Join Deke McClelland for an in-depth discussion in this video The Target Adjustment tool in Curves, part of Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Advanced.
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In Photoshop CS4, Curves offers one more big advantage over Levels, and that's the Target Adjustment tool, which allows you to click inside of an image and drag in order to change Luminance Levels. A really awesome function that makes Curves considerably easier to use, in my opinion. I'm working inside this image called The surfer who surfed.jpg. Now, you can get to the Target Adjustment tool whether you're working inside of the Curves dialog box or inside of the Adjustments palette, but we're going to work in the Adjustments palette, just because it gives us a little more freedom and control.
I'm working on a flat image, so no layers here, just a background image. I'll go to the Adjustments palette and click on the Curves icon in order to add a Curves adjustment layer, as we can see, and switch over to the Curves panel here inside the Adjustments palette. Now first, you've got to have this tool selected right here, the Point tool. You can't be working with the Pencil tool, and incidentally, the Pencil tool allows you to just go through and actually draw Curves, like this, if you want to. You can also draw your own crazy arbitrary maps if you want to. It tends to be a really useful tool for masking. I don't use it too often to correct images however.
I'm going to go ahead and reset the curve by clicking on this little button right there, and now we get the nice diagonal line once again. Switch to the Point tool so that the Target Adjustment tool right here is available. Then notice something about this tool that I want you to see. Watch the toolbox over here; notice how, currently for me, my Marquee tool is selected. Well, if I click on the Target Adjustment tool, which doesn't call itself the Target Adjustment tool, and I've heard it called various things by various people; I said this way back in the Fundamentals portion of this series, but I'm going with Target Adjustment tool because that's what its called in Lightroom.
Lightroom was the first application to offer this tool, and I just think that name makes a ton of sense. You're targeting Luminance Levels inside the image and then you're adjusting them. How much clearer could that be? Anyway, when I select the tool by clicking on it, then these tools are no longer active. No tool in the toolbox is active. I see my little Target Adjustment Cursor up here on the far left side of the Options bar. There are no options for it, but its something of a full-fledge tool that is only available when you're using certain adjustments. It would be great if it was actually over here in the toolbox and we could get to it all of the time.
Anyway, we've got a problem with the exposure of this image. It's underexposed. So we have a lot of empty highlights over here. I'm going to click the Auto button in order to just apply Auto Tone to the image. It fixes the highlights on a Channel by Channel basis. We'll revisit those Channels momentarily, but for now, let's stick with the composite image. Something else to note about this tool is it changes your cursor to an Eyedropper, and we can now access the bouncing ball inside of the Curves graph. See it bounce around there, without pressing and holding the Ctrl or Command key when the Eyedropper tool is selected. So really super easy function to work with here. Very tempting to have it always selected when you're working with Curves incidentally, because it does provides this benefit here.
Now, I want to expand the shadows a little bit. If I click down here in his wet suit, there are certain areas that I can click in, that would just completely lift black. I don't want to see that happen. I can tell that I should get it, because right there, that point the bouncing ball is all the way in the bottom left corner of the graph. So if I were to click and drag here, drag up or like so, I would move that black point up the graph. I'm decreasing the contrast of the image in the hideous and horrible way. So I don't want to do that. So I'll undo that modification, just by pressing Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac. Instead what I want to do is click higher up on his haunches here, right at about this location on his glutes, and then I'm going to drag upward. So notice, as soon as I click, I get a point. I just added a point automatically in the lower left region of the graph, and now as I drag upward, I'm brightening that point.
I could also drag downwards to darken the point if I wanted to, and the cursor helpfully shows me that I can drag up or down with those Up and Down Arrows right there. So it's a very instructive cursor, to my way of thinking anyway. All right. So I'll dim him just a little bit, I don't want to take him quite that hot, but you can see over there in the graph, I have changed an Input value of -- why is it saying its 108, it's that point right there. Huh, this is very interesting that I'm seeing completely the wrong values. Were those the last values I saw inside the graph? I guess so. Look at that. That's not what I want.
So I'll press the Plus key to go forward a point and then I'll press the Minus key to go back a point, Huh, interesting bug. So now we can see that this point here, which is selected, has an Input Level of 13 and an Output Level of 20. Then we can track all the other points on the curve just by moving the cursor around. It's showing me what has happened to these other Luminance Levels; what they were, and this one happens to have been 92 and now its 121. So its way too bright is basically what it comes down to. So I'm going to find a fairly dark color here in his armpit; it turns out it works kind of nicely, and I'm going to click and hold and drag down in order to darken those shadows, that region of shadows right there. So I'm taking an Input Level of 31, changing it to an Output of 38, where before it must have been much higher that that.
All right. Now, I want to drag in the waves actually, to darken them up a little bit, like so. So that we can retain details in those waves. That leaves his face a little dark, but I think actually it comes out fairly nice. At this point I feel like we need to make some Channel by Channel modifications, because I'd like to warm up his face just a little bit and brighten it, if I can. So I'm going to go over to the Red Channel; and I can do that of course by just pressing Alt+3 or Option+3 in the Mac if I want to. Then I'm going to click right here on his forehead and I'm going to drag up a little bit in order to expand those warm tones and warm up the image in general.
That's a little too red now, so I'm going to try to balance that out by going to the Green Channel. I'll Press Alt+4 or Option+4 in the Mac and I'll drag up inside this region of waves right there to add some green. Now, I don't want to go too far with it. I can green up the image pretty quickly if I'm not careful. So I just want to make a tiny modification here. I'm not even sure where I started actually, so I'll just eyeball it in order to get something that looks pretty good. I feel like this is a good modification. Now, the one issue that I have; I could go through and add some blues if I wanted to. I might, actually, you know what, what the heck, it does look like we've gone too far with the reds and green. So I'll press Alt+4, Option+4 on the Mac, and let's brighten the blues. The most obvious point of blue here is inside of his wet suit. Although, we don't have to stick with anything that appears blue inside the image actually, I could drag from any point that I want to. So let's drag back here in these waves and drag up just a tiny bit, just add a little bit of blue to the image. All right. So I think that's good.
My one concern about the image is that we've lost some color saturation, and that tends to happen; if I press Alt+2 or Option+2 on the Mac to switch back to the RGB composite view, that tends to happen anytime that curve flattens out even a little bit, it doesn't have to go totally flat, it can just become less deep at a certain point in the image. Because it's less deep for a long period of time, we are going to lose color saturation. So the best way to get it back is to go to Vibrance. I'll click on the left pointing green arrow here, at the bottom of the Adjustments palette, to return to the Adjustments list. I'll click on the purple cone for Vibrance, and then I'll go to the Vibrance option and I'll increase this value, I think, to +30, actually works out pretty well. That might be a little high, let's take it down to +25 there.
Then I'm going to increase the Saturation at least to 5, I think, if memory serves me from working on this image before, 5 works out pretty nicely. That might be a little too hot actually, so why don't we take it down? I guess I applied a different Curves modification this time around. I'll go ahead and take this value up to +3. So your specific values, I should hasten to say, are going to vary depending on the specific Curves you applied. So your Curves are going to be slightly different than mine, undoubtedly. Just to give you a sense of what we were able to accomplish using these two layers right here, I'll go ahead and collapse the Adjustments palette for now.
I'll Alt+Click on the eyeball or Option+Click on the eyeball for the before view. So this is the original version of the image and this is the new version of the image with the expanded shadows, much better exposure, thanks to the very easy to use Target Adjustment tool here inside Photoshop CS4.
Recommended prerequisite: Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Fundamentals.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts and color settings for Photoshop under the download feature.
- Using blend modes, adjustment layers, and layer styles
- Organizing a layered composition so it is fluid and editable
- Creating and editing type in Photoshop
- Using blur effectively
- Using adjustment layers to add color
- Combining layers into a clipping mask
- Working with Camera Raw