In this video from our Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD, we will go over how to make adjustments with the Tone Curve in the Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom 4. The Tone Curve allows us to have a little more control when editing our images. In addition, we will go over how to adjust the different channels in the Tone Curve Panel, a feature that was not available in Lightroom 3. We will also show you how to create vintage effects in your images with the different channels in the Tone Curve Panel.

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Understanding the Tone Curve Panel

To expand and collapse the Tone Curve Panel, hit “Ctrl + 2.” On the left side of the Tone Curve, we have our Shadows and on the right side of the Tone Curve, we have our Highlights. What you see with the graph below is where the image tones are resting. In our example, we can see that most of the image tones are in the Shadows, which means that the image is a little dark.


Making Adjustments with the Tone Curve in the Tone Curve Panel

In this article, we will be using the image below as the example for making adjustments with the Tone Curve. As mentioned earlier, we could see that most of the image tones are in the Shadows, indicating that our image is a bit dark.


If we want to pull up the Midtones in this image, we will go to the center of the Tone Curve, click on the curve and then pull the curve up and out. See below for an example.


By pulling up the Midtones on the Tone Curve, we have brightened up our image. This is the same effect as using the Exposure slider in the Basic Panel.


To darken the Shadows in our image, click on the Midtone Shadows area and pull the curve down.



To raise up the deep Shadows in our image, create another point on the Tone Curve in the Blacks and drag the curve up.



If we want to pull down the Highlights in our image, create a point in the Midtone Highlights and pull the point down.



*Some adjustments made to this image are not good by any means. They are merely examples of where to plot the points on the Tone Curve and how these adjustments affect your image.

To adjust the points on the Tone Curve, the Point Curve must be set to “Custom.”


When you click on “Stop Editing Point Curve,” you will not be able to edit the Tone Curve the same way as we have been adjusting the Tone Curve.


Now, when you click on the Tone Curve, an entire section is adjusted as opposed to the individual points. Editing with entire sections rather than editing with individual points gives you less control when making adjustments to your image.


When you stop editing the Point Curve, sliders will also appear underneath the Tone Curve. We recommend that instead of using these sliders in the Tone Curve Panel, use the sliders that are in the Basic Panel. The Basic Panel sliders do the same thing as the Tone Curve Panel sliders, but the Basic Panel sliders are much more powerful.

Adjusting the Channels in the Tone Curve Panel

In Lightroom 4, we now have control over each individual channel in the Tone Curve Panel. In Lightroom 3, we could only control the overall RGB channel and we only had 1 tone curve.


Before we start making changes in the channels, we need to reset the adjustments we previously made. To reset your entire image, hit the “Reset” button at the bottom of the panels on the right side of Lightroom.


Now, we are going to create a good Tone Curve for our image. First, in the RGB Channel, we will pull up the overall exposure and then drop down the Midtone Shadows a little bit to add contrast. Finally, we are going to add a little more of the Highlights so that we get more contrast in the Highlights as well. Your Tone Curve should look similar to the one below.


This is what our image currently looks like with the adjustments we just made.


Next, if there are too much reds, greens or blues in the image, we can switch the Channel to Red, Green or Blue. In our image, we want to pull some of the reds out of the Highlights because the skin looks a little too red. We will switch the Channel to Red and pull down the Tone Curve just a little bit.



As you can see in our image above, there is a little bit too much green now. Switch to the Green Channel and pull the Tone Curve down until we have a nice balance between the red and the green in our image.



Creating Vintage Effects with the Tone Curve

We can also create a vintage look for this image by adding in a little bit of the blues into the Shadows. We can adjust the different Channels in the Tone Curve Panel to get different tone effects in our images, which is something we could not do in Lightroom 3 before.

First, switch to the Blue Channel and pull up the Shadows in the Tone Curve. Next, pull down the Highlights so the skin tone looks more natural.



Next, switch back to the Green Channel and adjust up the greens in the Highlights just a little bit so the skin looks a little more even. Then, pull down the Shadows a little bit so that we have more of the blues and reds appear in the image.



We can also click on “Point Curve,” which is underneath the Tone Curve in the Tone Curve Panel, to access different options for contrast. These custom curves are set up to create either a strong contrast or a medium contrast in our image. In addition, we can also select “Linear” so that we can edit the Tone Curve on our own.


The Point Curve Adjustment Tool

We can also adjust the Tone Curve with the Point Curve Adjustment Tool, which can be found at the top of the Tone Curve Panel.


When you select this tool, you can drag it over a particular area of the image and see where exactly on the point curve you are and what you will be adjusting. For example, if we want to pull up the shadows in the hair, we can left-click on the hair and drag the point up to adjust the Shadows up.

As you can see in our image below, we have selected the Point Curve Adjustment Tool and placed it over her hair. You can see that the points in the Tone Curve have changed as well, since we pulled up the Shadows with the Point Curve Adjustment Curve.


If we want to adjust an area that is too bright, simply click on the area with the Point Curve Adjustment Tool and pull the area down. For example, we are going to darken the shadows in the rock.

As you can see below, we have the Point Curve Adjustment Tool over the rock and the Tone Curve has changed because we pulled down the shadows.


If you create really harsh bends in your Tone Curve, like the one we just created, your image will have some strange effects.



To turn off the entire Tone Curve to see what the image looked like before the Tone Curve adjustments, just flip the switch on the top left of the Tone Curve Panel. You can also use the Before/After shortcut, which is “\” in the Develop Module.


Conclusion & Learn More!

The Tone Curve is a great and easy way to make adjustments to your images. With the different channels in the Tone Curve Panel, we can create certain effects, such as a vintage effect, to our images.

We hope you enjoyed this article and video excerpt from the Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD. Stay tuned for our next article and episode!

The Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD is a 14 hour video workshop turning any Lightroom novice into a complete master of Lightroom 4 in no time! The Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop can be purchased by itself, or within the Lightroom 4 Workshop Collection which also contains our award winning and industry standard Lightroom 4 Preset System, as well as the Lightroom 4 Workflow System.