Learn to use Lightroom Tone Curve


To get to grips with Lightroom’s Tone Curve panel and mimic a classic analogue process

Time: 30 minutes

Skill level: Beginner 

Kit needed: Lightroom

The Develop module’s Basic panel is designed to help you reveal an image’s missing tonal details by independently targeting and adjusting Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. This enables you to lighten or darken problematic areas without changing correctly exposed ones. Lightroom’s Tone Curve panel provides you with an additional and effective way to target and tweak specific tones, and you can combine the controls in the Basic and Tone Curve panels to solve any tone-related problems.

These two sets of tone-editing tools can also be used in creative ways to mimic classic processing techniques. In traditional chemical darkrooms, photographers could produce striking and dramatic-looking results by altering the way they developed their negatives. The bleach bypass process created deliberately clipped blacks, blown-out highlights and desaturated colours, and we can use the Tone Curve panel to mimic this analogue processing technique to create a stylised fashion magazine-style portrait.

STEP BY STEP: Hit the bleach


Load TYLR36.dng into the Develop module. In the Basic panel, drag the Temperature slider to the left for a cooler colour palette. The photo is underexposed, so fix this by setting Exposure to +0.60. Darken the hood and eyeliner by dragging Blacks left to -14, then take Vibrance to -20 for a more bleached-out look.


Toggle open the Tone Curve panel. Drag the Highlights slider right to +46. You’ll see that this pushes the top-right section of the curve upwards and brightens the model’s skin. Now drag the Shadows slider left to -53. This makes the black hood and eyeliner even darker, creating a striking contrast with the pale skin and background.


To make sure that we remove more detail in the shadows, click the Show Shadow Clipping icon at the top left of the histogram window. Blue patches will appear on the image to indicate detail-free or ‘clipped’ dark areas. Now drag the Shadow slider further left to -75 in order to increase the bleach bypass-style clipping effect.


Turn off the Shadow Clipping warning so that you can see the blacks more clearly. Now we want to give the whites of the eyes and skin a bit more contrast, so push the Lights slider to +25 and bring the Darks down to -12. Toggling the icon at the top-left of the Tone Curve panel will allow you to see a before-and-after comparison.