Welcome to part 2 of my Lightroom Editing series. We are moving on to the next panels in Lightroom to further refine the picture that I started working on in part 1 of this series.
Even though I usually don't use the curves panel in Lightroom, because I find it easier to work with in Photoshop, Curves play a huge part in my editing process.If you master Curves, you can go a very long way. Today I am not going to make this too complicated, but I am going to show you just how much moving the line in this small graph can help you get the look you want in your picture.
Let's get started! This is how the picture looks like after the work I did in part 1. If you missed this, click on the banner below to read this tutorial first.
In the Develop Module, just below the Basic panel, you'll find this graph called Tone Curve. If you can't see it, press on the white arrow on the right side next to the words Tone Curve. My Tone Curve panel looks like this.
If yours looks like this, no worries.
Click on the little icon showing a curve in the bottom right corner to change it to the point curve. To make our own adjustments, the point curve must be set to Linear instead of one of the presets that Lightroom has available. Now that we are all set, let's see what the Tone Curve can do...
I am editing with a certain look in mind, but just for the sake of showing you how truly powerful a Tone Curve can be, I am going to show you several options. Let me start by telling a bit about how adjusting this Tone Curve works. At this moment, there is a line and two dots. One dot at the bottom left of the graph and one at the top right. The top right represents the whites and the bottom left the blacks. Just for the sake of helping you understand which part of the Curve represents the shadows, darks, lights and highlights as Lightroom calls them I am showing you the look of the Tone Curve in the Region Mode. I clicked on the little icon with the curve in the bottom right of this panel to show you this.
You can see the graph is divided in 4 equal parts underneath. If you hover over the line without clicking it you will see that a word pops up explaining which part of the curve will be affected. It is easiest to remember that what Lightroom calls darks are the darker midtones and the lights are the lighter midtones.
Now that we know this, I am switching back to the normal point curve. You can see the word RGB below the graph. If we adjust this curve it will affect the luminosity and contrast. If we choose another channel, we will also be affecting the colours and colour contrast.
Let me start by showing you a very simple effect in the RGB channel that many people are looking for in their images. I am going to show you the matte effect as created by the use of a Tone Curve. By moving the point on the bottom left straight up, the deepest shadows will open up which gives a matte effect.
To make this effect even moodier you can also move the white point (the point on the top right) down. Now....this might be great for a picture that has a little more contrast, but is probably not the way to go for a very foggy picture with a lack of contrast.
If at any point you feel unhappy with the curve you are creating, right click in the graph and choose flatten curve and you are back to your starting point.
If we are not after a matte look, but after more precise contrast than we could achieve in the Basic panel, we move the points on the curve so that the difference in luminosity between certain light values is becoming larger. This is what contrast is. A slight basic s curve is what is used often to create this. This looks like this and what I actually did was making the difference between the shadows and highlights greater by moving the highlights slightly above the the line and the shadows a bit below the line, which leads to more contrast.You simply click down with your mouse on the line on the left quadrant, drag the point down a bit and then release. Then click on a point on the line the the right quadrant to affect the highlights and move the point up a bit and release.
There is a better way of doing this though by clicking on the little target adjustment tool on the top right of this panel. Now you can click and drag up or down in your picture. I undo the s-curve I just made and start again.
I usually lock tones in place that I don't want to darken or lighten first and then make very slight adjustments. I do this by clicking on an area that I don't want to get any darker by making sure I don't move my pen or mouse whilst clicking. In this case the darkest tones of the picture are in the bottom right corner. Making them any darker would turn them into black, which is not what I want.After I lock this point into place I look for a spot of the tree that is slightly higher on the graph (more to the right on the line) and drag up. This has the effect of brightening the dark midtones whilst keeping the shadows intact. This therefore leads to contrast in the darker tones of the image more than in the lighter tones. As I had set out to make the tree on the right stand out more, this makes perfect sense. I add one more point on the line to make sure the brighter parts of the image don't get much brighter as I want this to be a moody image and that is it for this tone curve.
Be careful when moving these points as it can lead to very wonky looking pictures if your adjustments are too extreme. I am moving to the blue channel now. In the colour channels, you can add colour contrast. Let me show you what this does and then undo it. In the Blue Channel moving the line down will add yellow to your image and moving the line up will add blue. This can be an excellent way of giving your image colour contrast. You can see what an S curve did to this image. It added yellows to the shadows and blue to the highlights. The colour channels also affect the luminosity, so keep a close eye on this.
Everything you know about mixing colours applies to these Tone Curves as well. If you add yellow to shadows which are blueish in tone, they will look more green. The reds of the fallen leaves on the forest floor turned more orange due to this adjustment. I am going to undo this adjustment by right clicking in the curve on the points that I added and choosing "Delete Control Point". Let's make an adjustment that makes more sense...
As you can see I moved the point on the bottom left ever so slightly to the right, this adds yellow to the darkest tones. I also move the point on the top right to the left which adds blues to the brightest tones. I then moved a point in the shadow part of the line ever so slightly down back to the original line restricting the yellows to just the darkest tones in the image and I clicked in the brighter part of the image to adjust the blue tones slightly. To see the difference that the tone curve made to this image, you can simply toggle the button in the top left of the Tone Curve panel. In this case the total effect of these two curves that I made is quite significant as you can see.
Before the Tone Curve Adjustment
After the Tone Curve Adjustment
The blues have a slight magenta hue in them. This we can adjust in the green channel. The opposite of green is magenta. Moving the line up adds green to the picture and moving the line down adds magenta. I can also see that a bush on the bottom left of the picture is way too green due to the yellow we added to the shadows. I am going to counteract this by making a very slight adjustment to this curve. I make the shadows ever so slightly more magenta and the highlights a tiny bit greener.
Now in the red channel this all works much the same. Moving the line up adds red, moving the line down adds cyan. I tone down the colours a bit by adding some red to the brightest tones and I lock the other tones in place.
Now this picture has a lot more contrast and the tree is standing out more than earlier. In Part 3 of this series we are going to look at some ways to affect the colours a bit more.
I hope this tutorial has helped you see just how much this little Tone Curve can do. It is capable of making very powerful changes to your images, so try it out. If you don't like an effect you created, you can always undo it. I decided to go back to the RGB curve and make a slight adjustment locking in all the brighter tones, because the contrast was slightly too strong for my taste.
This is how far this picture has come by using just the Basic Panel and the Tone Curve in Lightroom....
Straight out of the camera
After editing in the Basic Panel and the Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom's Develop Module
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Thank for reading this tutorial and I hope you'll be back for Part 3