Complete Guide to Curves in Lightroom and Photoshop

Table of Contents

1:00Lesson Overview and Curve Basics
3:55Why It’s Called a “Curve”
4:52Input vs. Output: What Happens When You Change a Tone
10:22How the Curve Creates a Feathered Adjustment
13:24Adding Anchor Points to Adjust Smaller Groups of Tones
14:07What Happens When the Curve is Too Steep
14:39The Target Adjustment Tool
16:26Black and White Points: Available Tones vs. Actual Tones
19:21Moving Black and White Points Horizontally to Condense the Tonal Environment
22:23Moving Black and White Points Vertically to Flatten Contrast
24:02Setting Tonal Limits in Lightroom
26:56Color Channels and Curves
31:36Counterbalancing Color with Curves
33:20Additional Tips and Precautions When Using Curves
37:03Lesson Summary

Curves …

Probably the most requested topic for me to cover, and it’s easy to see why…

It’s one of the most powerful and dynamic tools for adjusting colors and tones, but many are completely baffled by the it’s often passed over for more straightforward tools like the tonal sliders or HSL panel.

In a (very) simplified explanation…curves provide a visual and interactive way to adjust your colors and tones. The more precise you are with your adjustments, the higher the quality…and we all want our detail to look top-notch.

I see many photographers leave a LOT on the table by not incorporating curves into their workflow, so I wanted to put together an easy-to-follow (yet comprehensive) exploration of this fantastic creative tool.

I think you’ll be especially impressed with what curves can do for your colors.

Whether you’re a purist or heavy manipulator, or somewhere else along the creative spectrum…you’ll only wish you learned curves sooner. 

And this video lays it all out for you.

This lesson is a sample of what you’ll find in the creativeRAW Lifetime Membership Program. Click here for more details.

29 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Curves in Lightroom and Photoshop”

  1. Just downloaded your Curves tutorial. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to advance our understanding of the system. When I tried to open the file, was advised I needed to choose an app to do so. So chose “VLC” as I was using this app already. Of course it needed an update, done. Opened with no further issues. Working well, Thank you. Am based in Australia, using Windows 10,just for those who may find a similar minor block. Look forward to more of your workflow solutions, with gratitude.

  2. Hi Chris, I thought I understood Curves and thought this would be a lesson dedicated to “Curves for Dummies”, and this I mean in a very light hearted manner, but I have learnt a lot more here than I would ever have imagined. What a brillant Tutorial, Informative, Precise, and a pleasure to watch. Once again I have only praise for the Tutorials that you produce.
    Thanks Chris and keep up the great work.

    All the best
    Geoff Dawes

    1. Appreciate the kind words Geoff! While I demonstrate using curves for many techniques in the membership courses, I realized that I never fully covered how it interacts with your image….so it’s great to hear that you were able to pick up a tip or two despite being familiar with curves already.

  3. AN outstanding presentation of the theory and practical application of curves. Your tutorial cleared away the mist and fog that has obscured my true understanding of this topic

  4. Judith Leckrone Lee

    Wow. I finally found a tutorial about curves that is well done, precise and understandable. I finally get curves! Thanks for your generosity in sharing this information.

  5. Great tutorial on curves. Although i am working with capture one your tutorial helps also for the curve tool in this programme. As you stated mostly you leave this tool because it is not clear what you are actually doing… since this explanation, i am pretty sure, it will be incorporated in my editing. Thanks a lot for sharing


    Hello Christopher, as a film shooter I always had to get it right in the camera and honestly, never really looked deeply in the curves tool. Well, that all changed with your presentation. Even with a correctly captured images, I can already see where the power of curves will come in handy. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I listened to this video multiple times, picking up new details each time. Your explanations are clear and precise. I started to incorporate what you taught and I can see improvement in my processing already. I am a newbie to processing and I needed this. Great job!

  8. Great tutorial, adding the .mp4 by renaming the file and it worked for so I can play it on Win 10 film and video player no problem. Thanks Liz

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