Tone Curves are some of the most powerful editing tools in Lightroom. They can be used to take an image that looks very flat, and instantly make it pop. Several people feel intimidated by the Tone Curves, but they are actually very simple to use. Let’s explore what Tone Curves are in this article, and see how you can use them.
Related: How to Edit in Lightroom
What Are Tone Curves in Lightroom?
Essentially, they are a representation of all the tones that are present in your image. The X-axis, or the horizontal axis at the bottom of the curve, is referred to as the Tone Axis. The left-hand side of this line begins with Shadows, and the right-hand side of it ends with Highlights. The middle of the line represents mid-tones.
These are further subdivided into dark Midtones and light Midtones, which are called Darks and Lights respectively in Lightroom. This means that the curve, going left to right, traverses from Shadows, Darks, Lights, and finally Highlights. If you hover over any specific slider in the Tone Curve, Lightroom will show you the analogous range that it covers. The Y-axis, or the vertical axis at the left of the curve, represents the Lightness of the tones. The brightness or the intensity of the tones increases as you move upwards, and it reduces as you go downwards.
This may sound very complex to a lot of people, but it turns out that it’s actually fairly simple to use. All you would have to do is to select which tonal range you want to modify. Let’s consider an example where you want to darken the Midtones. The way you would do that is by clicking and dragging the middle area of the Tone Curve towards the bottom. Your image would get darker as you moved the slider, not very different from how it would look if you lowered the Exposure of the image in the Basic Panel. However, if you wanted to brighten the Shadow region in your image, then you would have to click on the left-hand side of the curve and slide it upwards. It’s as easy as that!
Adjusting the Curves
There are essentially two curves in Lightroom that you can use. The one we have discussed up until now is the one that’s the simplest. It is called the Region Curve. Lightroom assists you with using this curve in such a way that it is maintained in a smooth manner, and that any changes you make do not result in a sharp distortion. This curve can be adjusted either by moving the curve itself, or you can also drag the sliders below it. Both of these methods will affect the results in the same way.
There is another method to adjust the curve. This is by using the automated Lightroom tool, which you will find situated at the top-left of the Tone Curve panel, in the form of a dot. Merely clicking on the dot will activate the tool, and then you can drag on the tone region that you want to manipulate in order to adjust it. This curve can never be made to have sharp edges or points because the software is always forcing it to have a smooth transition.
There is, however, another curve that can be used in Lightroom. This curve will allow you to make adjustments that were previously not possible in the Region Curve. This is, essentially, a Point Curve. You can click on the tiny square button in the bottom right corner of your Tone Curve panel to activate it. Doing so results in all the slides vanishing, and you will see a single control instead of them. This control is called Channel. You can modify the RGB values from here. The main benefit of the Point Curve is that you can manipulate it in any way, and Lightroom will not interfere. It is excellent for color-work and B&W.
How to Use Curves in Lightroom – Best Tips
- Start with the Region Curve if you’re a beginner
- Set Blacks and Whites before going to the curves
- Right-click and select ‘Flatten Curve’ to reset all points
Lightroom curves are very powerful tools. We hope this article helped you understand them better and encouraged you to use them more often in your projects.
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.