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The curves adjustment has a reputation as being a difficult adjustment to use in Photoshop. And perhaps, even more difficult to understand. Photographers who are comfortable using curves seem to achieve a revered status among those who haven't yet figured out, how to put curves to use effectively. What exactly is this curves adjustment that inspires awe among photographers? Put simply, curves is an adjustment that allows you to apply tonal adjustments to your images. The primary control is the curve that gives the adjustment its name. When you bend the curve up or down, areas of the image will be lightened or darkened.
The beauty of curves is that you are able to focus adjustments on specific tonal ranges within the image. For example, if I wanted to brighten some of the brighter areas of the image, I could move the curve upward in that area. And then adjust the rest of the curve downward so that the mid-tones and darker values are not being affected by that lightening adjustment. As you get started learning to put curves to use in your digital workflow I have two pieces of advice that should help things go a bit more smoothly. First, start out by practicing the use of curves on black and white images.
You can accomplish this very easily by simply adding a black and white adjustment to the image before you add a curves adjustment layer. Doing so will help you focus on the tonal adjustment behavior of curves, without concern for how your adjustments are affecting the color in your images. The second piece of advice is to use very, very small adjustments when manipulating the curve. I often joke that when you use curves, you shouldn't actually move the mouse. Simply thinking about moving the mouse will cause you to subconsciously move it just a little bit, which is all you need.
The point is that a little goes a long way in curves. So using very subtle movements will help insure better results. I can certainly appreciate that the curves adjustment might seem a little intimidating at first. But I can promise you that it isn't as difficult to use as it might seem iniitioally. And once you get comfortable using curves to optimize your images, you'll see just what a valuable adjustment tool it can be.
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