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Nov. 24th, 2009

Curves Tutorial! :)

People seem to get all 'arghh!??' at curves, but they're really quite simple, and ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL! So I've prepared a guide for how they can work, basics, and then some examples, and then some crazy thing that can be done :)

Wondering why you should check this out, happy with your current methods? I find curves to be a dream, easy to use, gives smooth colours, good for making images POP quite easily. What do you have to lose?

Caution: really quite a lot of pictures!

Two Methods of using:
edit just the one layer:
Image > Adjustments > Curves...
or edit every layer in a 'New Adjustment Layer'
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves...

b. How Curves Work!
So Curves looks like this:

and there are 4 types of channels: RGB, Red, Green and Blue: (you can change them with the drop down menu at the top)
RBG controls the brightness of all the colours, so that's good for general prep work!
Red controls the red/cyan, Green the green/magenta and Blue the blue/yellow

the right side of the 'curve' works with the light colours, and the left side works with the shadows.

You make the curve by clicking on the curve and dragging where you want to curve to go. Every time you click and drag, it makes an anchor point that defines the curve path. These anchor points won't move unless you move them! If you want to remove them, simply click on them and press 'delete'.

This is the basic 'curve' we're looking at for starters: I'll call it the 'C'
1C. and 2C.
so you see this black and white picture:

number 1C on:
RBG: increases brightness

Red: increases red

Green: increases green

Blue: increases blue

number two C on:
RBG: decreases brightness

Red: decreases red (increases cyan)

Green: decreases green (increase magenta)

Blue: decreases blue (increases yellow)

so you can play around with that on coloured images, see how it looks :)

-> / /

when you use this:
- I'll call it the 'S'
on colour layers, interesting things happen:
remember that black and white picture? we're going to play with this curve on that :)

on RBG:
ups light colours, decreases dark colours, effectively increasing contrast

on Red:
increases the red on lights, increases cyan on the darks!

on Green:
increases green on lights, increases purples on the darks!

on Blue:
increases blue on lights, increases yellow on the darks!

and if you combine these steps, say, the S shape on red and the C on the blue (increasing blue) you can get something like this:

NOW. On the coloured one it looks quite nice:
( )

You can combine these 'S' and 'C' shapes now, I hope! Play around with the combinations, the size of the S, C, which ones they go on.


done now? great :D

Now we can look at other shapes of things!

You can then try other shapes of curves for interesting results:

I use these on the RBG layer for brightening and contrast:

I often use these kinds of shapes:

but sometimes REALLY CRAZY things can work:

-> these curves -> I then duplicated the first layer and moved it to the top, set to 'soft light' ->
-> these curves ->

Basically Curves isn't about putting in the numbers, it's about playing with the shapes, changing the Channel and trying out which ones look good together.
Remember every picture is different, so will need its own sets of curves :)
Also remember that curves have their own layer mask! simply click on the white square:

as indicated by #1, and then draw on the main palette: black it masked away, and white is still there. If you change your mind you can draw white over the black again!
You will need this, because curves don't always look great over the whole thing.
If you think your mask looks choppy, try setting a gaussian blur to it: for icon I'd use pixels of 2-5, but play around with it until you're happy!

If you want to see what curves can do, check out theskilltester's first challenge: to work only with curves. right here
They each come with a psd, but do NOT take the curves and just put them onto your own pictures. I promise they will look ugly - they're there to check out the ideas behind them, and see if you can spark some idea of your own.

Now usually I do a few layers for my most simple prepping:
1. A curves layer for brightness and contrast on the RBG channel
2. A curves layer for the colouring: working on R, B and G separately.
3. a colour balance for minor tweaking: usually I decrease reds, I have an irrational fear.

then I might do some levels work, extreme colour balance, another curves layer, some light blobs, a texture, anything is possible! I just love curves, I use it 99% of the time, and I hope someone discovers something they like or will find useful.

here are some other curves tutorial things:
for photographers, but don't worry about many of those things, because we're not printing our graphics out!
and here

some videos if you get REALLY stuck
here or here - careful, 25 minutes long!

Feel free to ask anything!


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 23rd, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
Brilliant tutorial, you've really taken the mystery out of curves for me :)
Nov. 23rd, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad it's been helpful :)
Nov. 23rd, 2009 01:48 pm (UTC)
Oh oh this is going to memories!!! THANK YOU!!!
Nov. 23rd, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
Awesome! You're welcome :D
Nov. 23rd, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
This is an awesome tutorial!! I have always wanted to use curves, but never really knew where to start. So thank you!

Nov. 23rd, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
thanks dear ^.^ I'm glad you found it helpful!
Nov. 23rd, 2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
Great tutorial. Teaching myself curves pretty much involved me stumbling around and whacking buttons until I figured out what everything meant - a basic "what's what" guide like this would've made that process so much simpler and painless. Plus coloring with curves is a great alternative to selective color and fill layers all the time. Kudos :)
Nov. 24th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
I would have loved this guide when I was learning, I didn't even realise about the different channels, hehe. Thank yoU!
Nov. 23rd, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Oh WOW!!! AWESOME tut!!!

I'll definitely be trying this.

I'm adding it to my mems and will credit you on my userinfo page as soon as I'm back at my desktop.
Nov. 24th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
Thank you SO much!
Nov. 23rd, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
Aww, I love using curves. I'm not sure why people are so afraid of it.

Very nice tut. :)
Nov. 24th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
I know!
thanks :D
Nov. 23rd, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks! :3
Nov. 23rd, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC)
brilliant. i'm going to study these and take notes :p
Nov. 23rd, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
Added do memories, thank you so much!
Nov. 23rd, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Okay, this is AMAZING. Will definitely be using this!
Nov. 23rd, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant! I sure do love my curves but this has cleared up certain things that kinda confused me about them! tytyty <33
Nov. 23rd, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
Woohoo! Thank you! I love tutorials on basic needs and techniques like this. Nobody seems to do them! &hearts
Nov. 23rd, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
I used curves but only to clear up my gray areas after scanning in order to make them more white. Or sometimes to tweak the contrast. Using it for coloring is helpful. Thank you very much for taking the time and effort to do this.
Nov. 24th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
this is awesome!!

thanks ♥
Nov. 24th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)
memming this, thanks! :D
Nov. 24th, 2009 10:50 am (UTC)
This is one awesome tutorial. Thank you so much. Meming!
Nov. 24th, 2009 01:09 pm (UTC)
Wow wow wow, memming for sure!
Nov. 24th, 2009 01:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for sharing this tut. You are most awesome. :D
Nov. 24th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
This is a great comprehensive tutorial on curves. I have definitely mem'd it. Thank you for going through the time to explain everything. Really wonderful! :)
Nov. 24th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Curves are pretty spiffy!
Very cool tut - it really would have come in handy when I was stumbling around PS trying to figure curves out all by my lonesome. lol

And even though I do like playing around with them, this guide is a good reminder on trying different things. I tend to get in a rut and stick with what I know and not experiment as much as I should.
Thanks for taking the time to do this. :)
Nov. 25th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
I was seriously confused about curves, but now I think it's my new love. Thank you! I went out and photographed a bunch of my mom's dead plants and I used your tutorial to play around with the pictures. This is what I got.

Nov. 25th, 2009 01:11 am (UTC)
I'm so glad! It looks amazzinggg.
Nov. 25th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
awesome tut
memming ♥
thanks ;D
Nov. 25th, 2009 01:51 am (UTC)
This tutorial is amazing! Thank you so much!
Nov. 25th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)
this is a wonderful tutorial! tysm. adding to my memories!
Nov. 25th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
Shorter and easier to understand than most other curves tutorials! Brava!
Nov. 25th, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
omg, ilu forever. mem'd.
Dec. 12th, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
woah, this is awesome!! I've never been able to find a curves explanation that is so straightforward and graphic. (C'mon, if it's for improving graphics, why not gimme some pictures to look at?)

Definitely adding to the mems
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )

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