the clip pixels on screen and notice that they're appearing in black and white as opposed to the various colors. That's because all of the colors in this particular image have been converted to shades of gray.

So at a black point of about 10 we are seeing probably about as much clipping as we want. So we will go ahead and release. Now I could do the same with the white triangle here; I could Alt+Drag or Opt+Drag it over to say 240. But if I do that I'm going to blow some highlights and I am going to overly brighten this image. I'm not interested in adding more brightness to it. So I will just go ahead and restore that value to 255. That leaves me with just one more point of control and that's the Gamma value. So I will go ahead and click in it and press Shift+Down Arrow three times in a row to reduce that value to 0.7.

That's about as much work as I can get done with Levels. So let's go ahead and close the Properties panels so we can see what we have got. Things are in pretty good shape. We have some very dark shadows; that's good. The midtones are looking okay. But if you compare that to what I was able to achieve with curves which is this image here you can see that we have got a lot more detail going on inside the hair. We've got much better shading and detail inside the flesh and we've got all kinds of great shadow detail as well. So while Levels is pretty good, it's not nearly as great as what I am hoping for.

So now let's see what we can achieve using Brightness/Contrast. I will go ahead and switchback to my starter image. Go up to the Image menu, choose the Duplicate command, and call this one Brightness contrast, of course. Then click OK in order to create the new version of the image, zoom on in as well, drop down to the black white icon at the bottom of Layers panel and choose Brightness/Contrast. Then I will go ahead and crank that Contrast value up to its absolute maximum of 100, which does a great job of making the shadows very dark, the highlights get overly light in my opinion, however nothing ends up clipping inside the image. So that's good.

Then I'll take that Brightness value down to let's say -40 in order to tame some of those highlights and bring the midtones down as well. Again, things look pretty good and you might argue compared with Levels that Brightness/Contrast ends up performing little better, but I am not so sure actually. But again we are losing detail inside of the hair and inside of the shadows particularly when compared to that final version that we are going to achieve using the Curves adjustment. So let's see what Curves looks like.

I'm going to switchover to that starter once again and I am going to drop down to the black/white icon at the bottom of the panel and you can see that the Curves command immediately follows Levels and Brightness/Contrast. It really does go like this. Try Brightness/Contrast first, if that does the trick, great. Try Levels second, if that does the trick, great. And if neither of them work, then move on to Curves. Exposure is never useful in my opinion. I am going to go ahead and choose the Curves command. Notice that you end up seeing this big square graph. Well, even though it's pretty darn unfamiliar, a lot of the stuff we are seeing is very similar to what's going on with Levels.

For example, the centerpiece of this graph is a histogram and even though it looks like a squished histogram at first, it's actually exactly the same width as the histogram that appears along with levels adjustment. The difference is that the Curves histogram is stretched vertically in order to fit inside of square, which is perfectly fine, by the way, because after all these vertical lines inside of the graph, they don't represent absolute numbers. In other words, this one right here isn't a heap of all of the pixels that are that dark shade of gray.

Rather, those are the number of dark gray pixels when compared with these very light gray pixels represented by this tall line on right-hand side. We've also got a black triangle and a white triangle. They let you modify the black point and white point inside the image. Then we have this diagonal line which is the curve itself which may seem odd, because after all it starts off as a straight line. You make this line curve by clicking somewhere in the graph in order to set a point. So in my case I've clicked right there at the center.

So what I'm seeing here is that I've set a point and 128 which is medium gray. So you may recall 0 is black, 255 is white. So right there in the center is 128. I am mapping shades of gray that were formerly 128 to an output level of 128 once again. So I am not changing them at this point until I drag that point to another location. So let's say I drag the point directly up. Now I am mapping an input of 128 to an output of 171. So all the shades of gray that were formerly 128 are now being mapped to 171, which of course is lighter gray.

The other shades of gray move along with, because after all the line is gradually tapering as you can see here. You can also drag this point down if you like in order to darken the shades of gray. For example, if I take this value down to let's say 86, I am mapping what were formerly medium grays to dark grays. If you just drag a point up and down like, this is very much like modifying the Gamma value when working with Levels. If I want to achieve an effect that's very much like what we saw with Levels just a moment ago, then I would also press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and drag this Black slider triangle, so you can preview your clipping inside curve just as you can when working with Levels.

I can see that some of those shadows are clipping over on the left-hand side of the image. So I'll go and release. So at this point I am saying anything that has a luminous level of 10 or darker is going to map to an output of 0, which is black. Let's go ahead and hide the Properties panel for a moment so we can compare the effects. This is what we're able to achieve with curves so far bear in mind and this is what we achieved with levels. If anything the Curves adjustment is already better even though it's remarkably similar, the Curves adjustment has slightly better detail going on inside the shadows and a bit more detail inside of the highlights as well.

So there's your introduction. But here's the thing. If we were able to achieve an effect just as good as anything we might achieve with Levels that easily with Curves, just imagine how much better we can do in the next movie.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Advanced
Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Advanced

124 video lessons · 20116 viewers

Deke McClelland
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 30m 4s
    1. Welcome to One-on-One
      2m 19s
    2. Loading the dekeKeys keyboard shortcuts
      6m 5s
    3. Remapping your Macintosh OS shortcuts
      3m 4s
    4. Adjusting a few general preferences
      4m 3s
    5. Using the visual HUD color picker
      2m 2s
    6. The interface and performance settings
      5m 31s
    7. Adjusting the color settings in Photoshop
      7m 0s
  2. 47m 0s
    1. Smart Objects
      1m 36s
    2. Three ways to place a Smart Object
      3m 6s
    3. Copying and pasting from Adobe Illustrator
      4m 11s
    4. Transforming and warping a vector object
      4m 48s
    5. Blending a Smart Object into a photograph
      3m 10s
    6. Blurring with a nested Smart Filter
      4m 57s
    7. Editing a Smart Object in Illustrator
      3m 20s
    8. Creating "true clones"
      3m 50s
    9. Duplicating a group of clones
      2m 53s
    10. Breaking the Smart Object link
      2m 53s
    11. Styling and blending Smart Objects
      2m 44s
    12. Editing originals; updating clones
      3m 41s
    13. Removing people from a scene with Median
      5m 51s
  3. 29m 59s
    1. Luminance meets sharpening
      1m 2s
    2. Correcting for lens distortion
      4m 39s
    3. Introducing Shadows/Highlights
      3m 54s
    4. Mitigating halos with Radius values
      4m 19s
    5. Enhancing the effects of Midtone Contrast
      3m 18s
    6. Creating a "bounce" with Gaussian Blur
      3m 29s
    7. Sharpening on top of blur
      2m 47s
    8. Masking a group of Smart Filters
      2m 53s
    9. Reducing the density of a layer mask
      3m 38s
  4. 49m 10s
    1. Using Curves
      2m 40s
    2. Introducing the Curves adjustment
      7m 36s
    3. Adding and editing points on a curve
      6m 27s
    4. Winning Curves tips and tricks
      8m 12s
    5. Correcting a challenging image
      6m 33s
    6. Selecting and darkening highlights
      4m 39s
    7. Neutralizing colors and smoothing transitions
      6m 6s
    8. The new automatic Curves function
      6m 57s
  5. 1h 31m
    1. Camera Raw
      2m 11s
    2. Opening and editing multiple images
      8m 1s
    3. Correcting white balance
      4m 8s
    4. The revamped Exposure controls
      8m 8s
    5. Working with archival images
      7m 54s
    6. The Spot Removal and Graduated Filter tools
      6m 4s
    7. Painting edits with the Adjustment Brush
      7m 23s
    8. Tone Curves (and why you don't need them)
      5m 57s
    9. Straighten, crop, and geometric distortions
      5m 17s
    10. Applying manual lens corrections
      5m 14s
    11. Vignette, chromatic aberration, and fringe
      6m 49s
    12. Selective hue, saturation, and luminance
      6m 36s
    13. Working with JPEG and TIFF images
      6m 36s
    14. Camera Raw Smart Objects
      6m 48s
    15. Editing Camera Raw images from Bridge
      4m 24s
  6. 32m 30s
    1. Duotones
      1m 23s
    2. Creating a professional-quality sepia tone
      4m 18s
    3. Introducing the Gradient Map adjustment
      5m 42s
    4. Loading a library of custom gradients
      3m 48s
    5. Creating a custom quadtone
      5m 48s
    6. Colorizing with blend modes and Opacity
      4m 6s
    7. Creating a faux-color, high-key effect
      7m 25s
  7. 1h 6m
    1. Noise vs. Details
      1m 28s
    2. Introducing the Reduce Noise filter
      7m 29s
    3. Correcting a noisy photo
      5m 33s
    4. Smoothing over high-contrast noise
      5m 50s
    5. Protecting details with an edge mask
      4m 52s
    6. Adjusting overly saturated shadows
      3m 35s
    7. Correcting with High Pass and Lens Blur
      3m 45s
    8. Brushing away blur and sharpening
      6m 42s
    9. Creating texture by adding noise
      5m 28s
    10. The Camera Raw Detail panel
      7m 8s
    11. Correcting noise and detail in Camera Raw
      8m 10s
    12. Adding noise grain and vignetting effects
      6m 47s
  8. 44m 30s
    1. Blur Gallery
      1m 36s
    2. Creating depth-of-field effects in post
      5m 29s
    3. Modifying your Field Blur settings
      4m 57s
    4. Editing and exporting a Field Blur mask
      6m 15s
    5. Adding a synthetic light bokeh
      3m 52s
    6. Using the Selection Bleed option
      7m 29s
    7. Creating a radial blur with Iris Blur
      6m 59s
    8. Creating "fake miniatures" with Tilt-Shift
      4m 35s
    9. Combining multiple Blur Gallery effects
      3m 18s
  9. 1h 34m
    1. Blend Modes
      1m 16s
    2. Using the Dissolve mode
      9m 47s
    3. Multiply and the darken modes
      8m 30s
    4. Screen and the lighten modes
      8m 10s
    5. Cleaning up and integrating a bad photo
      6m 38s
    6. Blending inside blend modes
      6m 55s
    7. Overlay and the contrast modes
      6m 53s
    8. A few great uses for the contrast modes
      9m 7s
    9. Difference, Exclusion, Subtract, and Divide
      5m 5s
    10. Capturing the differences between images
      4m 18s
    11. Hue, Saturation, Color, and Luminosity
      4m 45s
    12. Blend mode shortcuts
      6m 21s
    13. The Fill Opacity Eight
      8m 57s
    14. Using the luminance-exclusion slider bars
      8m 8s
  10. 44m 20s
    1. Color Range
      1m 14s
    2. Introducing the Color Range command
      7m 24s
    3. Selecting a complex image with Color Range
      5m 49s
    4. Refining a selection in the Quick Mask mode
      7m 4s
    5. Viewing a mask with or without its image
      4m 24s
    6. Painting directly inside an alpha channel
      5m 39s
    7. Correcting fringes around a masked layer
      8m 5s
    8. Turning a layer into a knockout
      4m 41s
  11. 59m 43s
    1. Refine Edges
      1m 28s
    2. Laying down a base layer mask
      6m 49s
    3. Introducing the Refine Edge/Mask command
      7m 57s
    4. Edge detection and Smart Radius
      4m 42s
    5. Using the Refine Radius tool
      7m 31s
    6. The transformative power of Refine Edge
      3m 37s
    7. Perfecting a mask with overlay painting
      10m 58s
    8. Combining Quick Selection with Refine Mask
      10m 37s
    9. Bolstering and integrating hair
      6m 4s
  12. 1h 18m
    1. The Pen tool
      1m 50s
    2. Pixel-based masking versus the Pen tool
      6m 45s
    3. Drawing a straight-sided path outline
      6m 57s
    4. Moving, deleting, and adding anchor points
      6m 10s
    5. Dragging control handles to modify curves
      5m 27s
    6. Converting a path outline to a vector mask
      5m 36s
    7. Customizing a geometric shape
      5m 53s
    8. How to position points and control handles
      7m 7s
    9. Drawing smooth points with the Pen tool
      8m 7s
    10. Duplicating and scaling a vector mask
      5m 21s
    11. Cusp points and the Rubber Band option
      6m 21s
    12. Setting anchor points in the pasteboard
      6m 8s
    13. Using the Convert Point tool
      6m 43s

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