How to Use Curves

In this series of Photoshop classes Karl takes a closer look at some of the most essential Photoshop tools, going into detail about what they are and how to use them.

Curves are a powerful Photoshop tool that allow you to make luminosity and colour changes by adjusting points throughout the image’s tonal range. They can be used in a number of different ways; from increasing or decreasing contrast to correcting colour using the Red, Green and Blue channels in an image. They can also be used to set the black, white and grey points within an image.

In this first class Karl focuses on how to use curves and why they’re so useful. You’ll learn basics such as creating and removing points and adjusting colour and contrast as well as more advanced techniques such as creating and saving presets, setting black, white and grey points and even how to create your own curve. He also provides a simple example demonstrating how you could expect to use curves when retouching and adjusting an image.

This Photoshop class covers the following:

  • What is curves in Photoshop
  • Curves vs curves adjustments
  • Adding / Removing points on a curves
  • How to Increase / Decrease contrast using curves
  • Adjusting colour using curves
  • Cross curves
  • Setting Black / White points on a curve
  • Creating and saving curve presets
  • Creating custom curves
  • Isolating a luminosity value

If you have any questions about this class, please post in the comment section below.

Key concepts

Creating adjustment curves.

Creating curves using Photoshop.

Making contrast adjustments.

Curves contrast adjustment example.

Curves can be used to make contrast adjustments to an image.

Using curves to make colour adjustments.

Curves colour adjustment example.

Curves can also be used for making colour adjustments in the different RGB channels.

Saving & using presets.

Curve preset examples

There is the option to load and save curve presets.


  1. Hi Karl
    Excellent video as usual thank you !

    I sometimes find myself a little bit lost between using curves to increase contrast (for example) or using the dedicated sliders.
    I feel that by using both the sliders and adjusting the curves I might be guessing a little bit more where I want to go.
    As I understand it, curves gives you more granular control and are much more powerful however a little bit harder to use at the beginning
    What is your recommendation? Would you only use one or the other? Or one then the other? If so in which particular order ?

    I am actually using Lightroom but those functions are fairly similar in my understanding.
    Thanks very much for your insight

    1. Hi Romain, you are correct with your description of curves however I find them easier to control in PS than in LR (unless they have changed them in LR recently) however in LR I’d imagine you will be using the sliders for contrast, black, white levels and shadow fill all on the RAW file which is absolutely fine – I do the same in Phocus software – I’m only really using curves for my Post Production work in PS. Cheers Karl.

  2. Hi Karl,

    Thank you for the wonderful content!

    I have a question about the mobility of presets (in curves and anywhere else in Photoshop).

    Lets say you have your custom presets (burn / dodge / solar curve / etc..) and you use it in your PSD file and then send it to the client. Will the client be able to open the PSD and see the appropriate result?

    1. Hi, any presets you create are only saved within your ‘presets’ on your computer however you can (if you wish) choose to send the client the file as a PSD with the adjustment layers such as curves, hue/saturation etc with the settings you applied and the settings you saved on those adjustment layers will be there on the saved file and then the client could choose to save them as a preset.

  3. Is there another step you have to take after you’ve made all these adjustments and you want to save your final layer back to your Lightroom library? Or do you just click Save? Thanks.

    1. Hi, if you save the file with the layers it would be saved as a .PSD file or if it has many layers then a .PSB file. Both of these are Adobe formats so it is very likely that Lightroom (also and Adobe software) will recognise them. However I don’t use LR to catalogue my files I organise my files in to folders based on the project and client and date as I find the LR cataloguing frustrating to use and navigate but if you do a ‘save as’ you can also save the PSD and then a copy as a jpeg (or something else) and check your LR catalogue to see what it can see.

Leave a Comment