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The Curves adjustment in Adobe Photoshop has a reputation for being challenging for some photographers. In this workshop, Photoshop expert Tim Grey takes you step by step through every aspect of the Curves adjustment, helping you truly understand the concepts behind it so that you can quickly and easily maximize tonal range, optimize contrast, and enhance your photos' color balance. Note: This course was recorded in Photoshop CS5, but was created with users of both Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop CS4 in mind.
Every now and then you'll find that you just can't get the affect your looking for using anchor points within curves. In such cases, the key is to use the pencil tool to draw you're own custom curve or a custom portion of the curve to ensure exactly the results you're looking for. As you'll see, this can be a much better approach than chasing the curve around as you add anchor points all over the place in an effort to tame a wild curve. In this particular image, the curve is probably doing more harm than good.
As you can see there are some areas where the color looks artificial, and there seems to be a little bit of posterization as well. That of course is because the curve is less than ideal in terms of its shape. Now, I could work with the individual anchor points and try to correct the problem that way, but once you have a good familiarity with curves, quite often you'll find that you can actually invision what the curves should look like, and sometimes making the curve look that way using the anchor points isn't all that easy. You almost wish you could just draw the curve manually yourself. Well, you actually can, using the pencil tool, by default, curves works in the anchor point mode, so that you're clicking and dragging anchor points on a curve to change its shape.
But I can choose the pencil tool and then manually draw any portion of the curve I'd like. For example, maybe I wanted to darken up the shadows a bit more. And so I don't want this bump in the curve, but rather a relatively smooth transition up into the midtones. I could then continue fine-tuning the shape of the curve as I see fit. For any portion of the curve that needs to be adjusted, I simply draw a new portion of the curve in that area. Now in this case I'm going to make the adjustment a little more dramatic so I can show you another feature we can work with when using the pencil tool. As you can probably appreciate, sometimes it's difficult to be precise when you're drawing, especially if you're using a mouse to draw a curve with the pencil tool.
That's where the smooth button comes in. Simply click the smooth button and the curve will be smoothed out. Think of it as pulling on two ends of a string, to help to straighten it out just a little bit. With each click, the curve will get a little bit more smooth. And in fact, if you click the smooth button enough, you'll eventually have a straight line curve, back where you started from. When you're finished adjusting the curve, using the pencil tool, you can simply click on the anchor point button to switch back to anchor point mode.
Notice that curves has automatically changed the number and position of anchor points from what I had originally started with based on the curve I drew with the pencil tool. By utilizing the pencil tool in curves, you'll ensure you're able to achieve exactly the results you're looking for. The only catch is that you do need to have an understanding of what the ideal curve should look like. But with a little practice, you'll be able to draw a custom curve that achieves the ideal result you have in mind for any photograph.
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