Learning Curves Apr 11, 2012

I mentioned yesterday that Cody Nutter gave me a little tutorial on color-correction recently. In 5 minutes, I began the process of learning curves. In the past, I’ve messed around with color curves but looking back at some of the photos, I cringe. They’re either too blue or too red and ultimately, they just look like a photo lab mixed the wrong chemicals when processing film. Andy from Fyxomatosis gave me the best advice anyone could give: the photo should look like it was taken with your eyes. With digital photography at an all-time high and apps like Instagram going viral, people love the nostalgia associated with a high-contrast, cross-processed image. But I’m not sure that’s where I want to go with my photos. Sure, this isn’t a rule but it’s a direction I want to stay clear of.

Back to the learning curves. The photo on the right is the original photo I posted of Matt Spencer during the LBC in ATX trip. The photo on the left is after balancing out the blacks and whites. Quite a difference huh?

Check out more below.

This is the original, to see it in high res, click here.

Here’s the final, with 5 minutes of color-correction. For high res, click here.

So how did I get to that?


First, you Select+eye dropper the whitest white and the blackest black. That will give you two values, underlined in red. You want to get those whites to 255 and the blacks to 0.

Created a curves adjustment layer and go down the the channels. First with red. Select the black triangle and input the value, in this case 6 to make the output 0, or black.

Then do the same for the white triangle. 222 input yields 255, or white.

Go down each channel, Red, Green and Blue, until your whites are 255 and your blacks are 0.

Simple huh? And the results are clear as day.

I’m sure there are variations on doing this but it’s such an easy procedure to do, especially for one or two photos, why not try it out?

I will note that I messed with the exposure, contrast and saturation in Lightroom first and each photo will be a bit different but this is a simple, easy way to make your whites and blacks balance out.

Thanks to Cody Nutter for the heads up. I’m already looking at a few selects from the past month to revisit.

  • Terd Ferg

    Now automate it!

    • You can’t… :-(

      Values are always different. Unless you mean program a script, which I can’t do. I also kind of like the time it takes to do it.

  • CyclingWMD

    This is one of those subjects that I have so much to say about that I don’t know where to start. Next time you’re in town look me up if you’re interested in having me talk your ear off about negative space and the subconscious ;-)

  • Guest

    John Prolly cares about color correction? You’re going to set a trend man. What’s next,  lens distortion? Chromatic aberration?

    • I already correct lens distortion and stop it down to avoid aberration!

    • Did I just help start a trend?!

  • good stuff!

    You got a computer with a video card John?  CS4 and above offload the bulk of screen redraws to your GPU and its RAM.  That means any filter or effect you apply occurs instantly and can be reversed in an instant as well. Sounds boring, but it cuts editing time in half.  No more waiting for anything to render, ever. Navigate to Edit>Preferences>Performance and look at the box under GPU settings to see if your video card is detected.  It must have at least 128 MB of memory and support OpenGL 2.0.

  • personally i prefer to hyper-combadulate the flux capacitor to even out the tacheon particles before further reticulating my splines.  

  • In a never ending search for that neutral gray.

  • lakser

    thats cool 

    is there a similar workflow in light room or is this photoshop only?

  • Jon Bruno

    Theres actually an easier, faster, more effective, and better for your image way to do this too.  Going into PS, particularly from a RAW file, make sure you have totally blank room on either side of your histogram – as in, it needs to be 0 for 5ish points on both sides.  Once you get it in, pull up a levels adjustment layer, and in that drop down, go to each color separately.  What you are going to do is toe in the sliders until the meet the very beginning of the histogram – this balances the colors the same way you just did, but without having to take readings and stuff like that.  I can blast that out in about 45 to 50 seconds.

    • very helpful. thanks!

      • Jon Bruno

        My pleasure man.  If you need that to be explained a little better or something, let me know.

        • Caz

          Hold down the Option key while you do this – it’ll let you see where the first point of white or black in each colour is.