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Posts tagged “Photoshop Curves

Using Curves Adjustment Layers to Get Rid of Shadows and Highlights

This may be my very favorite method of evening out an images tonality. Usually I am not shooting during the Golden Hours and my images have a lot of bright spots in the highlights or huge and dark shadows. The following technique may not cure all the problems, but it can certainly help draw the eye to other areas so the picture is saved. I learned this great technique from David Nightingale‘s CreativeLIVE course called Dramatic Post-Processing. (Check out David’s Photoblog – he has some great images posted. Also check CreativeLIVE for other interesting courses – the site has free live broadcasts running around the clock on a variety of topics.) He sometimes uses as many as 20 Curves Adjustment Layers to fine-tune an image. My image above used three. This is Navajo Horsehair Pottery by Matt Vail, a Navajo potter and artist (unfortunately he does not have a website but sells his wares with a vendor at the local Native American Festivals held around the country), who uses the golden sunset colors  Each piece is hand-etched. The horse hair is from the mane and tail that burns when it touches the hot pottery leaving a light stain cooked into it. This makes unique patterns on each piece. The colors are absolutely beautiful, and I actually bought the purple and gold one in the center. Some have turquoise added to the pottery and can be quite expensive.

Let’s start with my pottery image that had too many highlights issues.

1.  Add a Curves Adjustment Layer (click on half moon icon at bottom of Layers Panel and select Curves) and click on the Adjustment Eyedropper Tool icon in the upper left of the panel under the word Preset. This creates an eyedropper that can be used for sampling the image.

2. With the eyedropper active, click on the part of your image with a problem area. In the case of my pottery image, the front red and blue pottery piece near the blue ring where the highlights are blown out was sampled in the top left image below. If a shadow needs to be lightened, sample the dark area of the shadow, but only choose one area at a time. A white point will appear on the Curves Adjustment Layer showing the point that was sampled with the eyedropper on the straight diagonal line curve.

3. Underneath the RGB curve there is an Input field  and an Output field showing the same number relating to this point on the curve.

4. Move the Adjustment Eyedropper Tool back over the image again. As you move over the image, a little white circle moves up and down on the curve diagonal line showing what tone is under the tool. The numbers in the Input/Output fields are also changing as you move over the different parts of your image. This time just hover over an area that represents the new tone and/or color for the blown-out highlights or deep shadow areas, but do not click! Look at the new Input/Output number and remember it – this is the number to be placed in the Output field.

5. Unfortunately once you click back in the Curves panel, the field spaces disappear. To open them up, place your cursor over the white point so it turns into a cross hair and click on it – the fields will open up. In the Output field enter the new number from Step 4. There will now be a rounded curve with a new white point shown – although if the numbers have very different amounts, the curve may turn into very straight lines. You can always manually adjust the curve to get the effect needed, even adding extra points or sample again. Sometimes it is necessary to create two Curves Adjustment Layers and increase the tone in two different steps. For my pottery image a whitish color located in my purple and yellow pot was used for the Output field. To toggle between the Input and Output fields, just press TAB.

6. Fill the Curves Adjustment Layer mask black (by clicking inside it and pressing CTRL+I) and with a low opacity (like 12-30%) soft white brush, paint in the areas that need the new tone applied. Just build up the area until it blends in nicely with the other parts of your image.

The Curves Adjustment Layer technique can be used as many times as needed on different parts of your image. And the Curves can always be adjusted after-the-fact by clicking on the Curve icon in the Layers Panel – your settings will reappear. If you want to see a larger view of the image below, click on it for Flickr view.

The bottom row of images above is changing the Red Curve to darken the foreground tablecloth color. To do this, just open up the RGB field drop-down and find the color to blend in. You can manually change the curve or you can use the Eyedropper and place the point on the Red Curve, then find the output color number. This can be done using all three color channel curves and the Info panel, but it can get a little tricky. I use a Curves Adjustment Layer when I just need a small color change as shown above where the Red Channel Curve was manipulated. If a large color shift is required, the Hue/Saturation or Selective Color Adjustment Layers are easier to use.

Here are what the curves with the Input and Output fields included looked like for the two changes above. The white parts in the Curve Layer Masks are the areas being affected by the change. (White reveals and black conceals.) Click on the image below for a larger view in Flickr.

This technique can be used on a landscape as well as close-ups or portraits. It can really improves an image using very subtle changes and it is easy to do once you get the hang of it. This is one of the reasons that Curves in Photoshop is so powerful. Some people actually take their images into Photoshop just for this blending feature as Lightroom and ACR’s Tone Curves can not be manipulated like this. If you cannot get it matching completely, create a New Layer and just sample and paint with a low opacity brush to finish the clean up – see Getting Rid of Those Blown Out Areas in Your Image. (Just to give credit where it is due, the pottery image used Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Adjust 5’s Spicify preset and Topaz Detail 3 – best sharpening program around. Kim Klassen’s beautiful textures Desert at 78% layer opacity and Archived Set-printed set to Hard Light blend mode at 70% layer opacity. Sign up for Kim’s newsletter and get several of her beautiful textures including the Archived texture used on top in the above.)
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My images taken at the 24th Annual Native American Festival in Ormond Beach, Florida, were all taken in very bright sunlight at around high noon so there were heavy shadows everywhere and lots of strong highlights. This next image of a large stuffed brown bear was another example where two Curves Adjustments Layers were applied to get more detail and to even out the coloring of the fur.
Topaz Detail 3 was applied using the Overall Medium Detail II preset and the Tone preset Skin Brightening II (check out the new drop-downs on the right side panel sections). Next a Curves Adjustment Layer sampling the dark area as an Input Amount (8) on the right side shoulder and using a setting from the chest for the Output amount (28). The Curves layer mask was filled with black by clicking inside and pressing CTRL+I to make it black. Then the shadow areas were slowly built using a white brush at 30% opacity. Since this was such a drastic change as can be seen in the before and after above, a second Curves Adjustment Layer was applied again sampling roughly the same area, but this time the Input Amount was 29 (close to the Output Amount with first curve) and an Output amount of 56 was used. This does not have to be exact. But you can really see the shadows and color open up! Another Curves Adjustment Layer was applied but for colors, not tone. The Red Channel Curve was pulled up slightly to return some of the reddish tone to the image. A Levels Adjustment Layer was applied and the contrast was increased slightly with the Output Level set to 34 to add a softer, more hazy look to the image. The Sharpen Tool was used on the eyes and mouth areas just a little. 2 Lil’ Owls Mosaic Set Aveline texture (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link), a basic light cream color, was set to Multiply blend Mode and layer opacity. Next French Kiss’s free Glorious Grunge Edging Overlay was added. A red color from the skin was sampled in yet another Color Adjustment Layer to get the matching red color. I also created both a Darken and a Lighten layer following my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog to finish up.

These Curves are major powerful and it is definitely worth time to try them out – it can totally save an image. I use this method at least half the time when processing my images – most people do not take the time to learn how to do this and their images look like it. Give it a try and see if you don’t immediately see improvements in your images!…..Digital Lady Syd


My 100th Post! – My Favorite Things About Photoshop

Since I have reached this major milestone, I decided this week I would show a few examples of what I use the most in Photoshop and what is the most fun for me when using Photoshop. In some of these cases, I will be mentioning certain products or people but that is mainly because I really like what they do – they do not know me. Also, no external plug-ins will be discussed here.

Several things were done in Photoshop to process this image of a sailboat model of the USS Constitution located at The Casements in Ormond Beach, Florida. The most important is that a 32-bit tone-mapped image was created in Photoshop’s Merge to HDR, saved as a TIFF file, and then brought into Lightroom 4.1’s Develop module using the sliders to bring out all the details. This now makes Photoshop’s HDR processing on par with several of the other HDR software programs. The TIFF image goes back into Photoshop to finish up using another one of my favorite tools – Puppet Warp – to straighten out the extreme warping in the original image (it was actually applied twice). It was a difficult image to work on since it has a square glass encasement and the horizontal louvered blinds in the background. Just using the arrow keys is sometimes enough to push and pull the image pins the correct amount and Puppet Warp works much better than Lens Correction or the new Adaptive Wide Angle filters for me. Puppet Warp can be used in a Smart Object for readjusting later if needed.

I am slowly really getting into textures – they just do so much for a boring image. The texture above was created using one of the best panels you can apply to Photoshop and that is Dr. Brown’s (may be the top Photoshop guru of all time and works for Adobe) Paper Texture Panel – biggest time saver for anyone that likes to experiment with textures! This is one feature I use all the time and can’t believe I used to go through my textures individually to try them out. To really enhance this process, create a folder on your desktop that contains several sub-folders to place copies of your favorite textures. He recommends keeping these folders to around 20 textures as it takes a while to load if it is much bigger. I have sub-folder on textures I created, my favorite textures I use all the time, and a few on textures I have downloaded or bought. You can switch folders very quickly in the panel. This image used Paul Grand’s Scratches Texture and Gavin Hoey’s beautiful grunge frame 1. I am also putting a plug in here for my favorite texture guy, ShadowHouse Creations, who offers all kinds of beautiful textures for free, and I use them all the time. I reference his textures in many of my older blogs.


Those wonderful brushes in Photoshop! My very first blog featured the above image where I actually used a Photoshop Mixer Brush to paint in the petals of the flowers. This is still one of my favorite painted images – the Oleander flowers in the original were not near as pretty. The background was a Karen Sperling texture called 08Sperling (I believe this now has to be purchased – not sure how I got it) that added was a very delicate complement to the image. She is actually a Corel Painter Master and does some wonderful things in that program.

Totally indispensable! The last step I always do before I save an image. A few months ago I viewed a short video tutorial at Kelby Training called Mastering Curves: Adjusting Tonality by Ben Wilmore, another great Photoshop guru, who teaches how to use Curves correctly. (I have found the Kelby Training tutorials to be the best you can find on every aspect of photography and photoshop.) The basic thing to know about Curves is that by selecting the hand tool in the top left of the adjustment panel and dragging straight up in the image it lightens it up, and down darkens it. If you get two dots close and rather flat on a Curve line, you will lose detail.  A black layer mask can be created to target just the areas you want changed. It is a pretty simple technique but can improve an image quickly. Also you can save Curve settings if you want to apply them again. The image above of the beautiful birds in the Spring at the Rookery used several Curves Adjustment Layers to match the tones for the composite.

I have been using this Double Edge Frame layer style a lot on my images – gives a nice clean look with colors that can be sampled from the image. Also plain black borders can easily be created. To download this layer style for free or directions on how to create it, see my blog referenced above. There are many other uses for layer styles that I love, but I use the frames the most. Also a couple textures were added here with Dr. Brown’s Paper Texture Panel.


I love the way you can go back in and fix your settings if you do not like the way they look. Most of the plug-ins I use have Smart Object capability and this is why I use them. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back into Nik’s Viveza 2 and adjusted my control points! Just another great Photoshop feature. The image above of the Hilton Time Share swimming pool on the Big Island in Hawaii used Smart Objects for both the Nik HDR Efex Pro using Granny’s Attic preset and Viveza 2. Also two Curves Adjustment Layers were used.

I could go on and on about all my favorite features I love. The above are some of the ones I use the most. I thought about writing on the new Defringe section in Lightroom 4.1 and Adobe Camera Raw that works wonders on this problem – better than any of the noiseware software available for controlling the ugly fringe problem. The new sliders in both are much improved and both now do a great job on reducing noise too. Also the Graduated Filter is much improved. Back in Photoshop I love being able to use LAB mode to sharpen some of my images selectively. Content-Aware tools cannot be beat but I still use the plain old Clone Tool the most. And the improved Sharpen Tool is fabulous for those little areas that need a detail boost. I even love the Color Replacement Tool that hardly no one uses! And all the blend modes just add so much to an image. Needless to say, there is a lot to like about Photoshop and so many ways to do things. I guess the real fun is learning new ways to use it and that is why I blog! Hope you have enjoyed some of what I have learned these past couple years!…..Digital Lady Syd