The Curves adjustment layer is among the most essential instruments in Photoshop. It’s one of the best ways to regulate the brightness and distinction of your photographs. If you wish to get good with Photoshop, you’ll must grasp Curves.

If you happen to aren’t conversant in adjustment layers, you’ll need to study them earlier than studying this text. So take a look at our guides to layers and adjustment layers earlier than persevering with–and in the event you’re new to Photoshop, you also needs to take a look at our 8-part newbie’s information earlier than persevering with.

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It All Begins with the Histogram

RELATED: What Is a Histogram, and How Can I Use It to Enhance My Images?

A histogram is a graph of all of the tones in your picture. Each pixel in a digital {photograph} has a Luminosity worth (that’s how brilliant it’s) of someplace between 0 (pure black) and 255 (pure white).

The histogram graphs what number of pixels of every luminosity there are within the picture. Within the histogram within the picture beneath, you may see there are much more pixels with low luminosities (darker colours) than pixels with excessive luminosities (brighter colours). A fast look on the precise picture confirms it.

Histograms are actually helpful instruments for photographers, and anybody else working in Photoshop, as a result of they present you data that’s exhausting to see immediately together with your eyes. From a printer’s perspective, there’s an enormous distinction between one thing that’s nearly black and one thing that’s really black, however it’s actually troublesome to inform the distinction simply by eyeballing it.


For a extra detailed tackle histograms and how one can make them higher, take a look at our information on the topic.

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The Curves Adjustment Layer

The Curves adjustment layer is a device for immediately manipulating the histogram. Slightly than let Photoshop’s algorithms decide how totally different areas of your picture get brightened, you may go in and do the whole lot your self. Curves are slightly trickier to make use of than a easy slider, however the additional management is well worth the complexity.

Let’s take a detailed have a look at a Curves adjustment layer. You’ve received the histogram, however on prime of that you simply’ve received a line sloped at 45 levels. That is one other sort of graph: an Enter/Output chart.

The road in a Curves adjustment exhibits the connection between the Enter and Output for each luminosity worth. Enter is on the X-axis and Output is on the Y-axis.

Whereas the road is at 45 levels, each Enter worth is mapped to the very same Output worth. All of the pixels with a luminosity of 100 keep at 100 after you’ve utilized the Curves layer.

Whenever you change the slope of the road, you alter the connection between the Enter and Output values. If you happen to add some extent at an Enter of 100 and drag it all the way down to an Output of 80, all of the pixels that had a luminosity of 100 will now have a luminosity of 80. If you happen to examine the picture beneath to the one above, you’ll see it’s darker.


Photoshop’s Curves aren’t a blunt device, although. If you happen to simply modified the luminosity of all of the pixels with a worth of 100 whereas ignoring the pixels with a worth of 99 or 101, your picture would look ridiculous. As an alternative, the Curves device modifications the Enter/Output ratio of all of the close by pixels modifications as nicely. Pixels with a worth of 99 will most likely be mapped to 79, whereas pixels with a worth of 101 will get mapped to 81. Pixels with a worth of 110, will get mapped to round 87 and so forth till the curve of the slope smooths out. That’s why the picture nonetheless appears pure.

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Utilizing a Curves Layer

Now that you’ve got some thought of how Curves work in concept, let’s have a look at it in motion. We’ll take the identical picture, and apply eight totally different curves to indicate you the way it impacts the photograph.

This Curve brightens the pixels with center luminosity values.

This Curve darkens the pixels with center luminosity values.

This Curve brightens the pixels with darkish luminosity values.

This Curve darkens the pixels with darkish luminosity values.

This Curve brightens the pixels with brilliant luminosity values.

This Curve darkens the pixels with brilliant luminosity values.

This Curve darkens the darkish pixels and brightens the sunshine pixels so as to add distinction.

This Curve provides distinction, simply much more of it.

As you may see with all of the examples above, Curves layers offer you an enormous quantity of flexibility in the way you modify the brightness of all of the totally different pixels in your picture.

Colours and Curves

In addition to a luminosity worth, each pixel in a coloration picture has a Crimson, a Blue, and a Inexperienced worth that lies someplace between 0 and 255. These values decide its coloration.


Every coloration has its personal histogram that represents the variety of pixels with that particular coloration worth. Like with the luminosity histogram, a Curves layer can be utilized to control it.

To make use of a Curves layer to switch the colour in a picture, add one and click on on the dropdown the place it says RGB.

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Choose the colour you need to edit and also you’ll see the related histogram.

Whenever you edit a coloration utilizing a Curves layer, you have an effect on each pixel with that coloration in it. Dragging up on the Crimson Curve will increase the depth of the reds within the picture.

Dragging down on the Crimson Curve decreases the depth of the reds and thus will increase the obvious depth of its complimentary coloration, cyan.

(Inexperienced’s complimentary coloration is magenta, and blue’s is yellow.)

You’ll be able to mix all 4 Curves in a single adjustment layer to create totally different results. Beneath you may see a picture the place I’ve elevated the Blue Curve, decreased the Inexperienced and Crimson Curves, and brightened the whole lot with the RGB Curve.


Colour curves are a sophisticated method and possibly not one thing you should give attention to while you’re simply beginning out. As you get extra expert with Photoshop, you’ll begin to encounter conditions the place having the ability to manipulate every coloration histogram individually turns into essential. They can be utilized to do the whole lot from repair coloration issues to creatively coloration tone your photographs.

The Curves adjustment layer is essentially the most highly effective solution to modify the brightness and distinction of your photographs. It provides you whole management over how each tone is rendered. Understanding learn how to use Curves is essential for anybody who desires to make use of get essentially the most out of Photoshop.

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