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Now that you know the anatomy of Levels and Curves, let's actually use them on this photo. Open up Curves and let's take a look at the histogram. This is the kind of histogram I like to see for a photo. Notice that the two ends aren't jammed up with tone. And they trail off in a curve, indicating that the darks and lights will both have detail in them. Let's do some color correction or what are called moves now. First, lets pull the white point into the left, what this has done is taken all of the tones before the point and made them white.
This is a very harsh correction and will always increase contrast and saturation of the original. Let's make the same move in levels, pull this white point slider to the left and this is the exact same color correction that we did in Curves. Now, let's pull the black point in, this takes all of the tones that were from here to the new location of the black point and turns them black. Again, this is a very harsh correction and it will darken and increase the contrast and saturation of the original. Let's do that same move in Levels.
We pull the black point slider to the right. And it's the exact same move we did in Curves. Both of these moves made the line of the curve steeper, and it's a rule of thumb in Curves that any time you make the line steeper, it increases contrast. Any time you make the line flatter it decreases contrast. So let's do that. If I pull down on the white point it darkens the image. But it also decreases contrast in saturation. The same is true with raising the black point. It lightens the image and decreases contrast and saturation.
In fact if I pull the white point down to meet the black point, I get the ultimate in reduced contrast and saturation a completely gray image. If I swap the positions of the white and black points, I get a negative image of the scene. Let's do that same move in Levels. To do that we can pull the black out point level to the right to lighten the image and the white out point level to the left to darken it. And, again, if we meet in the middle, the picture will be perfectly gray.
If we pull them across each other, we get a negative image of the scene. Pulling in on the end points of levels and curves results in a harsh correction, which may sometimes be what you want. But if you want to lighten or darken the image more gently, then the mid tone correction may be what you're looking for. If I open up Curves, set a point, and pull up on the curve. It lightens the image without introducing as much contrast and saturation. If I pull down on the curve it darkens it, but again without being as harsh on the image. Let's do that same move in Levels.
If I pull the mid tone slider to the left, it lightens the image. If I pull it to the right, it darkens the image. I sometimes have students who are comfortable using levels, since they are simpler and easier to understand, and they don't know why I suggest that Curves be the default color correction tool. The answer is that you can do many more moves in Curves that you can in Levels. One example is an S Curve, which is a very common color correction to both lighten and darken the image at the same time. But less aggressively than if you move the white and black points in.
Set a mid point and then a shadow and highlight point. Pull the highlight point up, and the shadow point down. Now you have an S curve that adds contrast and saturation, but doesn't clip the tones to the light or dark end of the curve. There's no way to do that in Levels, since all you have is a mid tone slider. And Curves allows you to do some very specific color corrections. If I wanted to just darken this back mountain, I would put the cursor that turns into an eyedropper on the back mountain, and you can see a ball shows up on the curve where that tone is located.
If I didn't want to change the value of the sky, I'd find the position on the curve of the sky tone, and lock it down with some additional points. And lock down the darks with some points also, and pull down on the curve where the mountain is. Now just the mountain is darkened without affecting the rest of the image. Let me show you a weird move just for fun. You'll probably never use this, but if you start arbitrarily pulling points up and down in Curves, you can get some very psychedelic effects, sort of like the end sequence of the movie 2001.
So far we have only been working in the main window in Curves, but the real power for color correction lies in color correcting the individual channels, which we'll look at in the next lesson.
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