Correct your exposure with curves

Tweak the brightness and contrast of your photos

Most of us rely on Adobe Photoshop Elements for routine photo editing. It's inexpensive, easy to use and fairly powerful. But it's not perfect. I've lamented that the program lacked a Curves tool, for example — to edit a photo using Curves, I'd have to turn to the full-strength Adobe Photoshop CS3 or another program like Paint Shop Pro X. But I lament no more, since the newest version of Photoshop Elements 6 — version 6 — has a Curves tool built in.

What does Curves do?

So, you might be asking, "What is Curves?" What does it do? You might even think I should ask "What are Curves," but trust me — singular is correct. In fact, just in case this is bugging you grammatically, I'll rephrase the question as "What is the Curves tool?"

The Curves tool allows you to correct the exposure of your photo by tweaking the brightness and contrast. It's kind of like using Levels or the Histogram.

You might remember that the Levels tool lets you move the white point and black point in a photo, which can brighten or darken an overall image. The Curves tool lets you selectively change the brightness and contrast in different parts of the photo. You can tweak the shadows, midtones and highlights independently — and that's pretty powerful.

Using Curves in Photoshop Elements

To try it out, open a photo in Photoshop Elements that you want to tweak. Pick a photo, like the first image above, that has some obvious exposure problems.

To get to the tool, choose Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Color Curves from the menu.

You'll see a dialog box like the one in the second image. There are two ways to use Photoshop Elements' Curves tool. You can adjust the sliders for precise control, or you can click a style from the list to adjust the tool by a small preset amount. To increase the brightness of the shadows in a photo, for example, click Lighten Shadows in the list of styles, or drag the Adjust Shadows slider to the right. You can see the change in the After image in the Adjust Color Curves dialog box and also in the original photo back in Photoshop Elements' canvas.

Looking at image three, you can see I've brightened the shadows in my example. Adjust any of the sliders to suit your taste then click OK to save your changes. It's worth pointing out that you don't have to mess with all the sliders. If you just want to brighten the shadows, for instance, you can leave the other sliders alone.

Work in a layer

I usually recommend that you make changes like this in a layer. That way you can adjust the opacity of the layer to reduce its intensity or even delete the layer entirely and get back the original photo, long after you made the original changes. Working in layers is also the fastest approach, because it preserves your photo and your edits separately.

If you want to work in a layer, that's easy to do. Before you start editing with the Curves tool, just choose Layer, Duplicate Layer and click OK. Now you'll have two identical layers. When you choose Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Color Curves, the changes you make to the photo will be in the top layer only.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dave Johnson

PC World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?