What’s Sepia & Where Did it Come From?
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Curves is a powerful photo editing tool for color correction, adding creative contrast or for experimenting with temperature. Take a look at this tutorial to learn how simple it is to use Curves in Enlight.
Editing with curves provides granular control over exposure: highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, etc. Keep in mind that when it comes to curves, there is no strict sequence, so — although I may call it Step #, you can feel free to go about it in any order and return to previous steps if you feel the need. For this tutorial, we will be using this picture:
Step #1: Access the Curves tool
Start by choosing your photograph and navigating to Curves: Image > Adjust > Tools > Curves. You should see your photograph overlaid with a diagonal line. Think of the line as part of a graph going left to right: from blacks (all the way on the left) to shadows to highlights to whites (all the way on the right). Increase the intensity of each by pulling up the curve at that region and vice verse.
Step #2: Correct white balance
I want to begin by correcting the white balance of my photograph slightly, temperature being the one thing phone cameras easily get wrong. I want to cool the photograph slightly, so click on the Blue curve and tap (don’t long-press!) on the center of the curve line. This adds an anchor point. Pull it up to increase the blues in the mid tones (see Fig. 2). This effectively cools the photograph. You can also target the shadows or highlights more precisely, if you wish. To add additional anchor points at any time, tap anywhere along the curve line. You also can slide existing anchor points up and down the curve. Long-press on an existing anchor point to remove it.
Step #3: Reset Curves in Enlight
Enlight handles curves in an interesting fashion. If you save your curve edit and re-open curves, the corrected curve lines are returned to the middle diagonal. In other words, your curves-corrected image becomes your new base image to work from. If you’ve made a mistake and want to reset the curve, hit the Preset option within Image > Adjust, then select the Neutral preset; alternatively, long-pressing on one of the curves icons will achieve the same reset quickly.
If you find yourself re-using a similar curve, Enlight lets you set it as a preset. First set up your curves for the image, then, in the same preset menu, click the + icon to save the curve as a Preset. Long-press on a user-created preset anytime to delete it. This helps simplify curves and retain previous edits. You no longer have to fear undoing the temperature correction made in Step #1.
Step #4: Fading an image with Curves
This is purely an artistic decision. You can achieve a soft, faded, greyish blacks/shadows (for some, this is reminiscent of the film era) right inside Curves. It is worth mentioning here that Enlight also provides a fade option under Filters > Analog > Tools > Film. Fading is simply lifting the black point (the left edge of the curve) and dipping the white point (the right edge of the curve) as far as necessary. Remember to work on All curves and not specifically Red, Green or Blue. See Fig. 3: note how the curve end points do not meet the corners of the graph. This reduces contrast if overdone, but if you really need it, you can correct for contrast — which we will do anyway in the next step.
Step #5: Contrast correction
As stated in Step #1, dipping or raising curves in a region intensifies it. We can add contrast — by doing the opposite of Step #4 — by simply dipping the shadows/blacks (left side of the curve) and raising the highlights/whites (right side of the curve), like in Fig. 3. Exercise subtlety because it is easy to overdo and spoil this. Look for jpeg artifacts and colour banding as surefire indicators of having gone overboard with this step.
Step #6: Split toning
The beauty of curves lies in the offer of granular editing and ability to be a single solution, replacing a lot of tools. We have so far seen temperature correction, contrast correction (including saving highlights or shadows) and fading. Add split toning to that list. Split toning (see Fig. 4) in Curves works the opposite of the regular split toning option found under Image > Adjust > Tools > Split Tone. While you pick shadows or highlights and set a hue and saturation for each there, with Curves you first pick the hue and saturation and set each for shadows and highlights. Work with the Red, Green or Blue curve and increase the amount of each by lifting the curve or decrease by dipping it. You can also make combinations. For example, lift red and blue in the shadows to add a purple hue; or dip blue in the highlights to add a cream hue to the skies.
You can see that I have added a slight green hue to the shadows. I like to keep editing subtle and slightly mix my vision and the actual scene which I remember through my eyes. See Fig. 6 to compare the original to the edited image.
Re-visit any step, at any point to tweak and change. A lot can be done with Curves alone, and subtlety goes a long way, not only in impact but also because phones shoot JPEG or TIFF and neither provides editing latitude comparable to RAW. Depending on how and where you wish to use your image, Enlight provides a nifty slider under Settings > Export Quality where you can choose to export all the way from a Compact JPEG of 1024px, 50% quality to a Pro PNG of 4096px, for the highest quality possible. (PNG, unlike a JPEG image, is lossless.) Quality, unsurprisingly, comes at the cost of file size.
Below are a few more photographs, edited entirely with Curves, along with how I edited and why.
Written by: V.H. Belvadi
All photos used in this article were edited with Enlight.