The Learning Curve: The Importance of Using Curves in Photoshop

bar_am_photography_photoshop_curves_exampleIf you were to ask my husband he’ll tell you he loves curves…and it’s a good thing because I have them from my head to my bum. But, in Adobe Photoshop, curves are all about cleaning your images and stepping up your work to a more refined level. If editing curves isn’t in your post-processing list of things to do, then you are missing out on a world of potential for your images. Mastering the art of curves really unleashes the latent clarify, colors, and overall aesthetics of photos that used to be otherwise impossible before the advent of digital photography.

I’m not going to give a full tutorial here on how to apply curves adjustments but just point out some key tips and emphasize the importance of many tools available to beginner photographers that they may have been too timid to learn (or just just haven’t heard of them yet).

In Photoshop you can use curves to change colors, white-balace, exposure, etc. You may have heard the phrase “creating a nice s-curve”, and while that’s a great way to start, there is much more to making adjustments than just mapping out an “s” in your curves dialog box. To really understand the capabilities of the tool you need to learn histograms and working with them confidentially.

Some helpful tips are:

  • Always work in adjustment layers to avoid destruction of your precious images (To do this choose LAYER, then NEW ADJUSTMENT LAYER then CURVES).
  • Play around with the placement of your points on the curve to understand what makes certain changes and watch your histogram as well.
  • Use layer masks to remove or add areas that you want to apply isolated changes to. Be sure to choose a soft brush to manipulate areas or you will end up with sharp edges.
  • If applying curves to separate fields within your image (i.e. maybe one curve adjustment will be applied to people, the other to the background), use the laso tool to select the area. Feather your selection a significant amount (I use 230px) to avoid harsh, obvious edges.

If you are serious about taking control of curves and learning how they can improve your work, I highly recommend tutorials from Ben Willmore or Photoshop Cafe:

Ben Willmore/Digital Mastery

Photoshop Cafe


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