How to Use Photoshop Curves to Make Your Photos Pop

Photoshop Curves is one of the most powerful tools for tonal adjustments, whether you want to brighten, darken, add contrast, or shift colors. Yet it’s so complex, many users avoid it. In the tutorial below, photographer Joshua Cripps demonstrates a remarkably simple way to create great color effects using this most enigmatic of adjustment tools:

In this tutorial, Cripps uses just a couple of simple steps to isolate his colors and selectively bring out the hues he’d like to emphasize. Using just two curves adjustment layers, setting them with the targeted adjustment tool, and then masking off any unintended effects with Apply Image, Cripps was able to quickly add color pop to what began as a somewhat ordinary photo.

photo before curves adjustments

Before Curves Adjustments

Targeted Adjustment Tool

And even if you’re somewhat familiar with the Curves tool, you may not have known about the shortcuts Cripps shows us with the Targeted Adjustment Tool (the one that looks like a hand). Simply click and then drag it up to increase an adjustment or down to decrease it.

Apply Image

Another little gem for folks newer to Photoshop was his usage of the Image > Apply Image command to create a mask that duplicated the light and dark areas of his image. One could go years of working with masks and not know this simple time-saving trick.

using curves in photoshop

After Curves Adjustments

Many photographers would never think about creating more tonal separation between colors to heighten an image’s drama, but Cripps uses it to great effect here. His end result has a gentle “pop” to it that just wasn’t there at the beginning.

What do you think? Was the end result worth the adjustment?

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3 Comments

  1. Steven says:

    I didn’t know that little trick with Apply Image, that’s brilliant! Having tried it out, it’s very effective for adding a little saturation and contrast into skies and foliage without causing unwanted colour shifts in shadow and highlight areas. Thanks!

  2. gopal shroti says:

    The small tutorial on curves is very helpful…though I get the effect by other tools….still this one tool is superb.

  3. softserialhq says:

    Yes… its me again!

    That was a great tutorial, and it really is a great way to punch up photos.

    Its especially helpful having almost a two in one tool, to not only up the colours but also add some impact with tasteful contrast.

    Keep the tutorials coming! I continue to use previous tutorial techniques in my processing all the time!

    Thanks!

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