In this Photoshop Curves tutorial we’re going to look at a few ways that you achieve creative colour adjustments with your photographs in super-quick fashion.
The Curves tool is one of the most powerful features in Photoshop. It can be used for a whole range of corrections and adjustments; including contrast adjustments, the removal of colour casts, and the darkening or brightening of your images.
This tutorial will illustrate the basics of Curves in Photoshop, then how to fashion a couple of more creative effects with this versatile tool.
To open the Curves dialogue box in Photoshop, got to the top menu and select Image > Adjustments > Curves, or press Command/Control M on your keyboard for Mac and PC respectively.
Or a preferable way to work would be to create a Curves Adjustment Layer, this way your adjustments are non-destructive and can be altered or deleted at a later point. To create an adjustment layer you can go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves.
You can see the dialogue box in the screenshot above, shadows and the black point are lower left, midtones central, highlights and white point are towards the top right. By default the line is straight, so just click on the line to add points and drag to where you want them.
The below example shows a classic s-shaped curve, this boosts contrast across the image.
You’ll also notice I’m working in RGB-mode for a full global change across all channels, you can adjust the Red, Green or Blue channels individually too, we’ll come onto that soon.
Below you can see the results of the simple S-shaped curve shown above, the second image having a lot more punch and contrast.
Cross Processing with Curves
We’ve covered cross processing in Photoshop previously, here we’re going to look at another style of editing.
This time we need to work on the individual colour channels. For the Red and Green channels I’ve done another gentle s-shaped curve, as shown below.
Then on the Blue channel I’ve created an inverse s-curve, this of course works in the opposite way and helps create the effect. This is all completely subjective, how much of a change you make to each channel is completely up to you, but editing the blue channel differently is key.
Finally, I added a gentle regular s-curve to the global RGB channel for an overall contrast boost, this helps give the final image a little more pop.
Below are some before and after shots so you can see the results I got with the above settings.
Split Toning with Curves
This time I’m starting with a black and white image, I’m going to manually specify the black and white colours to achieve a split-tone image. To set the black and white colours, click the eyedropper icons as circled below.
From there you choose a colour that you want, I chose a dark blue for the black point.
Press ok once you’ve chosen your colour, then click on a dark/black point of your image to apply the colour. Do the same for the white point, I choose an off-mustard colour, below are before and after shots so you can see the changes for yourself.
If you’re fairly new to Photoshop, the curves tool can seem a little confusing at first, but it is well worth persevering with. With all the techniques mentioned above, experimentation is the key factor; getting the right balance of adjustment for your particular image.