HOW TO USE THE TONE CURVE IN LIGHTROOM (Tone Curve Explained!)


Hey guys, Ryan here at Signature Edits
and today we are going to demystify the tone curve in Lightroom once and for all.
Are you ready? Let’s do it! Okay so we are here in Lightroom in the
develop module. Your tone curve is the tool bar beneath your basic functions,
and if you’re anything like me and you’re new to Lightroom, you’ve looked at
this tone curve before and said “this looks a lot like my grade eight math
homework” – and just skip past it because it’s confusing and you don’t understand
it. So we are going to demystify what’s inside and how to use it today. Are you
ready? First we’re going to explain how it works: The tone curve is basically a
tool that allows you to adjust the brightness of any given area of your
image. Whether that’s the blacks, the shadows, the highlight mid-tones, the
highlights, or the whites. So we can actually make adjustments to the image
as a whole – the RGB value of the image – or to just the reds in the image, just the
greens, or just the blues. Now why these three random colors, and what does RGB
mean? To understand that, we have to look at the primary colors for both paint and
for digital photos. These are the ones you learned about in school: yellow blue
and red. Now the reason you learned that these are the primary colors is they are…
when it comes to mixing paint! So these are the colors that you cannot mix from
any other pigments, so therefore using paint these are your primary colors.
However with digital images we have different primary colors. We have green
instead of yellow, blue and red. Now why these three colors? Why not just
make it the same? Why be confusing like that? Well to understand why, you have to
look at the human eye. Now human eyes have three different color receptors: One
for blue, one for green, and you got it – one for red. So when we created digital
photos we said to ourselves: “it makes much more sense to use green blue and
red in our primary colors because those are the colors that the human eye sees.”
And every color in an image is a combination of these three colors. Now
enough science let’s get into how the tone curve actually works so let’s jump
into a little gradient here to show you how it’s working now on the far right of
our image this line here see this dotted line and when you start by default this
solid line represents your image from the darkest point black black black to
the brightest absolute white in the middle we have our
shadows here mid-tones here highlights here okay so we can actually adjust the
brightness of the blacks the shadows the mid-tones highlights or whites by
dragging them up or down on this little chart if you’re dragging it above this
dotted line you’re making it brighter if you’re dragging it beneath this dotted
line you’re making it darker than it would naturally be okay easy so far now
in our RGB setting you’re adjusting all of the colors at once red green and blue
so we can make massive changes to our image just by adjusting a few things
here and there let me show you how I’m going to click my blacks here and just
drag it up now you’ll notice that the blacks are slowly turning – you got it
white because I’ve added brightness above this line until the white point
which is the top of this now if I do the same thing with the whites and drag this
line and down we’re going to see that our whites eventually turn – you got it
black now anything below this line is also being affected so you can see that
and adjust in addition to affecting my whites with this point here it’s also
dragging the whole line down so everything in this image is being
darkened okay now if I want to adjust a specific area in the image I can
actually click a point and just drag that point up or down so here I’m
adjusting my mid-tones by making them bright and adjusting them by dragging
them and now they are black so you can see my shadows aren’t black but my
mid-tones are okay does that make sense let’s hop over into the individual
Channel so I’m gonna reset this and by the way if you are finding that yours
does your Lightroom does not have this little point thing you just hit this
little dot here and it will toggle between two different settings one is
for kind of making basic adjustments to highlights lights darks and shadows
without having to worry about those individual points and the other is
hitting this little bar here box will pull up the ability to make micro
adjustments okay so we’re going to reset and show you what is inside of these
individual colors now why would you want to adjust these individual colors well
you can actually add tones to your image or take them away or let’s say that you
have a lot of green in your image you want to get rid of it you can do this
using the tone curve under your greens so we are going to take away some reds
from the whites and you’ll see because we’re removing red but haven’t
affected the greens or the blues we have all the greens in the blue still in this
image so we can actually add a green blue tint per se just by taking the Reds
out the same goes for removing greens we’re going to wind up with a pink a
combination of blue and red or by removing the blues we’re going to wind
up with yellow which ironically in digital color is a combination of red
and green so you’re going to have to relearn your colors a little bit because
red and green you’re probably used to making purple and here we can do the
same thing let’s undo that we can do the same thing in the shadows by adding blue
adding red or adding green or subtracting it by dragging it this way
okay so that’s how you adjust the colors and overall settings in your tone curve
now let’s dive into some actual images so this makes a little bit more
practical sense I’m going to reset this image and show you just making massive
changes to everything in the tone curve what we can do so if I wanted to I could
start by adding what’s called an s-curve this is the most common type of tone
curve and you’re going to see it in pretty much every preset you ever use or
every tutorial you watch we’re going to add just a little bit of contrast by
raising our mid-tones up and what I did is I clicked once in the shadows that’s
where these two lines intersect once in the mid-tones which is the exact middle
of the image and once in the highlights that’s here and then I just drag my
mid-tones up and you can see we’ve made a bit of an s by doing that now if you
make a point or you make an extra point like I just did you can just double
click it and it will erase that point so just play around with your image and see
what you can come up with I’ve added some contrast to this image and you can
see here is our flat image before and after just a very subtle amount now we
can add more or less contrast by dragging our shadows up and maybe our
highlights up a little bit there we go you can see why it gets its name s-curve
because it looks a little bit like a sideways s let’s reset that and show you
what we can do in the colors let’s say I want to add a little bit of a filmic
vibe to my image I’m actually going to just grab my blacks here and drag them
up now you can see because I’ve made these other points that the line isn’t
really being moved except for this tiny little section here so everything
in this section is being brightened and the value is being raised and that’s how
you get that kind of filmy vibe because now in this image we don’t have any
absolute black everything below this point has been brightened back up to
this value I hope that made sense that wasn’t very good English but we are
going to just roll on alright so same goes for the highlights if we wanted to
we could grab those highlights and drag them down now there is no absolute white
in the image the brightest we’ll get is a very bright gray so we can really
reduce our contrast just by doing that if we want now let’s say we want to add
a little bit more filmic vibe to our image we can do something like add some
green to the shadows so I’m just going to do that a little bit of green in
there and now we’ve got kind of a moody sort of look happening let’s hop into
another image so this image here we will reset it we have our green green grass
some nice skin tones going on and let’s see what we can do first I’m going to go
to my RGB and I’m going to make my s curve here and you can see how quickly
that just makes the image pop we’ve got before and after now I’m going to see
what I can do with these greens maybe I want to make them a little bit less
saturated well we can use the point finder in our tone curve by clicking
this little tool and it will actually identify which portion of the image is
represented by which piece which at which point on our line here so I can go
to my green grass and it’s somewhere in these mid-tones shadows and I can maybe
remove some green from there and you can see it just warmed the whole image up
now if I wanted to make sure that my skin tones aren’t being affected I can
go to my skin tones and just kind of counter it so I’m going to click and
then drag up until I see that the line see this line is back on that dotted
line where it started now I know that just this area is being affected but my
skin tones are still where they would be naturally I can do the same thing by
going to my blues perhaps and grab my grass point drag that down just a little
bit you can see it’s warmed it up and then go to my skin tones again and just
drag that back so it’s on the line okay so now without adjusting any other
pieces of this image we have gone from here to here pretty powerful right
lastly I’m going to go to my greens and maybe add a bit of a filmic 5 by just
raising my blacks a little bit there we go and you’ll find that the individual
colors in the tone curve are definitely a lot more sensitive than overall with
the RGB so just go easy you can always dial it back or add a
little bit more at a time and I’m going to add a little bit more curve um a
little bit more gray to the image so basically what I’ve done is I’ve raised
up the black so we don’t have any absolute blacks making it a little bit
more filmy and I can lower my whites if I want and you’ll see that it’s kind of
clipping things because now our Grays our whites are all getting kind of
smushed together because they’re all the same brightness so I’m not going to push
it that far but I might take it down to there so again here is before here is
after and that is without touching anything else in this entire section
guys we don’t have any other tools being used just our tone curve gave us that
really vibey Foresti look isn’t that cool I’ll hop over into one more image
go back to our tone curve and this is just absolute flat image we’re going to
start by adding our s curve in here clicking three times once in the shadows
mid-tones and highlights and I’m just going to drag the shadows down the
highlights up a little bit just like that we have gone from here to here
added some nice pop to the image now we’re going to go to our Reds and let’s
say I want to make this a nice red sky like it’s a red sunset you’ve never seen
before well I could go crazy and do something like this add red to
everything or I could go to my greens in my blues and just remove some greens and
blues from the highlights and why the highlights because that is my sky my
skies are very very bright so if I remove some greens from it it’s already
any nice kind of blueish pink and remove some blues and we have a nice kind of
pink vibe going on now at the same time if I wanted to I could add a little bit
of reds to my shadows and we’ve gone from here to here that’s just with the
tone curve it is so powerful guys so I hope this was
for you in understanding how the tone curve works what you can maybe use it
for and that it gives you the confidence to use it in the future so your images
really shine so if this video is helpful please hit that like button don’t forget
to subscribe and you can check out some free presets in the link below download
those today and give them a try alright I’ll see you in the next one

100 Replies to “HOW TO USE THE TONE CURVE IN LIGHTROOM (Tone Curve Explained!)”

  1. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE LIGHTROOM PRESETS HERE: https://shop.signatureedits.com/genesis-sample-pack

    *Wondering why not just use the other tools in Lightroom instead of the tone curve?*
    There are actually a few reasons you'd use the tone curve instead of other settings:

    REASON 1) it allows for SELECTIVE contrast. With the contrast slider you have one set way to add contrast – Its either on or off. With the tone curve, you can add contrast in a specific portion of your image without affecting other portions – add more contrast in JUST the highlights, or JUST the midtones etc.

    REASON 2) the tone curve RGB panel lets you control the levels of blacks and whites to reduce contrast. The contrast slider only allows you to ADD contrast.

    REASON 3) the tone curve lets you set custom black points and white point, allowing you to add a filmic feel to your images and dial in the exact amount of fade you want.

    REASON 4) the red, green and blue portions of the tone curve allow you to do all of this with SPECIFIC color channels – Which means you can tweak color balance in your image, add / remove tones in specific areas (darken greens in JUST the shadows for instance) – Whereas the hsl panel luminance only lets you darken / brighten the greens as a whole.

    Overall the reason is for more control & targeted adjustments. There are a LOT of things you can do with the tone curve – Many of which can't be done anywhere else in Lightroom.

  2. What’s the difference between using this and just adjusting each RGB manually (saturation and hue) at the bottom of lightroom??

  3. Great video. I know some photographers use the tone curve to create light and airy wedding and engagement images that are a soft pastel looking, especially the greens as in trees, grass, etc, but all the colors seem soft and pastel looking….Do you have any insight how to achieve this effect. Thanks…..

  4. I'm going to have to watch this a few dozen times to truly understand how I should best use the tone curve haha.. great video!

  5. Thank you for this great video. It's really improve the look of my pictures. Greetings from South Africa.

  6. Thank you so much, its simple pretty easy to do and very helpfull!!!! Keep it good work ! You become my fav channel!

  7. Thank you for making and posting this video. It really helped me understand the tone curve way better.

  8. I'm a beginning photographer and sometimes feel very overwhelmed by Lightroom. Thank you so much for this tutorial; I fully understood everything, and I'm feeling much less intimidated. I also very much enjoyed learning about the science behind this. Thanks again.

  9. I love this video, but it also makes my think about the thousands of photos i've edited without using this amazing tool… you have a new subscriber 🙂

  10. Thank you! I always skipped using the tone curve because I never really understood it very well. But the way you explained it left it perfectly clear, and I love it!

  11. i have two questions if anyone can answer them.

    1. what is the grey high light graph compared to the dark and the line graph?

    2. why use the lower part or higher part of the s graph to adjust when you can just use the black and whites part in the light bar?

  12. I’ve played with the tone curve but never really understood it until now. Thanks for such an informative video!!

  13. Hey Hey Hey!!! Thank you Very very very much!!!!

    I watched plenty videos didn't get it untill I watched yours

    You're a Saviour

    Liked and Subbed ❤️

  14. The tone curve was def one of the things I’d always see in a Peter McKinnon video and literally be confused every time. This video was amazing and makes me so eager to start photography. I should just go and get my camera now instead of waiting for the 90D that may or may not be real.

  15. https://8thstreet.pixieset.com/21072019fashionshoot-logan/ this photo session inspired by this video

  16. Great video but RGB has nothing with digital colors to do. RGB is used when mixing colors from different light sources and RYB is used when mixing paint. And because the pixels in a monitor is lit up they have to be red, green and blue. You can try this with three different colored spotlights on a white wall. 👍

  17. Thank you!! I have avoided this portion of LR because I just didn't get it. Saving this video to go back to reference! Thanks so much!

  18. Just came here in 2019, I think I wasted my 5 years to learn curve on internet. Finally I can understand what tone curve is. Awsum. Please share more. I lie how your explain thing. Respect man

  19. My only point of contention here is that RYB isn't really the set of primaries for paint (also known as "subtractive color") because those primaries are cyan, yellow, and magenta. Red and blue are totally possible to mix, if you've got paints reasonably close in hue to those primaries you can make blue by mixing cyan and magenta (more cyan than magenta) and red by mixing magenta and yellow (more yellow than magenta)
    Now in the grand scheme of things, this doesn't super matter, and one could be forgiven for sticking to the RYB scheme since it's what's so widely taught. The reason it starts to matter technically however is that if you try to mix paints this way, there are some colors you just can't get. Magenta is much lighter in value than red or blue, and cyan is much lighter than yellow or blue, making them effectively impossible to properly reproduce. You end up with darker, muddier colors, or just have to deal with gaps in your color wheel.
    Uh, anyway, excellent video! It's great seeing the tone curve broken down, since it can be really intimidating. I've been using Lightroom and curves for a while and still found it helpful.

  20. Hi! What if I don't have RGB under the tone curve section? Is it the same of "Camera Calibration" where there are "Red/Green/Blue Primary" and changing their "Hue" and "Saturation"?

  21. thank you for stating the difference between digital and analog primary colours. I remember learning RYB in school then reading about RGB on forums and I was just left confused.

  22. Thank you so much for this! Very informative and useful!
    I have beautiful travel pictures but I struggle with editing them 🙂

  23. O.M.G.
    So not only was this possibly the most informative and useful video about Lightroom I've ever watched, I was also entertained by the guy's humor!
    Thank you, sir, maybe now I'll start using the tone curve xD

  24. I never touched the tone curve because it was intimidating, but now I’m excited to go try it because you made it so easy to understand. Thank you for making this vid. Edit: Now I'm like, "EVERYTHING NEEDS AN S CURVE!"

  25. Man, this is amazing! I leave comments once in the lifetime, but this video is just incredibly helpful! You changed the photo editing world to me. Thank you so much!

  26. This was so helpful! Ive been intimidated to mess with the individual color channels on the curves but this tutorial clear up a lot of why I didnt understand how to use it 🙂

  27. Great Tone Curve video. However I'm still looking for one of the Tone Curve videos to explain how when looking at the histogram on the tone curve (the histogram behind the line changes based on the image) it can inform you of possible adjustments. For example if the histogram is shifted to left and residing in the shadows, what adjustments shouldI make based on that?

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