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An Overview of the Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom: Part I

An Overview of the Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom Part 1

In this tutorial, we will take a look at the components of the Tone Curve panel in Lightroom, and how to make adjustments within the RGB channel.


Tone Curves (simply referred to as "curves" by most photographers) affect the overall brightness and contrast of your image. By adjusting the curves, we can make our image brighter or darker, and affect the contrast levels.


In the Develop module, you will see the Tone Curve panel on the far right. Press the triangle to make the panel drop down so that you can make adjustments:

Let's look at some of the icons in the panel...

By clicking the icon on the top left, you are enabling a feature that allows you to adjust the values of a specific tonal region, such as highlights or shadows, by placing your cursor over an area in your image that you would like to adjust:

For example, let's say I wanted to brighten my shadows. What I can do is hover my cursor/mouse arrow over a region that has dense shadows, in this case, in the subject's hair.

In the example below, I have clicked on that area, and have pulled to tone curve line upwards to increase the brightness of the shadows.

As you can see in the result in the bottom image, the image becomes slightly brighter. You will also see that the tone curve also has a slight arc to it in the second image after brightening the shadows region:

Beneath the tone curve and histogram you will see the Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows regions. By adjusting these sliders, you will also be adjusting the tone curve, and vice versa.

If you hover over each region of the tone curve, Lightroom will show you what region is being affected. For example, when I hover on the top-right of the curve, my Highlights will be affected, if I hover in the middle, my Lights will be affected, and so on:

Adjust the sliders in the various regions to observe how the shape of the Curve changes:

You can also adjust the curve independently of the sliders by clicking the Edit Point Curve icon:

You then have the ability to manipulate the tone curve by clicking and dragging the line. Bringing the line up, towards the top left of the histogram, will brighten your image:

Bringing the line down, towards the bottom right, will darken your image:

There are also tone curve presets, which you can select by clicking the up/down triangles beside the words Point Curve: Linear:

Linear is the default tone setting, with two more settings to increase the contrast of your image:

In the Strong Contrast example above, notice that the point curve has a slight "S" shape to it. S-curves give your image contrast, so the larger the S, the more contrast you will have between your highlights and shadows.

In the Tone Curve panel in Lightroom, you also have the ability to work within the Red, Green and Blue channels. In this tutorial, we are just going to look at the RGB channel, which is all three channels together. We will look at the Red, Green and Blue channels in the next tutorial:

Aside from applying your own custom edits to the tone curve, you will also find in some cases that you will want to tweak the tone curve after applying presets.

In this example, I applied the Hazy Matte Lightroom preset from the Clean and Creative Advanced Workflow. Take a look at the tone curve:

I wanted to brighten the image a bit more after applying the preset, so I pulled the tone curve towards the upper left just a bit to brighten the image:

Finally, if you want to see your image without the Tone Curve adjustments, you can turn them off by clicking here:

Do you have any questions about what we have discussed here today? We love hearing from you! Please join us in our private Pretty Presets Facebook group and at the Pretty Forum!



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