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As you may recall the luminance of a pixel is its brightness, from black to white. In previous courses I showed you how to adjust luminance using the very simple brightness contrast and the more complicated levels. And now, in this chapter, I'll introduce you to the most capable luminance adjustment command in all of Photoshop, which goes simply by the name Curves. As I did back in Chapter 12, when I showed you levels, I'll stand in for the problem image. But this time I am too high contrast, my shadows are filled in, my highlights are blown out.
You can't fix this kind of problem with levels, but you can with curves. The curves command takes the Histogram, which is that Bar Graph of luminance levels from black to white, and scales it to fit inside this square graph, which is pretty intimidating, I grant you. But it means that you can map any luminance level to another one which is to say you have complete control over the brightness and contrast of an image. To simplify things I'll go ahead and hide the Histogram, and we'll focus on this diagonal line which is the curve itself.
I know, it doesn't look like a curve, but it will in a moment. The current state of the image is the horizontal axis, with black on the left and white on the right. The modified state of the image is the vertical axis, with black at the bottom and white at the top. So this straight diagonal line indicates no change, black is black and white is white, same goes for everything in between. Of course, you want to make a change, that's why you are here, which means you need to set a point on the curve and drag it to a new location.
Let's say I want to brighten my midtones. I'd click to add a point to the center of the line, then I drag it upward. Now we have a curve. My medium grays have become brighter but so do all the other luminance levels in between, except for black and white. which remained fixed. But the midtones really aren't my problem. My problem are the shadows down here and the highlights up here. So I will set a shadow point here and then I will drag it up.
Notice that elevates the shadows, the midtones are protected by this point and then the highlights bend down but only slightly. We need to darken the highlights more. So I'll set a point here and then I'll drag it downward. Now we have an inverted S curve, and look at my highlights and shadows. They are in very better shape. I can't promise to make you fall in love with curves, it's a graph after all, but you will learn how to make it work in the following movies.
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