Sometimes, you may find your shot’s colours and tones don’t do the subject justice. Take our original image below – the contrast is flat, with little differentiation between shadows and highlights. This creates washed-out tones and drab colours. Shooting in raw gives you great control over tonal changes, especially if using the Photoshop CS Camera Raw editor’s Tone Curve tab.
Using Tone Curves enables you to target and adjust specific tones with great precision. You can change the shape of a curve to remap specific tonal levels and make them lighter or darker.
We’ll show you how using the Tone Curve tab can improve contrast by brightening the highlights and darkening the shadows and midtones of the walls that criss-cross our landscape shot. This enhanced contrast brings out shapes and patterns, and boosts the saturation of the green fields.
How to use Tone Curves to improve contrast and colour
01 Create an S-curve
Open your start image. Click on the Tone Curve tab, then select the Point Curve tab. By default, the ‘curve’ is a straight line. Set the Curve drop-down menu to Strong Contrast – the gentle curve dips near the bottom, darkening the shadows at the left of the histogram. The rise at the top brightens the highlights at the right of the histogram.
02 Remap the tones
Click on the third point from the left – it has an Input of 64 and an Output of 50. Drag the point vertically downwards so that the Input remains the same, but the Output is 29. You’ve remapped the shadows and given them a darker value. Drag the second point from the right upwards, to an Output value of 223. This brightens the highlights.
03 Parametric curves
Point Curves can be tricky to control, leading to blown-out highlights and clipped shadows. Reset the Curve menu to Linear then click on the Parametric tab. This has four handy sliders that break the curve’s tone control up into four zones. Drag Shadows to -36 and Darks to -70. The histogram’s shadows will slide towards the darker tonal regions at the left.
04 Remap highlights
To brighten the weak highlights, drag the Highlights slider right to +48. The highlight pixels on the histogram will slide towards the lighter end of the histogram at the right. Reveal more of he shaded hill’s midtone details by sliding Lights up to +11. The healthier-looking histogram now has a wider spread of tones, and the shot has a stronger contrast.