Let Me Throw You A Curve and Get You Away from Prepackaged Presets
The hottest trend nowadays is Photoshop presets. Presets to mimic the look of films past, to add a bit of editorial edge to those mundane studio shots, or to just expedite the editing process. Many companies have come out with pre-packaged presets, treatments, and plugins to help users reach a new level of creativity.
What most people may not realize is that these pre-made presets aren’t anything special. We each have the ability to create these looks ourselves! It just takes a little more than a basic understanding of the programs we use. When playing around with color treatments and trying to replicate films, my weapon of choice is the Photoshop’s Curves dialog. You can manipulate virtually any aspect of an image with just the curves dialog. From brightness and contrast, to color and sharpness; Curves can do it all! If you know how it works. Another great thing about Curves? It works basically the same in every image editing software. Some subtle differences may exist, but the nuts and bolts are pretty much the same.
Curves is such a powerful tool, and can do so many amazing things, that it would take many MANY posts to even come close to understanding it’s full potential. So for today we are going to start with a basic color treatment. Color treatments in the RGB colorspace have a unique advantage (or disadvantage) that the color values are tied to the brightness and contrast of the image, unlike the LAB color space which separates the color information from the “lightness” (detail) channel (again, a totally different subject). Because of this, it makes it VERY easy to do a “vintage” treatment on an image, which are usually characterized by flatter shadows and tinted highlights. For example: adjusting the amount of blue in the image will affect the brightness and contrast of that blue, and it’s compliment yellow.
Here is one treatment in particular I wanted to share with you. It’s a way to get an old school “cross-processed” look. Similar to a dialed down version of cross-processed Agfa Optima Film. By using the curves dialog in Photoshop (or any other program that utilizes a similar curve tool), we can precisely manipulate the tones throughout an image.
The basic rule of Curves is that the steeper the line, the more contrast, the flatter the line…well you get the idea.
Applying this basic rule across the separate color channels allows us to manipulate the contrast between colors and tone! This does require a little color theory but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be amazed at what you can do.
For example: Above (in the blue channel), I increased the amount of blue in the shadows (the left side of the curve) and decreased the amount of blue (added yellow) in the midtones. This flattened out the curve between the shadows and midtones and effectively lowered the contrast of the image.
Here is an example of what you get with this color treatment.
So you can see how dramatic a change even the most subtle curve adjustments can make. Give it a try for yourself. Experiment and see what cool combinations you can come up with. The idea here is to get away from a dependency on presets, and truly understand how to manipulate your images to fit your own creative vision, not someone else’s.
You can download the curve I demonstrated here and use it to your own ends; but I suggest using it as a starting point for your own awesome curve creation!
To install it:
(MAC) User>Library>Application Support>Adobe>Photoshop CS#>Presets>Curves
(Windows) Program files>adobe>adobe photoshop>presets>curves