Color Curves
Photoshop Elements

Did you know there is a color curves command in Photoshop Elements?  

I didn't - and it was really annoying because the power of the curves adjustment in Photoshop was missing - or so I thought.

This is the adjustment that will brighten and image and improve contrast and modify the color of an image and it really is worth knowing.  Contrast is, after all, the one thing that separates an OK image from a fabulous image.

Because of my erroneous belief Photoshop Elements was generally dismissed as a nice but seriously lacking digital imaging product.

OK - so I have to change my tune - let's look at adjusting curves with Elements in your digital darkroom ...

Color Curves Palette

The first thing is to locate the color curves command - it's locted in the Enhance Menu ...

color curves one

And this is the dialogue that will come up ...

color curves dialogue

The palette includes:

  1. Before and After Preview

  2. Seven Pre-Set Styles
    • Backlight
    • Darken Highlights
    • Default
    • Increase Contrast
    • Increase Midtones
    • Lighten Shadows
    • Solarize

  3. Adjustment Sliders
    • Adjust Highlights
    • Midtone Brightness
    • Midtone Contrast
    • Adjust Shadows

  4. A Preview Grid

Color Curves Pre-Sets

Using the Pre-Sets is quite easy and straight forward.

Simply open an image in Photoshop Elements, open the palette and try out each one of the pre-sets in order.

The Before and After previews will show the original image and the effect of the curves adjustment plus the curve for that pre-set will show up on the grid.  

When you find one you like then click OK and that's it.

The curves grid will give you an idea of how moving the sliders will affect an image and this may help when you are ready to dive into adjusting the sliders on your own.

Color Curves Adjustments

color curves gridAdjusting the sliders individually will produce great results but they can be a bit of a challenge until you get used to using them.  

As you move the sliders the points on the grid will move up or down and in one case the point will move left and right.

Unlike Photoshop, you cannot move the points on the grid - they have to be adjusted with the sliders.  There are three points that can be adjusted -

  1. Bottom Point - the Shadow point
  2. Middle Point - the Midtone point
  3. Top Point - the Highlights point.

Here is an image that needs some contrast adjustment.  It can be done with the pre-sets but they don't go quite far enough.

color curves plane 

Before starting the adjustment, make a copy of the background layer.  This makes it easy to check the before and after image after making the adjustment and clicking OK.  Additionally, this adjustment is not completed on an adjustment layer so the copy keeps your original image intact.

First Adjustment

color curves first adjustment

color curves picture1 The first adjustment was to move the Highlights Slider to the right which moved the Highlights point upward on the curve.  

This brightened the image, especially the body of the plane

Second Adjustment

color curves adjustment 2

color curves picture 2
The second adjustment was to move the Shadow Slider to the left which moved the Shadow point down.

This created a kind of "S" curve which is a typical contrast improving adjustment in both Photoshop and here in Elements.

Third Adjustment

color curves adjustment 3

color curves picture The third adjustment was to move the Midtone Brightness to the right which moved the Midtone point upwards.

The higher a point on the curve, the lighter the image becomes and the lower the point on the curve the darker the image will become..

Fourth Adjustment

color curves fourth adjustment

color curves fourth image The fourth adjustment moved the Midtone Contrast to the right which moved the Midtone point to the right.  This moved the Midtone point about one-half a square to the right of its original position.

This adjustment created a more pronounced "S" curve which improved the contrast just a bit.

The adjustment can produce very noticeable and dramatic changes in an image.  It is a good idea to create a copy layer, do some adjustments, click OK  and then turn the copy layer off and on to see if you like the change your adjustment has made.

If you don't like it then throw out the copy layer and start again.

Digital Darkroom

In the old style "wet" darkroom curves are analogous to the black and white mult-grade papers and the little filters that were placed below the light source.

I have to admit that I never really understood how to use the multi-grade papers with the filters and that is probably why my black and white prints tended to lack contrast.

The color curves dialgogue, at first, may be a bit of a mystery until you understood the importance of good contrast in an image and how easy it is to modify the contrast with the this  dialogue.

Page Contents

The Palette

The Pre-Sets

Adjusting The Curve

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