Acorn Acorn 4

Color Correction using Curves and Levels

Is your image too dark?  Too light?  Slightly blurry?  Learn how to fix it using levels, curves, and filters.  As always, when performing color corrections work on a copy of your original image!  Every image is different and there is no one size fits all with color correction.  Once you have an understanding of the basics, play around with your images to hone your technique.  This tutorial assumes you have read the 'Levels', 'Curves', and 'Filters' tutorials.  

Too Dark and Blurry

This image of the Ozarks at sunset is dark and slightly blurry.

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 1.50.05 PM.png

Start by adjusting the levels.  


Then go to Image Curves.  The midtones in this image have been lightened and the highlights darkened.  


You can stop here, or you can continue on and give the foliage a little more definition.  Add the following filters:  Sharpen ▸ Unsharp Mask, and Sharpen ▸ Luminance.  The values used here can be seen below.


f11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-tooblurry_original.acorn       f11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-ozarks_final.acorn

Before            After

Too Dark and Blue

This image of snowshoeing in the North Cascades could use a little help.

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 1.55.51 PM.png

To start, adjust the levels, Image Levels.


Then choose Image ▸ Curves.  Play around with lightening the midtones, darkening the shadows, and lightening the highlights in the RBG curve.


You can also experiment with the red, green, and blue curves.  The red highlights have been increased slightly to draw out the warm colors in the clouds.  The blue highlights have been decreased slightly to take some of the blue out of the snow.

f11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 1.59.54 PM.pngf11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 2.00.04 PM.png

Now navigate to Filter Color Adjustment ▸ Color Controls.  Click on the '+' in the filter window and add Sharpen ▸ Unsharp Mask and Sharpen ▸ Sharpen Luminance.  The values used here can be seen below.

f11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 10.55.46 AM.png

toodark_original.acorn               f11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-toodark_final.acorn

Before                                                               After

Too Green and Poor Contrast

This example is of a very green image of the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.  

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 1.53.22 PM.png

Adjust the levels, Image Levels.


Go to Image Curves.  The histogram shows that this image has a lot of bright midtones.  You can darken them slightly by dragging the middle of the RGB curve down.


If you're happy with the image, you can stop here.  You've improved the contrast.  Or you can continue on and decrease the green in this image. Click on the 'Green' button at the top of the curves histogram.  Drag the green midtones area of the curve slightly downwards.


You can also decrease the appearance of green highlights area by dragging that area of the curve slightly downwards.

f11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-green_original.acorn        f11abf5c-260b-4a6d-8ba5-2f2359de9d83-green_increasedcontrast.acorn

Before                                                                      After (darkened shadows & midtones)


  After (red midtones increased)