04 Drag up to lighten
Now I release the mouse button, find a lighter area of wall nearby, then click and drag upwards. This adds another control point further up the curve which moves upwards as I drag. You can see that the curve between these two points is much steeper, so this has increased the contrast in the image right where I need it, in the tones in that textured wall. There is a problem, though. This increase in contrast has pushed up the top of the curve so that the sky, which was pale already, is now overexposed.
05 Controlling the highlights
So my next step is to click and drag downwards in the sky until the blue tone is recovered. You can see what this third adjustment has done in the Tone Curve panel, creating a more complex curve shape. Be warned, though – this is where curves adjustments can start to go wrong. I’ve got back the tones in the sky, but this has produced a comparatively flat area of curve between my second and third control points. ‘Flat spots’ like this can have a disastrous effect on the image if they correspond to areas of detail in the picture. A shallow curve section means very low contrast, which can make tones look flat and unrealistic. I’ve got away with it here, because that ‘flat spot’ doesn’t appear to be affecting any key areas of the picture, but it’s something you have to be careful of, and why curves adjustments can be so difficult to get right.
06 Manual point curve adjustments
You don’t have to drag on the image to adjust the curve – you can also move the control points on the curve itself, simply by dragging them. I’ve noticed that my previous adjustments have flattened the left end of the curve (the shadows) right to the baseline, so that the shadows in the picture are now black and harsh. I can alleviate this harshness slightly by dragging the lower left control point very slightly upwards to ‘lift’ the base of the curve off that baseline.
07 The finished image
The result shows that you don’t necessarily need HDR techniques to cope with high-contrast lighting, and that some careful curves adjustments can work wonders. To be honest, this image has responded even better than I thought it would, largely because Lightroom’s Adjust Point Curve tool has made it easy for me to target exactly those tones which need tweaking.
I started out intending simply to show how this tool works, but having see the results I think I’m going to be using it more often in future.
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