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Give your raw images an amazing tonal range with Camera Raw Curves

Added on Sunday 27th of May 2007 01:45 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS2

Operating System:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Photoshop CS2’s Camera Raw default settings generally do an adequate job of initially adjusting a RAW file image—but adequate isn’t good enough for your image. By using the Curves function, you can fine-tune your images and match the original scene to your screen.


To demonstrate how to fine-tune your images with the Camera Raw Curve control, we’ll:

     Describe how to analyze the default Camera Raw settings and how they affect your image’s tonal balance.

     Explain how the Curve option offers more flexibility over other adjustable options.

     Demonstrate how the Curve control option affects the pixels in your image.

     Adjust an example image to show you how to best utilize this powerful feature.



As you become more experienced with the raw image format, there’s a point when you start “previsualizing” the outcome you want to achieve. A large part of achieving that goal is what you do prior to capturing the image. But what you do when you process your raw file is equally important. At first, you may be content with the default setting the Camera Raw plug-in applies to your image. But when you find that the default settings don’t meet your needs, it’s time to utilize the Curve control to fine-tune your image, as shown in Figure A.

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Analyze your RAW image

The Curve control on the Curve tab enables you to make small adjustments to different aspects of an image. But before you make any adjustments you should analyze your image.

To follow along using our example, download the file from the URL listed at the beginning of the article and extract the file lemons.nef file.


To analyze the RAW image:

1.       Launch Photoshop and open the file lemons.nef, as shown in Figure B.



2.      Carefully study the image. By default, the Auto check boxes found on the Adjust tab are selected and the Camera Raw plug-in imparts initial settings to the image. While they aren’t all that bad, the Auto settings make the image appear dull and flat.

3.      Deselect the Adjust Auto check boxes. The image now appears as it did when taken based upon the exposure settings used, as shown in Figure C. It’s now brighter, but is still dull overall.

4.      Review the Histogram. With the exception of a few specular highlights shown on the right side of the graph, and a few nondescript shadow areas indicated on the left, the majority of the image is well within the graph, indicating a well-exposed image with which to work.





Explore the curve


The Curve control uses an adjustable graph curve to control image settings. To use it, select the Curve tab, and the Tone Curve window appears, as shown in Figure D.


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The Tone Curve is a graphical representation of the image that indicates tonal input, as represented along the x-axis, versus tonal output, as indicated along the y-axis. Both the input and output shadow tones begin in the lower left of the graph, and then transition to the highlight tones found in the upper right.

By default, Camera Raw imparts a Medium Contrast curve to the image. The Tone Curve pop-up menu also contains several additional curve presets you can choose from.




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