Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tone Curves

This often misunderstood control is as much about brightness as contrast


This Article Features Photo Zoom
Figures 6-3a & 6-3b: Old woman portrait with +40 Lights curve. For the photo of the men pulling the cart, I also want to brighten up my midtones. But this time I want to do it with a reduction of contrast. In this case, trying the Lights control just drives the contrast up out of control. The look I'm going for this time is to re-create the very hot and kind of washed-out sunlight that I remember when this photograph was taken. Pushing up Darks to lighten the midtones gives me softer and more open shadows, which is the mood I was looking for.

Figure 7-1: Men pulling cart with Flat Curve. Very roughly speaking, increasing Lights will increase contrast across your midtones, where increasing Darks will decrease contrast in the midtones. Both of these moves do lighten the midtones, just in very different ways. And the reverse is also true. Decreasing Lights will decrease midtone contrast, while decreasing Darks will increase contrast in the midtones. Having said that, 99% of the time I'm pushing either the Lights or Darks up in tone, with the Shadows control being great for crushing blacks down, giving you control over the contrast in the very darkest parts of the image.


Figure 7-2: Men pulling cart with +50 Darks softens the midtone contrast. Lightroom and ACR both also have a Point Curve panel that works in a similar way as the Parametric Curve. There are two big differences with the Point Curve. First, you can put as many points on the Point Curve as you like, and there are no constraints. You can put them wherever you want, and drag them anywhere you like. So, be careful! The other big difference is that, starting with the 2012 Process Version, the Point Curve now has R, G and B curves, in addition to the Composite Curve. Having individual Red, Green and Blue curves gives longtime Photoshop users the control they have become accustomed to, with the ability to fine-tune color shifts, as well as white and black points in individual channels.

George Jardine is an authority on Lightroom, a program he helped create when he was at Adobe. His excellent tutorials are available at mulita.com.

 

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