Getting Behind It: Deke and the Photoshop Curves Command

For those of you who’ve seen Deke’s awesome live-action video explaining the Photoshop Curves command, check out the short video above from our good friend Mordy Golding, in which Mordy captures some of the green screen magic behind-the-scenes in the recording studio.

Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Advanced by Deke McClelland

If you haven’t seen Deke’s video, go watch it! Deke actually climbs inside a Photoshop feature. It’s like his dream is coming true, and you reap the benefits of a very illustrative explanation of a very complex Photoshop feature: Curves. 

The Photoshop Curves command is the most complex of the luminance controls in Photoshop, meaning—if you can brave it—you’ll get fine control over shadows, highlights, midtones, quarter-tones, three-eighth tones, (you get the picture tones) in your image. But using Curves takes some foreknowledge, which is why Deke made the first four movies of the Curves chapter (aka Chapter 26) in his Photoshop CS6 One-on-One course free to all. (The folk at actually unlock 10 percent of every course, and we asked them to spend a concentrated amount of that 10 percent on “unlocking” the Curves feature.)

When should you intrepidly wander into the land of Curves? Basically, when the job at hand is too much for Brightness/Contrast or the Levels command. Read on to see what I mean:

For instance, let’s say you had this black and white image and really wanted to make it relentlessly rich from a luminance point of view (it’s a bit high-key at the moment):

You could try a Brightness/Contrast adjustment:   

You could try a Levels Adjustment: 

But with Curves you’re not limited to the two sliders available in Brightness/Contrast or the three tonal point controls (Black, Gamma, White) in Levels. With Curves, the whole Histogram is your playground, allowing you to map any luminance level to any new luminance level, and curving the itinerant transitions around those settings. The result is this image Deke likes to call “unambiguous.” 

To get a sense of the Curves contribution, compare the model’s hair detail and the fur on her jacket color in each photo. So there’s your real answer: rely on Photoshop Curves when your needs and desires for luminance control are unambiguous. 

Other stuff to put off dealing with Monday:

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 193: Drawing an ISOTYPE Couple in Love in Illustrator

Previous entry:Turning Universal Woman into Universal Martini, or Happy Hour Courtesy of Illustrator’s Transform Ef


Share your feedback, work, homages, questions, wisecracks, advice, critiques, riffs, derision (within reason), frustrations, and love of all things graphical. Log in (or register) to lend your voice.