Lightroom: The Tone Curve

4/08/2014 0 Comments A+ a-

Post 18
Series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

Setting the Tone

The Tone Curve tool controls ranges of actual tones in the image. It may look complicated, but it is pretty simple to use. This azalea image needs after-capture adjustments we can take care of with Lightroom Tone Curves.

Math? Well, a Graph

The graph represents all tones in your image. The bottom axis shows shadows, midtones and highlights. The y-axis shows darks to brights.

The tones in your particular image will be shown subtly on the graph (highlighted in blue-green here).

Tones get darker as you move towards the bottom of the graph, and lighter as you move towards the top.

Making the Move

The Tone Curve tool can be adjusted by clicking on the actual graph and dragging, or by moving the sliders underneath the graph.  Which of the tones do you want to adjust? Choose from Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows. If you are making adjustments on the graph, the area you click in before you drag determines which of these you are changing.

Being General or Getting Pointed

Lightroom has two different curves you can change, the general curve and Point Curve. The general curve is the graph and sliders we have been working on. General Tonal adjustments to the sliders in Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows gives you more control. Lightroom’s general tone curve controls are also set up to keep changes smooth, so you don’t distort your image too much. At the bottom of the tone curve section is Point Curve. Click on the arrows to the right, and choose from 3 options, Linear, Medium Contrast, and Strong Contrast to see different instant adjustments to your image. Using Point Curve is the quickest and easiest tonal adjustment. 

Fine Tuned Tones

Whether making fine-tuned adjustments or a quick Point Curve selection, whatever your preference for changes to the tones in your image, you can make them with the Tone Curve tool in Lightroom. 

Next post: Lightroom: HSL / Color / B&W

These posts are part of a series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

Jennifer Apffel is a photographer with over a decade of experience in portrait, event, and product photography. She also does freelance graphic design and fine art. For more check out, or look for her on

"You can't be an artist. Artists don't make any money," ... a trusted adviser told me. So I studied something else. And I worked at other jobs. But, given a moment and I'd find a paintbrush and canvas, or I'd make food into art. I found a camera, and light and composition became my medium. I found a computer, and I became a Photoshop fanatic and graphic designer, and I taught myself to build websites. Anything to be able to create.

I am an artist, plain and simple, and I've come to understand that all these years later. Artists create beauty where there was none. Artists ask tough questions and challenge others. Artists communicate without words. Artists build and tear down. Artists bring joy, hope, understanding, empathy, growth, change and a myriad of things to others.

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