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The Tone Curve in Lightroom Classic: A Powerful Tool for Perfecting Your Photos

· 24.February.2024

In essence, photography is all about contrast, whether it be contrast in subject matter, colour or tone. The first is obviously done in camera but the other two can also be greatly altered or improved in post-production, and one of the most important tools for doing so is the Tone Curve. In this two-part article series, we’ll cover the basics and some more advanced uses of this powerful Lightroom feature.

The Tone Curve allows photographers to adjust the brightness and contrast of an image by manipulating its tonal values. It provides a visual representation of the tonal range of an image, going from shadows on the left, over mid-tones in the middle, to highlights on the right. By adjusting the curve, photographers can fine-tune their images from subtle tweaks to more creative visual effects.

Tone curve basics
Before going into the intricacies of using the Tone Curve, it’s important to understand its layout. The horizontal axis represents the input tonal values, ranging from shadows on the left to highlights on the right. The vertical axis represents the output tonal values, with lower values representing darker tones and higher values representing brighter tones. The default Tone Curve is a diagonal, 45° line that starts from the bottom left and extends to the top right of the square that the horizontal and the vertical axes form. The way you interpret the Tone Curve is as follows: you start with a brightness value on the X-axis (e.g. 25) and draw an imaginary vertical line until you reach the curve. Then you make a hard left and draw another imaginary horizontal line until you reach the Y-axis. With the default diagonal curve, every X-value is mapped to exactly the same Y-value, so before equals after. But watch what happens when you click on a point on the curve and drag it upwards: that particular tone and the tones similar to it become brighter. By the same token, dragging a point downwards makes that tonal area darker.

This is an excerpt from an article by Piet Van den Eynde in issue 95 of FUJILOVE MAGAZINE (February 2024).

You will find the remaining part of this article in FUJILOVE MAGAZINE.

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