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Adobe Photoshop: The Complete Guide Bootcamp

Lesson 36 of 118

Editing an Image Using Curves

Ben Willmore

Adobe Photoshop: The Complete Guide Bootcamp

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

36. Editing an Image Using Curves


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
2 Bridge vs. Lightroom Duration:06:39
3 Tour of Photoshop Interface Duration:18:21
4 Overview of Bridge Workspace Duration:07:42
9 Developing Raw Images Duration:30:33
11 How to Save Images Duration:03:37
12 Using the Transform Tool Duration:04:48
14 Selection Tools Duration:05:55
15 Combining Selection Tools Duration:07:37
17 Quick Mask Mode Duration:05:07
18 Select Menu Essentials Duration:21:28
20 Align Active Layers Duration:07:29
21 Creating a New Layer Duration:06:15
22 Creating a Clipping Mask Duration:03:02
23 Using Effects on Layers Duration:11:24
24 Using Adjustment Layers Duration:16:44
25 Using the Shape Tool Duration:04:39
30 Adding Texture to Images Duration:09:11
35 Understanding Curves Duration:06:18
36 Editing an Image Using Curves Duration:18:41
39 Editing with Blending Modes Duration:08:04
40 Color Theory Duration:05:59
41 Curves for Color Duration:16:52
42 Hue and Saturation Adjustments Duration:08:59
44 Match Colors Using Numbers Duration:16:59
45 Adjusting Skin Tones Duration:05:25
52 Clone Between Documents Duration:13:19
53 Crop Tool Duration:10:07
54 Frame Tool Duration:02:59
56 Paint Brush Tools Duration:13:33
57 History Brush Tool Duration:06:27
58 Eraser and Gradient Tools Duration:03:06
60 Blur and Shape Tools Duration:11:06
61 Dissolve Mode Duration:09:24
62 Multiply Mode Duration:15:29
63 Screen Mode Duration:14:08
64 Hard Light Mode Duration:14:54
66 Smart Filters Duration:11:32
67 High Pass Filter Duration:13:40
68 Blur Filter Duration:05:59
69 Filter Gallery Duration:07:42
70 Adaptive Wide Angle Filter Duration:04:43
71 Combing Filters and Features Duration:04:45
72 Select and Mask Duration:20:04
73 Manually Select and Mask Duration:08:08
74 Creating a Clean Background Duration:21:19
75 Changing the Background Duration:13:34
76 Smart Object Overview Duration:08:37
77 Nested Smart Objects Duration:09:55
78 Scale and Warp Smart Objects Duration:09:08
79 Replace Contents Duration:06:55
80 Raw Smart Objects Duration:10:20
83 Panoramas Duration:13:15
84 HDR Duration:11:20
85 Focus Stacking Duration:04:02
86 Time-lapse Duration:11:18
87 Light Painting Composite Duration:08:05
88 Remove Moire Patterns Duration:06:11
89 Remove Similar Objects At Once Duration:09:52
91 Replace a Repeating Pattern Duration:06:50
95 Warping Duration:11:03
96 Liquify Duration:14:02
97 Puppet Warp Duration:12:52
98 Displacement Map Duration:10:36
99 Polar Coordinates Duration:07:19
100 Organize Your Layers Duration:11:02
101 Layer Styles: Bevel and Emboss Duration:02:59
102 Layer Style: Knockout Deep Duration:12:34
103 Blending Options: Blend if Duration:13:18
105 Layer Comps Duration:08:30
106 Black-Only Shadows Duration:06:07
109 Create an Antique Color Action Duration:13:52
110 Create a Contour Map Action Duration:10:20
111 Faux Sunset Action Duration:07:20
112 Photo Credit Action Duration:05:54
113 Create Sharable Actions Duration:07:31
117 Scratch Disk Is Full Duration:06:02
118 Preview Thumbnail Duration:02:10

Lesson Info

Editing an Image Using Curves

So let me show you how to think about curves by working on some images. And when we do, we're gonna end up using adjustment layers because that's when they become when curves becomes dramatically more useful. So just in case you haven't used an adjustment player, let me introduce those to you first. Then we'll start learning how to think about curves and apply it to images, and I think that's when you'll get excited about what it offers. So in my layers panel, I'll go to the bottom. I'll click on the adjustment layer icon, and I'm going to choose, not curves right now just because I want to talk about adjustment layers. First, I'm gonna choose a choice called Black and White, which would take all the color out of my picture. I'm just choosing adjustment. That's obvious, then. This is an adjustment layer. It's an adjustment sitting in its own layer, and it's a Ziff. You're standing at the top of the layers panel looking down, and you're looking through the adjustment layer, and it is ch...

anging your view of what's underneath. In this case, it's a black and white adjustment layer, so as you look through it. The color information that's found underneath can't be seen because it's absorbing all that color. Well, when you have an adjustment layer like that, remember, I went to this icon half black and half white circle to create it. You also get a mask, which is this white box, and we have a separate lesson about layer masks, which is what this is. And so if you haven't seen that lesson, you might want to look for it. It's part of the complete guide, and I'm gonna come here and grab my paintbrush tool. Since we already have white in the mask, I'm going to switch the color on painting with to make sure it's black. There's a little double arrow here I can click on to do that. And now, wherever I paint with black, it's gonna remove my adjustment. And so therefore, the image will come back to full color. So I'm gonna come in here and just paint where I want your I toe look. And if I released my boss button and you look in the layers panel, you'll see the black paint that I'm applying. It's only showing up in the layers panel when I released the mouse button, because it just is trying to make sure photo shop is speedy when I'm painting and that it's not trying to update things which could slow it down. So here I'll let go again and you'll see the layers panel update. But when I paint with black, the main thing is, is I'm removing the adjustment, preventing it from applying wherever it is I'm painting. Therefore, I can only get it in certain areas of my picture. And so we're gonna end up using adjustment layers when we're applying curves, because then afterwards, I can paint with Black to indicate where I don't want it to be applied. And so I'm going to remove this adjustment layer by dragging it to the trash. I just clicked on its name, dragged into the trash, and let's start using curves and see what we can do with this picture. And we can also, if you'd like, use brightness and contrast in levels because there are also available as adjustment layers. So, for instance, brightness and contrast, What I would like to do is dark in this area right here. Well, in brightness and contrast, how do I do that I have a brightness control, and when I move it, it darkens everything. It doesn't allow me to target this area, to be specifically precise about it. Or I would like to make this area the difference in brightness between that area and the area that's behind it in space mawr similar to each other, that would be lowering the contrast between those two areas. I do have a contrast control here in brightness and contrast. The problem with it is it thinks the difference between a bright area in a dark area is 50% gray. Anything brighter than that is considered a bright area. Anything darker than that is considered a dark area. Well, what if this area and this area were both darker than 50%? Great. Well, if that was the case, I don't think it is. But if it waas adjusting contrast would cause both of those areas to brighten or darken. The main thing is, I don't have any control here to say, How can I get those two areas more similar in the same is true. If I throw away this adjustment layer and I come in here and use levels in levels. How do I tell it to darken this in Brighton that specifically I have a slider over here on the right, which will brighten everything, force more years, toe white. We got the middle one, which will brighten and dark and everything. But the relationship between those two areas will remain the same. Let's throw that away. It's on Lee when you get into curves that suddenly you have control. The key, though, to using curves is to always have the little hand icon turned on. You can just click on it, and as long as it's got a dark background, it's turned on. But I use it every single time. I use curves, so if you go to the upper right of curves, there's a little side menu you can access right here in one of the choices in there is auto select targeted adjustment tool. That's what the hand is called. It's the targeted adjustment tool. So if I turn that on now, if I go back to the side menu, you'll find a check box next to it to indicate it's on. That means every single time I ever get into curves, the hand icon will be turned on automatically. What the hand icon does is if it wasn't turned on, then you could have whatever tool you previously were using over here in your tools panel active. And if you move your mouse on top, your image. That's what it would be thinking about. Clicking on that icon means Let's de select whatever tool was previously active in our tools panel, so that now we have something specific to curves active. And now you come out here into the image and I want this to be more similar to that in brightness. All I gotta do is move my mouse over this area. If you looking curves, do you see a circle in that circles moving? If I move my mouse around well, that indicates exactly how much light is in this area. And if I click the mass but watch what happens to that circle, it just turned into a little dot. That's like adding a dimmer switch on your wall that's going to control how bright that area is, where my mouse is. I'm gonna also move my mouse to the darker area behind, and I'm gonna click, and now I have the equivalent to two dimmer switches. Those dimmer switches air telling me how much light was in those two areas. And so if I come in here and look, you can tell that one area was brighter, cause this is higher. It's like in your kitchen having the dimmer switch turn really high, just not all the way as high as it could go. And then the other area is using less light because it's dimmer. Switches lower. Well, all we need to do to get those two areas toe look identical is to get those two dots to be the exact same height. And if I were to move this dot up to get there, it's like taking a dimmer switch and moving it up. You're gonna brighten things war. I could take this, not instead and move it down to the same height as the other. Well, if you take a dimmer switch and you move it down, what happens to use less light and things get darker or I could meet somewhere halfway, move the upper one down and the lower went up. That's going to make the brighter is get darker because I'm moving. It's dimmer switch down and the darker areas get brighter. It's your choice. Just look at the image and say, If you wanted those two areas to look more similar, would you do it by darkening this part or bright Ning that I think I dark in this? So I'm just gonna pull this down. It's the same height as the other, but then we got to just get rid of this little part here that loops down. So I'll add 1/3 dot Try to get him now. Do you see that these areas are identical? It's not that that's what I needed. I wanted less of a difference between the two. I don't need them to be identical. So let's put this back up there and I'll just watch it as I just to say Okay, somewhere around there, they're starting to look more similar. All right, let's just start working on this image and I'll show you the way I think about curves in general, most the time in curves. If I want to brighten or darken something, I use one dot I click on the object that I want to broaden your darkened and I think in my mind. I have a dimmer switch and I move it up. If I want Brighton down if I want to darken when I do that, though the entirety of the curve is gonna move up or down in. So afterwards I'll end up painting on the mask with black to say I don't want it to affect these areas. And therefore I can limit what part of the image we're working on. If, on the other hand, I want detailed toe pop out of the image, not just brighten or darken something, but have detail jump out, then I'm gonna be adding two dots on my curve. Ah, look at whatever object it is that I'd like to detail to pop out on. And I'll add one dot on the bright part of that object in one dot on the dark part of that object. And then I'm going to make them more dramatically different height. So let's see how that works. So first I want to brighten something. If you look in the right side of this photograph, you see one little bitty chick over there all by itself. Well, I want it to be brighter than it currently is. So I'll go over here and do curves adjustment layer that hand tools turned on automatically because we have auto select target adjustment tool turned on. I'm just gonna come all right over to it. I'm gonna click, and now it's like, have a dimmer switch in my hand. I'm gonna pull it straight up. I'm ignoring the rest of the picture. Just looking at that chick in bringing it up until I like its brightness. Let's say right about there. But now if you look at the curve we're ending up with you, see a dot that was added to the curve right here. That's the data added. It's working on whatever was this brightness level and it's brightening it up. But the rest of the curve changed along with it. So now I grab my paintbrush tool and I'm gonna paint with black wherever I didn't want that to happen. So wherever I paint with black, the image goes back and in fact, I'm gonna paint across the entire picture because then I can just zoom up on the chick in paint with white because whites, what allows the adjustment to apply, and then I can come in. Just say OK wherever I paint here, where should apply, and I can get it exactly how it like I'm not gonna be as precise as I usually would be with painting, because I just takes more time and I want you to learn about curves instead of just learning that I'm a good painter. Zoom out, command zero. Just zoom out controls in windows. Now, if that's too bright now that I've painted it in, all I have to do is either go here in curves and grab the DOT that's already there and pull it straight up and down. It's a dimmer switch, so it works just like a dimmer at home. There we go. And then, if I turn off the eyeball for the adjustment layer, here's before there's after the other way I could have lessened. This is instead of adjusting the curve that's here, I could lower the opacity of the adjustment layer. This means how strongest the adjustment gonna be when it's at 100%. I get 100% of what I dialed in, uh, in when it's less than you get less than what you asked for. So I could have lowered the opacity instead. Now let's work on other areas. In this case, I now want your attention to go over here. And I'm gonna do that by making the detail that is in this guy jump out. Usually the way you make the detail in something jump out. Did you get a greater difference between the bright and dark areas? So I'm gonna do a new curves adjustment layer that hand tools turned on and I'm going to click on two parts of this. I'm gonna look for which area do I want the detail to pop out in? And I'm thinking about kind of this area, so I'm gonna add two dots, one for the dark part of that area. But I didn't mean toe get what I just did. I accidentally had two fingers on my track pad, which made it have a little ah, dialogue, Papa. And then I'm gonna go for the bright area. So now I have two dots, those air to dimmer switches, and I just want to make the difference in height between the two more dramatic. If I move the upper of the two dots straight up, that's gonna take the brighter area and brighten it more. Ignore everything except for the bird. Then if I want to, I don't have to. But if I want to, I could take the dark area and bring it down to make it even darker. But I don't think that's gonna help. It's dark enough then I didn't want that to affect the entire picture. So I'm going to fill this mask with black to say, Get it off my picture Because any part of a layer mask that's black prevents the adjustment from applying. One way of getting a mask that's already existing to turn black is to choose this command that makes a negative out of something. So if it used to be white, it'll be black. And if it used to be black, it will be white. And now I grab my paintbrush painting with white, and I paint in the change wherever it is. I wanted it, so I wanted your eye to be drawn right over in here, so I paint that in. I could bring it up here to It'll probably work fine. He's got to be careful right now. I have a soft edged brush And if I get too close to the edge of the picture or used too large of a brush, I'll get a little glow around him. So I just need to be precise with where I paint. I'm gonna hide this adjustment layer by turning off its eyeball. There's before going back on theirs after you see the detail just pop out of that thing. How did I do that? Any time we want the detail pop out, I add two dots to my curve. I look at whatever object it is or area where I want the detail to pop, and I added out for the darkest part of that and another dot for the brightest and I'll get two dots. Then I'm gonna make him or dramatically different in brightness. And if you move the upper dot up, you're gonna brighten that part, move the lower dot down you're gonna dark in that part depends on the picture. As far as what should be done. Just look at the image and say, Would this thing need to be darkened? Or would it need to be brightened? And if I glance at it, it's dark enough in the dark areas. There was no need to move anything down. All right, then there's a check over here on the side. My eye goes to it, and I don't want to. I want to make it harder to see that. Make it harder to see the detail. So I'm gonna create a curves adjustment layer, and we're gonna do the opposite of what we did to the main character in here. I'm gonna add two dots again. One to the dark area of that object, one to the bright area of the object. And I'm now going to make them more similar to each other. That means we have two dots. The higher dot is for the brighter area. Lower dot is for three darker area, and I want to get him closer to the same height. If I made it exactly the same height, we just have a gray area. We wouldn't have any variation. So I look at this little guy, the chick there, and I say, would I like to darken it or brighten it? To accomplish this? I don't think I need to darken it. It's already close to black in the darkest areas. So it's the bright areas that I want to darken up. That means go for the higher, not hire means mawr light. Remember, it's like a dimmer switch. So grab that higher dot Just pull it straight down. If I move it to the left or right, it all it's by accident. That would be like going in your kitchen and grabbing for the light switch that controls the light above your sink and you accidentally grab the one for the hallway. You're not going to get what you expected. You always want to add a dot and if you're going to move it most the time you were straight up or down. So I've done that. I don't want it to affect the entire picture. So I want the mask to turn black so it doesn't apply anywhere. I use this command right here so often that I use the keyboard shortcut command I on the Mac control I am Windows. I'm gonna type that. That means invert. Then I would grab my paintbrush and I'm gonna paint right on that guy. And if I hide the adjustment layer, here's before See how he jumped out. There's after now. He's kind of disappearing, and it's just a little too much. I could either back off on the curves adjustment or go up here to my opacity slider in lower it toe. Lessen the effect. Good enough. But what we're doing here is we're adding contrast if we make it steeper between two dots and we're reducing contrast if we're making them similar and height. But unlike using brightness and contrast, the adjustment with brightness and contrast, it's thinking about specific brightness levels all the time. Like 25% gray is a let's say, highlight in 75%. Gray is a shadow, and you can't have it deviate from those. But here we get to plug in exactly what should be brightened in exactly what should be darkened. So we look at an object when we say, Let's look at the bright area of it in the dark area. Add dots for it. Neither make it steeper between the two to make the detail pop out or make it more similar to make it harder to see the detail. So lots of things I could do here I want a dark in the road that's in the distance, so curves adjustment layer. If it's just darkening. One dots fine, just one dot pull straight down, then I don't want it to apply to the entire image. So I typed command. I remember that's invert control. I am windows. I grabbed my brush, and if I paint with white, I can paint in the change and I can darken up that road. You just have to be careful with your painting, which I'm not doing right now, because I'm trying to get you to learn about curves, not about how to paint. But now if I hide that adjustment, turn it back on, you can see the darkening effect, and I could just be more careful with my painting to be better at it. So there's all sorts of things we can do with curves, but it's my favorite adjustment. It does take a while to get used to, but I think it's really worth it.

Class Description

All individual classes that make up this bootcamp are also available here for individual purchase.


  • Develop an understanding of how Photoshop works
  • Create your ideal workspace
  • Configure the essential preference settings
  • Set up Adobe Bridge and Lightroom for optimal integration with Photoshop
  • Navigate multiple images seamlessly


Adobe® Photoshop® 2020 is a feature-rich creative force, perfect for turning raw ideas into audience-wowing images. With Ben Willmore as your guide, you can master it faster than you think and take on a new decade of projects.

Ben takes you step-by-step through Adobe Photoshop 2020 as only he can. With an easy pace and zero technobabble, he demystifies this powerful program and makes you feel confident enough to create anything. This class is part of a fully-updated bundle – complete with 2020 features and more efficient ways to maximize the tools everyone uses most.

Whether you’re a 20-year designer or you’re opening the app for the first time, this is the perfect way to learn and love using Photoshop. From retouching to masking to troubleshooting, Ben unpacks all the essentials and hidden gems, while giving you real-world examples to drive each lesson home. By the end of the class, you’ll feel eager to make serious magic with Photoshop 2020.


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)


Noel Ice

I am an avid reader of photoshop books, and an avid watcher of photoshop tutorials. I have attended (internet) several hundred of presentations. In the course of this endeavor, I have found my own favorite photoshop websites and instructors. Creative Live is probably the bargain out there as well as among the top three internet course sites. I have to say with great enthusiasm that the best Photoshop instructor is Ben Willmore. There are many great ones, but truly, he is the best I have come across, and, as indicated above, I have watched literally 100s of tutorials on Photoshop. I have seen all of Ben's courses, I think, and among them, this one is the best by far, and that is saying a lot, because that makes this course the best course on Photoshop to be found anywhere. I am going back and watching it twice. Not only is it comprehensive, but Ben is so familiar with his subject that he is able to explain it like no other. This is crème de la crème of Photoshop classes. I have been wanting to write this review for some time because I have been so thoroughly impressed with everything about this class!

a Creativelive Student

Wow. I cannot communicate the value of this course!! The true value in this course is how the instructor identifies workflows you'll need before you'll ever realize it, repeats important information without it becoming annoying, and explains the "why" behind the techniques so well that even if you forget the exact method, you can figure it out via the principles learned. Excellent value, excellent material, excellent instructor!!!


The short lessons makes it easy to find things. Clear explanations, structured content, great examples, handbook plus practice images - this class is worth x10 the price! I have seen many of Ben's classes and I'm so happy you created this one, love it