A high key image is one which consists almost entirely of bright tones. This works really well for subjects with white or near-white tones and gives a very bright, airy look. Not every image needs a full range of tones from solid black to brilliant white, and not every image needs the ‘perfect’ histogram. Histograms are there to tell you what’s happening, not what to do.
Curves are one of the most fundamental image adjustment tools in photo editing software, but they're not often well understood – and particularly the relationship between levels and curves adjustments.
The easiest way to think of it is that levels adjustments are used to maximise the tonal range or total contrast in the photo, from dense black to brilliant white, whereas curves are used to adjust the contrast within a specific range of tones.
An example might help. You might have a photo with maximum contrast that still looks rather flat. Typically you can make these pictures look better by increasing the contrast in the midtones, and you can do that by steepening the middle of the curve. This inevitably flattens out the highlight and shadow areas, though, so you get less contrast here than you had before. Often, this doesn't matter, but it does highlight a key point about curves – that there's only a finite amount of contrast in the picture and that you use curves adjustments to control where in the range of tones that contrast is strongest.
Nik Collection presets: Even on a Cloudy Day (Color Efex Pro)
You can learn a lot from experimenting with manual adjustments and individual filters in a program like Color Efex Pro, but you can learn even more by dismantling a preset to see how its individual parts work together.
Lightroom tone curves explained: Tone Curve vs Point Curve vs Target Curve adjustments
Curves adjustments are one of the key tools in photo editing, and Lightroom offers three ways of making curves adjustments. What’s more, the curves tools look different in Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC. Complicated? Not once it’s explained…
Dawlish Beach in black and white, with Exposure X5 adjustment layers
This project turns a regular color RAW file into a strong black and white image in Exposure X5. It uses a number of different tools so it’s a good chance to see how these work and how they can be used together. It’s also a good example the kind of image which works well in […]
Moody mono with a Leica M10 Monochrom and Capture One
I met my donkey friend while I was out testing a Leica M10 Monochrom and 28mm f/2 Summicron lens. For those who don’t know, this is a rangefinder camera with manual focusing, so getting my friend’s eye sharp was a special challenge as he was getting restless because I didn’t have any carrots. The Leica […]
Levels vs curves vs luma curves: ways to adjust contrast in photos
Levels and curves can both be used to adjust the contrast in photos, but how are they different, which should you use and is one better than the other?
Restore faded art using levels and curves
With careful use of levels and curves adjustments you can rescue even the faintest and most faded artworks and restore both saturation and contrast. Levels and curves are two of the most basic adjustment tools in any image-editing program, but there’s often confusion about which to use and when, and it often appears as if […]
10 tips for curves adjustments
Almost any image-editor worthy of the name offers curves adjustments, but they can be tricky things to get right. It’s easy to overcook the results or fix a problem in one area only to cause a problem in another. So here are ten top curves tips to show how they work, what they can and cannot […]
How to adjust the point curve in Lightroom
Curves adjustments are tricky to get right. Small changes can have a big impact on the image, and it’s easy to make things worse not better. That’s why Adobe’s provided a secret weapon – the Adjust Point Curve tool in Lightroom. Normally, you make curves adjustments by estimating or measuring the position of the area […]
Adding localised levels and curves adjustments in Color Efex Pro 4
DxO Color Efex Pro 4 isn’t just a collection of special effects. It also has a number of powerful image-editing tools hidden amongst them, and one of these is the Levels & Curves tool. You can use this to make adjustments to your images in the same way you would in Photoshop, Elements and other […]