Light­room tips

Get to grips with the most pow­er­ful tonal tool that Light­room has to of­fer with James Pater­sonÕs 20 es­sen­tial tips

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

un­der­stand and mas­ter the tone curve – a truly pow­er­ful tonal tool

1 What is the Curves tool?

Curves is one of the most pow­er­ful tonal tools in Adobe soft­ware, or in any other im­age editor. In Light­room, the De­velop Mod­ule’s Tone Curve Panel of­fers two Curves con­trols – the Point Curve or the more be­gin­ner-friendly Re­gion slid­ers. Click the square icon at the bot­tom right of the Tone Curve Panel to switch be­tween the two.

2 Get­ting started? Use slid­ers

Curves isn’t the most in­tu­itive tool for be­gin­ners, so try the Re­gion curve slid­ers. These let you al­ter High­lights, Lights, Darks and Shad­ows. Along the bot­tom of the box, three ar­row points let you al­ter the tonal range ar­eas that each slider will af­fect.

3 Straight or curved?

It might seem slightly odd that the curve line ini­tially isn’t curved at all, but a straight di­ag­o­nal. The straight di­ag­o­nal rep­re­sents the im­age in its cur­rent state. At any point where we push the line above its orig­i­nal di­ag­o­nal po­si­tion, that part of the tonal range will get lighter. Push it be­low, and things get darker.

4 Set whites and blacks first

Be­fore go­ing to Curves, first use the Ba­sic Panel’s Whites and Blacks slid­ers (Alt-drag each for a view that shows clipped pix­els) to en­sure a good range of tones. In ef­fect, the two slid­ers rep­re­sent ei­ther end of the Tone curve line – the Blacks slider sets the bot­tom-left point, while the Whites slider sets the top-right point.

5 How many points?

The more ad­vanced Point Curve lets you add con­trol points to the curve line, ei­ther to an­chor it in place, lift or lower the tones in dif­fer­ent parts of the tonal range. You can add up to 14 an­chor points, but rarely will you need more than four.

6 Re­set the line

You can’t drag con­trol points out of the box to re­move them. In­stead, right-click di­rectly over them and ‘Delete Con­trol Point’. To re­set all points, right- click and ‘Flat­ten Curve’. Note that this af­fects only the cho­sen chan­nel – to re­set all chan­nels, dou­ble-click on ‘Point Curve’.

7 Con­trast slider vs Curves

We of­ten use Curves to add punch and con­trast, but why not use the sim­pler Con­trast slider in­stead? Curves gives you more con­trol, as not only can you plot an S- shape for con­trast, but you can also set a point for the mid­tones or make the S top or bot­tom- heavy to shift the bal­ance be­tween high­lights and shad­ows.

8 The amaz­ing S-curve

To add ex­tra punch, plot a sim­ple S-curve. Drag one con­trol point up­wards near the top right of the line, and a sec­ond down­wards near the bot­tom left. The more pro­nounced the S, the greater the con­trast and colour sat­u­ra­tion. An op­tional third point in the mid­dle lets you an­chor the mid­tones.

9 So­lar­i­sa­tion ef­fect

Drag the bot­tom left point all the way to the top left, and the top right point down to bot­tom right to in­vert all the tones for a neg­a­tive ef­fect. We can also cre­ate an au­then­tic so­larised ef­fect by in­vert­ing just half of the tonal range – sim­ply by plot­ting a V shape, or an in­verted V.

10 Get the retro look

The faded retro look is all the rage at the mo­ment. It’s eas­ily done with curves. Sim­ply drag the top right point on the RGB curve line di­rectly down­wards by a small amount, then drag the bot­tom left point slightly up­wards. This re­duces con­trast. Why not com­ple­ment the ef­fect by ex­per­i­ment­ing with colour chan­nel shifts too?

11 Punchy blacks & whites

Of­ten when you con­vert an im­age to black & white it can look a lit­tle flat. A boost in con­trast is the an­swer, and no tool does it bet­ter than Curves. Plot an S-shaped curve line, then go on to add more points to con­trol the bright­ness of the shad­ows, mid­tones and high­lights.

12 Split tone with Curves

In many ways, the Tone Curve su­per­sedes Light­room’s ded­i­cated Split Ton­ing panel. Af­ter con­vert­ing to mono­chrome, try drag­ging the top or bot­tom points on the Curves colour chan­nels to add sub­tle shifts to the high­lights or shad­ows. Here we can in­tro­duce red shad­ows and yel­low high­lights by al­ter­ing the blue and red curve lines.

13 Con­trol colours

The Chan­nel drop­down lets you tar­get the red, green and blue chan­nels for pre­cise colour changes. Drag­ging the red curve up­wards adds more red, while drag­ging it down adds cyan – the op­po­site of red. Sim­i­larly, mov­ing the green line down in­tro­duces ma­genta, and drop­ping the blue line in­creases yel­low.

14 On-im­age con­trol

Tog­gle on the tar­get icon at the top left of the Tone Curve panel for on-im­age con­trol. When you hover over parts of the im­age, a cor­re­spond­ing con­trol point moves along the curve line. Drag up or down to lift that re­gion of the tonal range, or use the up and down ar­row keys (hit Shift for greater in­cre­ments).

15 Read the his­togram

For in­formed curves edit­ing it’s im­por­tant to know how to read a his­togram. Imag­ine each pixel in your im­age is given a bright­ness value on the scale of 0 to 255. Now imag­ine all those pix­els with the same val­ues are stacked on top of one another like a tower, with the dark­est stacks on the left and light­est on the right. In ef­fect, this is a his­togram.

16 The blownout look

If you like the high-con­trast blown-out look you’ll be pleased to hear it is re­ally easy to achieve with Curves. First, plot a pro­nounced S-shaped curve. This vastly in­creases con­trast, but it also pushes colour sat­u­ra­tion – es­pe­cially the red tones we see in skin. To com­bat this, se­lect the Red Curves chan­nel and then drag down to in­tro­duce a touch of cyan.

17 Cross-pro­cessed ef­fect

Tra­di­tion­ally in film pho­tog­ra­phy crosspro­cess­ing a neg­a­tive in slide-film so­lu­tion, or vice versa, re­sulted in some un­usual colour shifts. We can repli­cate this film ef­fect with Curves by plot­ting an S-shaped curve on the red and blue chan­nels, and a short­ened S-shape on the green chan­nel.

18 Tone Curve Pre­sets

It can be tricky to recre­ate a Tone Curve ef­fect, es­pe­cially if you have placed mul­ti­ple con­trol points on dif­fer­ent chan­nels. So save your favourite curves as pre­sets. Go to the Pre­set Panel on the left of the De­velop Mod­ule and click the plus icon. Hit ‘Check None’ and then check just the Tone Curve box. Name your pre­set and hit OK.

19 Chan­nel choices

Of the three colour chan­nels, the bue chan­nel usu­ally seems to of­fer the most in­ter­est­ing colour shifts – ei­ther by push­ing your tones to­wards yel­low or blue. The green-ma­genta curve line is of­ten the least use­ful, although of course this de­pends on your im­age and the ef­fect you’re af­ter. It’s al­ways worth ex­per­i­ment­ing with.

20 In­verted S for flat ef­fect

An S-shaped curve line boosts con­trast and adds punch, but some­times you might re­quire the op­po­site ef­fect. In­stead, plot an in­verted S shape, thereby light­en­ing the shadow tones to the left side of the graph and dark­en­ing the high­lights to the right.

Note how each of the Re­gion curve slid­ers af­fects the curve line

In­vert tones for a so­larised ef­fect

In­crease con­trast and colour with an S-curve

To add con­trast to mono con­ver­sions, plot an S-shaped curve

Drag points on the Curves colour chan­nels to add a split tone treat­ment

To bal­ance red in skin tones, drag the red curve chan­nel down to add cyan

Plot an in­verted S-shape curve to de­crease con­trast

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