How to Use Curves Tool in Photoshop

How to Use Curves Tool in Photoshop

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In Photo Retouching, Adobe Photoshop stands as the undisputed champion, offering an array of tools that cater to the needs of both beginners and professionals. Among these tools, the Curves Tool is a versatile and potent instrument for crafting images that captivate and evoke emotion. This article delves deep into the nuances of the Curves Tool in Photoshop, unraveling its intricacies and guiding you through the process of using it effectively to transform your images.

What is Curves Tool in Photoshop?

The Curves Tool in Photoshop is a powerful and versatile image adjustment tool used to control an image’s tonal range and color balance. It allows you to manipulate the brightness and contrast of different image parts by adjusting its color channels individually. The Curves Tool is commonly used for tasks such as adjusting exposure, correcting color balance, enhancing contrast, and creating various creative effects.

The tool displays a graph where the x-axis represents the original input values of the image (ranging from dark to light), and the y-axis represents the output values after adjustment. By dragging points on this graph, you can modify the brightness and contrast of specific tonal ranges. A diagonal line typically represents the default or original curve, and you can add control points along this line or adjust them to create curves that shape the tonal distribution of the image.

In addition to adjusting overall tonality, the Curves Tool can adjust the color balance by manipulating the red, green, and blue color channels separately. This allows for precise color correction and creative adjustments. For example, you can enhance or reduce the intensity of a particular color in specific tonal ranges.

The Curves Tool may initially seem complex, but it becomes a valuable asset for advanced image editing and manipulation with practice. Curves Tool offers more control and flexibility than straightforward adjustments like brightness and contrast sliders.

To create a Curves adjustment layer in Adobe Photoshop, follow these steps:

  • Open Your Image: Start by opening the image you want to edit in Photoshop.
  • Layers Panel: Make sure the Layers panel is visible. If not, you can go to the “Window” menu and select “Layers” to open it.
  • Adjustment Layer Icon: You’ll see several icons at the bottom of the Layers panel. One of them looks like a half-black, half-white circle. Click on this icon.
  • Choose Curves: A menu will pop up with various adjustment options. Select “Curves” from the list. This will create a new Curves adjustment layer above your image layer.
  • Curves Properties: Once you’ve created the Curves adjustment layer, you’ll see the Curves properties panel. Here, the histogram and the diagonal line represent the original curve. You can adjust the curve by clicking and dragging points on the line.

9 Basic Adjustments of Curves Tool

Close the Whites Gap

Forget about levels because curves can do it all. By utilizing the power of Curves Tool, you can effectively eliminate gaps between an image’s black and white tones. This technique is essential for optimal viewing or awards and achieving the ideal contrast and exposure levels. Hold down the option/alt key to quickly identify clipped areas while adjusting the bottom pins.

Increase or Decrease Exposure

Curves in Photoshop are commonly used to manipulate exposure. To increase exposure, grab the middle of the curved line and pull upwards, to the left, or both. Conversely, to reduce exposure, use the opposite curve shape.

Flatten Whites

The Flatten Whites adjustment can be highly beneficial in specific scenarios, especially when combined with masks for spot treatment. To achieve this, lower the far correct pin at the top of the bendy line.

Flattened / Matte blacks

To create this effect, lift upwards on the bottom right end of the bendy line.

Contrast Curve/ Decontrast Curve

Discover, master, apply – a must-have technique in Curves Tool. This curve is widely embraced in various fields. Simply put, it involves darkening the shadows and brightening the highlights.

Conversely, the Decontrast Curve achieves the opposite effect, softening contrast. A more subdued image is achieved by brightening the shadows and reducing the highlights.

White Balance (with a neutral area)

To achieve the perfect white balance in Curves Tool, follow these simple steps:

  1. In the curves module, select the middle pin on the left-hand side.
  2. Click on a portion of the image representing middle gray, white, or black.
  3. Remember, the selected area should be free of color.

Selectively alter areas

To make targeted modifications, simply open curves, utilize the hand icon and effortlessly click and drag to uplift or lower specific areas. This method ensures that only the intended section of the curve will undergo alteration.

Custom Color Tones

You can easily manipulate the hues in your channels by using a carefully calibrated curve adjustment. For a desired effect, raise the bendy line in the shadows to add a touch of blue while lowering it in the highlights to reduce the blue and introduce a subtle yellow tone.

Matte Style

Many lifestyle, wedding, and portrait photographers prefer a matte look. You can effortlessly create a matte effect on your images with exceptional precision using curves in Photoshop like the one demonstrated below (including the far side pins).

Starting with Curves Tool in Photoshop


To begin, click on the line approximately a quarter of the way from the left side. Drag the newly created point downwards, instantly adding depth and darkness to your image. Even a slight adjustment will yield noticeable results.

Next, create a second point along the line, around three-quarters of the way in. Gently drag it upwards to introduce a touch of brightness. Remember, a slight shift is all it takes to make a significant impact.

Take a moment to observe the curve you’ve created. Notice how it beautifully resembles an S-shape? This widely used S-curve technique is a powerful way to infuse your image with contrast.

Alternatively, start by placing an anchor point at the center. No need to move this point. Now, create a shadow point and move it downwards. As you do this, the highlights automatically adjust and move upwards about the anchor point. By clicking and dragging the center point upwards, you brighten the image and intensify the contrast. For added control, feel free to add more points as needed.

Endpoints and Input

You have the power to move the endpoints of the line in, resulting in a visually stunning effect akin to manipulating the black and white points using Levels. This simple adjustment can make a monumental difference, mainly if most of the tonal information is concentrated in the center of the histogram.

Witness the transformative magic as the black and white points on the Input Slider move to a corresponding position with each nudge of the endpoints. Alternatively, you can effortlessly achieve the same effect by tweaking these sliders.

Add a dash of flair to elevate your creation by applying a slight S-Curve after moving the endpoints. Observe how the newfound contrast enhances your image and intensifies the color saturation.

Reset and Start Over

Hold down the Alt or Option key and click the Reset button instead of Cancel to restart without closing the dialog.

For removing individual points, choose one of three methods. Drag the point off the grid, click on a point, and press Delete or Control/Command+click to remove a point.


Take control of your creative process by saving your curves as presets. Click on the cog icon next to the menu and select “Save Preset” to instantly add your custom Curves preset to the menu.

Curves Adjustment Layer

Experience a more flexible editing approach by utilizing Curves as an Adjustment layer.

Click the split circle icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and select Curves to access the property panel. With the insights you’ve gathered, editing files becomes a breeze. Begin by activating the Auto button and then tailor the curve to enhance contrast and brightness effortlessly.

Sectioning your photo with Curves Adjustment layers

In photography, only some areas of an image require the same adjustments. Luckily, with Curves Adjustment layers, you can easily select different areas to work on and achieve professional-level results.

To start, press L to bring up the Lasso tool or select it from the toolbar. If it’s not the default option, cycle through the alternatives using Shift+L. Set the Feather option to 15px at the top. First, you’ll select the sky. Hold down the Alt/Option key while drawing outside the photo’s edge to ensure that the Feather effect only softens the selection’s edge, not the photo itself. Connect the two ends of the lasso to complete the selection.

Next, create a new Curves Adjustment Layer. Take note of the mask beside the curve, where the top is white, and the bottom is black. This configuration means that your curve will solely affect the top of the image. White indicates the effect is revealed, while black signifies it’s concealed. If needed, use the brush tool to refine the mask by adding or removing elements with a black brush. Shades of gray can also be used as opacity controls.

Now, you have the freedom to edit the curve for the sky separately from the primary curve. One significant advantage of using Curves as an adjustment layer is that you can experiment with extreme curve adjustments, knowing you can always dial it back using the layer’s opacity slider.

In the vast landscape of image editing tools, the Curves Tool in Photoshop shines as a beacon of creative potential. Its ability to manipulate tonal values and color balance empowers photographers and designers to breathe life into their images. By mastering the art of the Curves Tool, you unlock the ability to transform ordinary photographs into captivating visual stories, leaving a lasting impact on your audience. So, delve into the world of Curves Tool, experiment fearlessly, and watch as your images evolve into true masterpieces.

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