Adobe Lightroom: Understanding the Tone Curve

By |2018-12-05T19:06:48+00:00Dec 5th, 2018|

Like many of you, I’ve been an Adobe Lightroom user since the wee early beta days and I remember how wide-eyed I was when I saw all of the tools built specifically for photographers to use with their images. If you’re like me, you’ve also found which tools in the Develop module you gravitate to the most. I’m a big fan of the Split Toning module and use it all the time. Dehaze, a relatively new addition, also sits high on my list. But, there is one utility that I love more than any other because of how ridiculously powerful it is. That utility is the Tone Curve.

Admittedly, I often skipped right over the Tone Curve module In my early days using Lightroom, mostly because I had no idea how to use it. However, once I took the time to experiment and learn about its versatility and capabilities, I can’t imagine working without it. That’s why I created this video. I want to show you why there is no reason to skip over the Tone Curve by walking you through how I use it. Give it a view or two and then start playing around with the Tone Curve. The more you do, the quicker you’ll understand how powerful it is. And if you have any questions, just leave them in the comments section.

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21 Comments

  1. sharlotte December 5, 2018 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you! Enjoyed the video and I learned something new!

    • Brian Matiash December 5, 2018 at 8:28 pm - Reply

      My pleasure! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed it! :)

  2. billiem December 6, 2018 at 11:00 am - Reply

    I use the tone curve but have not thought about using it with the color channels. Thanks for the tutorial.

  3. Doug December 6, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Helpful video. Thanks for posting. Why not put the fixed points on the part of the curve that you do not want to change before you start making the changes on other points? That way you do not have to go back and try to bring them back to the neutral curve.

  4. Sheila Reeves December 6, 2018 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Wow! I will be using this technique a lot!

  5. André Larochelle December 6, 2018 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this instructive video. I never tried the color chanel of the Tone and Curve and will shurely try it in the future.

  6. kimsun December 6, 2018 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    very please learn a lot. thank-you.

  7. jbmotohead December 6, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    So why use the tone curve for aggregate RGB exposure adjustments instead of the exposure slider for mid tones and the shadows and highlights sliders for their corresponding tones? Sure, I get the control over specific colors associated with tones, but don’t see how the tone curve does anything for overall tone adjustment in the shadows, mid tones and highlights that those exposure sliders don’t do.

  8. Cliff Threadgold December 6, 2018 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    Great Video Brian, I have used S curves for a long time but never tried in separate colours. Will be trying for sure!

  9. Ineke van Iersel December 6, 2018 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    hi Brian
    why do you not anchor the midtones and highlights before changing for example the green channel,?

  10. Cheryl Nancarrow December 6, 2018 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Excellent video, thanks. I learnt heaps, especially with the colour chanels.

  11. Kevin Miller December 6, 2018 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Very helpful and easy to follow. Long term LR/PS user but only have dabbled in curves. Thank you very much.

  12. Randy Kahn December 6, 2018 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    I appreciate your explaining how to use the tone curve, and I learned much where it involved the color channels. But a couple of things. One is that I don’t see how you can set the black and white points of the photo in the tone curve panel unless you do it in the Basic panel with the black and white sliders in conjunction with the histogram. Second is that the regions on the tone curve (shown when clicking on the little box in the bottom right corner) show the shadows and highlights regions on the ends, with the darks and lights regions in the middle, opposite of what you stated. Or is that a case of semantics?

  13. Betty Girardeay December 6, 2018 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Wow! Brian, this was wonderful. I never knew about the RGB aspects of the curve and what that would do. I had just be taught about the white, black, and midtones of using the curve. This was awesome. I loved what you did with the portrait particularly. Really amazing. Thank you!

  14. Paul B Peters December 6, 2018 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    Brian — great video! I have just started working more with the tone curve tool in the last couple of weeks and and now thanks to you, I have a fabulous tutorial to review time and time again.

  15. Christopher Boles December 6, 2018 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    Thank you for a great explanation of the tone curve. A couple of thoughts, what about moving the heel and toe points across the top and bottom (ie left or right) instead of up and down to flatten the contrast? What happens then? Are there 10 points on the tone curve like a 10 point zone of black to white?

  16. David Johnson December 6, 2018 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    Great timing on your video! Like you, I mostly by-passed this tool because it’s one more edit to make to your photos, and I try to cut down on time as much as possible. However, I experimented on a few pictures, and the results are dramatic and well-worth the time. You can take pictures you may not have thought were flat and make them much richer in tone and color. I’m going to play with it a bit more and include them on my presets to save time. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. Bruce Fisher December 7, 2018 at 6:46 am - Reply

    Thanks! Finally understand the Tone Curve tool.

  18. Harry Who December 7, 2018 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Thank you, I actually never used the Tone Curve in that detailed manner. Bravo, now I can reduce those red tint from my Nikon D750 Images without going to PS. :)

  19. Philip K Webb December 7, 2018 at 10:12 am - Reply

    Extremely interesting and very worthwhile. The Newspaper I worked for went into the Digital world very early in the early days of digital photography around 35 years ago. I had to teach myself as I went-along. Very few manuals then, and most were poorly written. I used curves then, stayed up many nights with them. The explanations of them did not exist or very unclear. It was teach yourself, and hope you did it right. Your explanation here would have been a go-sent back in the “old days” of digital. As a very senior citizen retired
    old timer your activity in these directions do a lot to modernist my ways. Many May Thinks.

  20. Stan Hooper December 8, 2018 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tutorial. I’d used the tone curve panel very little but knew mostly how it worked, but you added a few pointers that expanded my knowledge so that I’ll use it more often. There is one favorite image that I already plan on improving with tone curve. I know it’s an issue of personal preference, but when you made adjustments with the Ashley photo, it seemed to me that the face was blown out a bit too heavily with highlights and some of he facial details were lost in that process. Again, it’s probably a personal preference, but I would have left the face a bit darker, more like the original exposure.

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